We are pleased and excited to announce that we've been able to tap one of the Trail Blazers' great basketball minds, Director of NBA Scouting Mike Born, to do a regular feature with us on Blazersedge. Once a month or so we're going to check in with Mike on the progress of some of our young players, guys that he has scouted and helped bring to the team. We'll look at where they came from, where they are, and where they're going.
The subject for the inaugural edition of Born's Corner is Nicolas Batum. Enjoy!
Blazersedge: What attributes attracted the Blazers to Nicolas Batum in the first place?
Mike Born: As we do with all the players we look at for the draft we have scouted Nic many times. Our international scout Jason Filippi has covered him for years. The coverage for the rest of our scouting staff goes back over three years so we have a foundation when tracking his development.
We liked several attributes in Nicolas. First, he was a young player who had been playing minutes in the top league in France for the past few years. Just like with Rudy Fernandez, he was playing against grown men so he was gaining valuable experience versus good players. Second, we loved his size and length for a small forward. He has a nice set of basketball skills when it comes to his ability to handle, pass, shoot, rebound the ball. We also liked his energy on the defensive end. The third piece, one of the most important for us with Nic, was we felt that once he had other players demanding the attention of the opposing team, he could excel by doing the little things to help you win games. He has a solid BBIQ that is getting better daily and we thought he could play well off of our other players. He has done exactly that for us and this is part of the reason he is starting for us right now. Had Nic entered the NBA draft the summer before he could have possibly been a late lottery pick. He was one of the best players from either the international or USA teams in the 2007 Nike Hoop Summit game in Memphis, TN. We felt like we got great value adding Nic to our team at pick #25.
Blazersedge: How are we seeing those attributes evidenced on the floor this season?
Mike Born: He has been the great fit that we hoped he might be...just doing it a little sooner that we thought. Nic knows what his limitations are right now and he has fit those in nicely around the players that are on the floor. Let's remember that he is 19 years old and starting for an NBA team. If he continues to work like he has so far in his brief NBA career he has a chance to be a very good piece on (hopefully) a very good NBA team. We need to keep adding talent to our team but you also have to have the pieces fit together like a puzzle. We like how Nic fits with our team. He has done everything our coaches, strength coach, trainer, and management have asked of him. He has worked so hard to improve himself. He is working to get stronger and really working to improve his shooting stroke/range. He watches tape with our coaches to understand how he can improve on both ends of the floor.
Blazersedge: Which of those attributes has he demonstrated most readily and which have we yet to see?
Mike Born: He is showing how mature his feel of the game is by playing off of our other players. Nic does not demand lots of touches because those are going to our more proven players. Those players will normally have the ball in their hands to take shots or make plays. Nic understands this and will work to help our team in ways that do not demand touches. He's working on the glass to rebound the ball, getting out and making plays in transition both on offense and defense, sticking his shot when he is open, and playing good defense versus some tough opposing offensive players. He's just making them work for all of their points they score. If you think about who Nic has had to defend so far in his brief NBA career it is an impressive list. He has defended Andrei Kirilenko, Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis, and Corey Maggette just to mention a few. Welcome to the NBA! I do not think he has held anything back yet but he can continue to improve in each of these areas and we think he will.
Blazersedge: How far does he have to go in order to reach his full potential?
Mike Born: As much as I have talked about him being a complementary player, he no doubt can be much more than this. Again, he is 19 years old. Nic has come in with a terrific attitude and an open mind. He has been very coachable and worked very hard on areas that need to improve like his strength, his ability to make open jump shots consistently and his understanding of how defensive schemes work in the NBA. His playing in the French Pro A league has been a tremendous asset because he has been mature beyond his 19 years of age. How he has handled himself is part of the reason he has held his own on the floor versus some very good players. He has to keep working hard on all facets of his game but we love his potential. He has been nothing but a true professional in his short time with our team and we are excited about his future with our team and organization.
Blazersedge: What's involved in the job description for a small forward playing for the Portland Trail Blazers right now? (How does the small forward differ from the shooting guard, for instance?) Is that the position Nicolas is going to be best suited for long-term?
Mike Born: Much of what I have talked about in the previous questions I think can answer some of this. It is not so much that we have requirements for a small forward as it is that he plays off of the guys who are on the floor. We have some nice weapons on the offensive end and what those guys do is score/shoot the ball. So Nic plays as a complementary player right now. Could his role change in the future? Of course it could. But his size, length, how he can rebound the ball, run the floor and finish plays in transition definitely have him fall into the small forward position as of now. And obviously so much of this depends on how Nate and our staff feel they want to use him to best help us win games.
Blazersedge: Have Batum's contributions so far been surprising? Did you think he'd be doing this much this soon?
Mike Born: You are always hopeful that what you see when you are scouting will transfer to the NBA and our team. But there is plenty of gray area in evaluating players. If Martell is not injured right now Nic is an unknown in the NBA. Not that other teams do not know who he is or what he is...but when you play as efficiently as he has played, people see that he is beyond doubt an NBA player. So much of the NBA is about opportunity and Nic has made the best of his. We are excited that he has played as well as he has but hope that he is just scratching the surface as well!
Hope this has been helpful to all. It has been a pleasure to giving a snapshot into our scouting world. It has been a tough 15 games so far but Nate/our coaching staff along with our players have given us some great effort so far. Let's go get one tonight against the Heat! GO BLAZERS!
Thanks to Mike and the Blazers for the look at Nicolas Batum.