A few brief background vignettes to begin.
First, I had a chance real-life encounter with a Blazersedge die-hard reader/commenter on Tuesday. This doesn't happen all that often. (The primary reason for that is I don't get out much.) But, anyway, there I found myself, neck deep in boredom from the lockout, entering a fully sanitized medical office, surrounded by sixty-year-olds, when a Bedger popped up out of nowhere, eager to discuss the Blazers and, in particular, forward Nicolas Batum and his play in the ongoing EuroBasket tournament currently being held in Lithuania, or roughly 7,000 (?) miles away from the sanitized medical office.
"Did you see his head bandaged?!"
Indeed, I did. And, pardon my French, but that's what the [bleep] I'm talking about. Interest in both the NBA and the Blazers has waned in a big time way over the last two months; it was great to come across someone else who is still fully invested, despite the ridiculousness of the CBA negotiations and the lack of real news.
Second, Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus fame sent over an unusual message the other day. This time of year, Pelton's communications consist of two, and only two, topics.
One: Begging me to buy WNBA tickets. Really, that's a year-round practice of his but it's particularly strong in the late-summer and early-fall. Two: Trying to convince me to copy edit his annual Basketball Prospectus season preview book for free and justifying the (lack of) compensation situation by pretending that he purchased pizza for both of us 2.5 years ago. (Never happened.) The begging is generally followed by a few status report seeking emails with just "??????" in the body, wondering why it's taking so long to copy-edit 25 page PDFs full of mathematical formulas, references to the 1992 Seattle SuperSonics and television shows that no one under the age of 60 has watched. As if I wouldn't rather be out enjoying the sunshine, trying to ride my bike and pitching myself over the handlebars because I don't really know when to use the front brakes. By the way: Buy his book when it comes out.
Anyway, the second lightning bolt struck when Pelton asked simply: "Have you been watching Nicolas Batum at the EuroBasket? He's been killing it."
To penetrate KP2's ticket-hawking, book-writing membrane (force-field, really) it takes something fairly special. To keep fans engaged halfway across the world when there's no immediate promise of a season and after months since the last season takes something fairly special.
I don't think it's a coincidence by any stretch that the "something fairly special" is Batum. As we've written about at length over the last few years, his game and personality combine to provide something for everyone. He's polite, yet tough. He's graceful, yet forceful. He's immensely talented, yet provides promise because he still gleams with potential. He's a team player, with an upbeat attitude, a fascinating background and he's still on an affordable rookie deal. He has started and come off the bench, played multiple positions and provides more highlight reel plays -- dunks and blocks -- than anyone on the squad not named LaMarcus Aldridge.
Of course, at 22, he's also shown that he's far from perfect and far from totally consistent. He also lost his starting spot in the aftermath of the trade for Gerald Wallace. Going forward, the Blazers -- minus healthy versions of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden -- will need a lot from him but the frontcourt is all a bit awkard right now. No one seems to want to play the positions they will need to play unless Oden reappears from the mist to set everything right.
With that "something fairly special" in mind, I thought we'd track Batum's progress through the rest of the EuroBasket tournament in a bit more detail.