Upon hearing the Trail Blazers had traded the draft rights to Kansas’ Darrell Arthur and Memphis’ Joey Dorsey to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Nicolas Batum, most assumed it was another case of Portland taking a European player with intentions of stashing him away overseas. After all, letting a player season outside of the ultra-competitive confines of the NBA is a common practice for general manager Kevin Pritchard. Couple that with a nearly full roster and Batum’s relative inexperience and it’s easy to see why so many don’t expect to see the 25th pick wearing red and black come the start of the ’08-’09 season. At this point though, Batum’s return to France and his club team, Le Mans, is hardly a foregone conclusion.
“I don’t think it’s been determined,” Kevin Pritchard said of Batum’s plans for next season, “so we are going to wait and see how it shakes out. I think there’s a chance either way.”
“Whether he’s playing over there in games or playing here, we’re hoping he improves,” said Mike Born, the Trail Blazers’ Director of NBA Scouting. “It’s going to take some time for him, but we really like him as a guy we can bring over this year and start working with him to try to develop his game and see how he fits in with our team.”
Batum is tentatively scheduled to play on the Blazers Summer League team, so the decision regarding whether to add him to the regular season roster could be determined by his performance in Las Vegas.
“He’s becoming a better shooter. He’s working on his defense, and I think he could be a really good NBA defender. That will get him on the floor quicker than later,” says Pritchard. “As our team progresses we’ll need a defensive wing. So if he could become a gritty defender, he’s going to get on the court a lot quicker.”
Batum’s length and athleticism allowed Pritchard and his staff to overlook some of the inexperience and flaws that may have scared off other teams from taking the Frenchman with a first round pick.
“At that part of the draft it’s important for us to take a chance on a kid that has upside,” said Pritchard. “Nicolas has got great length and a great body for a prototypical ‘3’ man. He’s learning the game and we think he could become a nice player in a couple of years.”
There were also questions regarding a potential heart condition, though Pritchard noted team doctors gave Batum’s health a “full clearance.”
Born, who has followed Batum’s progression in Europe for the past three years, said he envisions the 19 year-old crafting his game after another slight-framed small forward.
“When you look at his size, his length -- he’s almost 6-9 with a 7-2 wingspan -- when you look at that stuff and start projecting him as a straight small forward,” said Born. “Now granted, he’s still young and he’s still got a long ways to go as far as being a finished product, but you look at guys like Tayshaun Prince and some of those long, kind of versatile small forwards. He could be a really nice fit for our team. He’s always been a pretty good defender in Europe, always been a good team player.”
Some have called into question Batum’s performances in the French and Euro leagues, though Born thinks those concerns might have more to do with the differences in which young players are treated by club teams overseas.
“He’s been considered at some level a passive player at times,” said Born. “I’ve seen it myself. But he is an unselfish player; he doesn’t mind deferring to his teammates. There’s a fine line there.
“But part of it just may be what the coach wants. He’s 19 years old playing in the French league and Euro league. If you track European teams, there are very few young players that get a chance to play at the top level because European coaches, for the most part, don’t play young kids. They’re going to go with the veteran, the guys that have the experience. So just the fact that he got on the floor says something.”