Nicolas Batum is the future for Team France, and a big part of the future for the Portland Trail Blazers. The 21-year-old small forward has two seasons under his belt in the NBA, where he is preparing to take over as a full-time starter next season, and this summer has a featured role representing his country at the FIBA World Championship tourney in Turkey.
But the 6-8 rangy athlete won’t be able to take advantage of his raw talent and improving skills if he’s not on the court. Batum only played in 37 games last season (10.1 ppg) due to a right shoulder injury, then he hurt the same shoulder during Portland’s first-round playoff series against Phoenix. Going into the WC tournament, Batum says he’s ready to try to win a medal for France, then take his place in helping the Blazers make some noise in the playoffs. I got up with Batum for a few minutes after France’s outdoor practice at Rucker Park yesterday during the World Basketball Festival:
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Dime: How is France looking for the World Championship?
Nic Batum: We have a good team. Of course we’re missing some key guys like Tony Parker, Ronny Turiaf and Joakim (Noah), but we still have good players like Boris (Diaw) and Alexis Ajinca. We have good coaches and a good attitude.
Dime: What kind of style should we expect to see at the Worlds?
NB: We’re going to run. I think our (average) age is 24 years old, so we have a lot of young guys who can run. We’re going to play defense first, then run and get good shots in transition from our defense.
Dime: How does your role with France compare to your role with the Blazers?
NB: I’m more aggressive on offense (for France). The defense is the same like I do in Portland, but I’m probably more aggressive on offense.
Dime: With Martell Webster getting traded and Travis Outlaw leaving, things should be different for you in Portland.
NB: I think it shows they have more trust in me. For the past two years they’ve put me on the court, but with Martell and Travis we all had to play. Now I think they trust me to put on the court for a long time.
Dime: Are you ready to be the full-time starter?
NB: Oh yeah, of course.
Dime: How are you health-wise?
NB: I’m OK. I had some good rehab the last two months before joining the national team. I feel good.
Dime: Who are the teams you’re expecting to be the strongest in the World Championship?
NB: Spain. Definitely Spain, USA, Argentina … those three teams for sure.
Dime: In the exhibition against Team USA tomorrow you might be guarding Kevin Durant a lot. Talk about how his game.
NB: He’s just a great scorer. He is tall and he can shoot, and he gets good shots.
Dime: What have you been working on this summer with your game?
NB: Offense. Shooting the ball, dribbling, coming off screens, everything.
Dime: What did you think of the moves the Blazers made in the offseason?
NB: We didn’t bring in a lot of new players, it was more staff; getting a new GM, getting new coaches. We have the same group of players and we work well together. The chemistry is right for this team.
Dime: You just have to stay healthy.
NB: (Laughs) Definitely. Last year was really bad luck. It was crazy. All you can do is try to take care of your body in the offseason. But next year we will be very good if we don’t have injuries.