NICOLAS BATUM, Portland Trail Blazers
Nicolas Batum enters his fifth NBA season after a particularly interesting summer. He went public with his desire to play for Rick Adelman in Minnesota, but the Blazers matched the Wolves’ hefty offer and Batum remained a Blazer. Known as an extremely passionate fanbase, the Blazers faithful expect Batum to earn every penny of his new $45 million deal. There’s no doubt the lanky forward from France has the tools to be an impact player, but many wonder when he will start approaching his vast potential. His points, rebounds and steals numbers have increased marginally each season but he has yet to make a large leap in any category. This will be Batum’s first full season without having to compete for starter’s minutes at small forward, and he shows the ability to excel when given the opportunity.
Among qualified small forwards last season, Batum ranked eighth in PER (17.32) while posting only the 20th-highest usage rate. Under new head coach Terry Stotts, Batum can expect an increase in shot attempts and more opportunities in the open court. Stotts has also been vocal about Batum getting looks in pick-and-roll sets – both as the ballhandler and the screener. Playing for France in the Summer Olympics, Batum showed his ability to stuff a box score and excel as a team’s secondary option on offense (which he will now be in Portland). Batum’s performance will need to exceed expectations this year, and when they do, look for him to be a solid candidate for Most Improved Player.