EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Want to come on my poster? Nicolas Batum has impressive leaping abilites, making him a nightmare for helpside defenders |
Nicolas Batum of France, aka 'Batman', is not among the candidates for the coveted FIBA Europe Player of the Year award.
Not this year.
The Portland Trail Blazers forward was the youngest candidate for the 2011 award, and was voted in ninth place, but he has not consolidated himself as one of the top 10 European players year in, year out.
One of the reasons is that he just turned 24 in mid-December.
The only other player who made the 2012 list at such a young age is Batum's long-time 'nemesis', Danilo Gallinari of Italy.
"I wanted to be the best of my generation in Europe," Batum said of his teenage years in an entertaining piece in an Oregon newspaper (read here) a couple of days after his birthday.
"But he [Gallinari] was. He was the best. So every time we would go against each other, I knew it was something special."
Today, ten years since these two super-talented Europeans first went up against each other on a basketball court, they have both progressed enormously and developed into well-respected, on both sides of the Atlantic, professionals.
If Gallinari is the keen scorer, the Frenchman is a more all-round player, someone many now consider the quintessential small forward.
He had graced us with glimpses of his potential in previous seasons with the Blazers and at EuroBasket 2011, but now he is finally having an injury-free season and has added consistency.
On Thursday night, Portland were at home against the reigning NBA champions Miami Heat.
'Batman' got off to a slow start and the Blazers fell 13 points behind.
In the clutch though, Batum decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.
|Danilo Gallinari and Nicolas Batum meet regularly in the NBA but cannot play each other before the Quarter-Finals of EuroBasket 2013|
He dominated the second half on both ends of the floor and just seemed to be everywhere at times.
The 2.03m forward scored 10 points in the final quarter and finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals to lead his team to an against-the-odds 92-90 win over the champions, after Mario Chalmers missed a three-pointer at the death.
Batum has set the bar very high this season, with his season-high remaining a 35-point display against the Houston Rockets in mid-November.
"This team showed me that they love me, that they trust me," he said after the big win against Miami.
"I try to be on there on the court, for the fans, I try to give everything for the city."
Portland have now improved to 20-15 and are in seventh place in the West, just above Gallinari's Denver Nuggets, at 21-16.
Very few of their fans expected them to be in the race for a play-off spot this season.
Every single one of them though acknowledges that a big part of this unexpected run is down to Batum's contribution.
He has started in all 34 games so far, averaging 16.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals per contest.
Even these stat lines still do not reflect accurately his well-rounded game.
Batum is no doubt having the best season of his NBA career since he joined Portland in 2008.
The Oregon club acquired him from Houston, which had selected him with the 25th overall pick of the NBA Draft that same year.
It is impossible to predict whether Portland will make the play-offs, with so many excellent Western Conference teams fighting for a top-eight finish in the Regular Season.
Regardless of the outcome however, this will be a breakout season for Batum and at the end of it, awaits EuroBasket 2013.
'Batman' is well poised to take over from the likes of Tony Parker and Boris Diaw as the go-to-player and the leader of France for the next decade.
And once he gets back onto the European Player of the Year list, expect him to stay there for many years to come.