Weve spoken about everyone already except for the most interesting prospect on hand here in Le Mans (and possibly in all of Europe), Nicolas Batum
. After a pretty lackluster showing against Milano in 19 foul-plagued minutes, Batum came back with one of the best performances possibly of his professional careerjust on time as far as I was concerned personally.
Batum scored in a variety of different ways in this game. His 3-point stroke was definitely on, coming off screens on separate occasions and knocking down two pretty difficult looks-- catching, elevating, shooting pretty fluidly and hitting tough shots. His shot looks to be improving all the time it seems, even if his mechanics arent perfect, hes clearly putting in a ton of work from what we saw over the four days we spent here.
Even if his 3-point shot is still streaky (29% in France, 23% in the Euroleague, 14/53 total), his mid-range game is looking as deadly as ever. Coach Vincent Collet (who really seems to enjoy working with the young players here from what we can tell) is putting in a ton of time on an individual basis with Batum every single day, working with him on all the little things he needs to improve on to be successful in the NBA. The part of his game that he seems to be stressing the most (besides the mental aspect) is his in-between game, which could become a lethal weapon in the NBA for a player with his tools at his position. Blessed with fluid and quite freakish athletic ability (combined with the high release point of his shot), Batum is capable of creating separation from his defender and through his pull-up mid-range jumper almost whenever he pleases. He found lots of success in this game by utilizing a sweet crossover move leading into a smooth pullup jumper from 17 feet.
Being just an average ball-handler at the moment, and thus not the most dangerous shot-creator in the half-court, Batum is forced to rely on other parts of his game to produce offensively. We saw him do that in this game by moving off the ball intelligently, finding seams in the defense, and making sharp cuts to the hoop, as well as by being his typical spectacular self in transition (where he truly excels).
Batum is the type of player who could really benefit from having a point guard with outstanding court vision, something he lacks here in Le Mans. One play that stood out in the Milano game was on a 3 on 2 fast break where he was streaking down the floor begging for a good lob that he could flush home. Instead, Raviv Limonad (a very talented scorer in his own right) threw up a wild pass that was not even close. Batum could get 4-6 points in this fashion just by moving off the ball every game, and this certainly seems to be an area that the free-flowing style of the NBA could benefit him.
Although the players around him arent particularly gifted passers, no one can say that about Batum himself. Thats something we saw on a constant basis, whether it was through his excellent post-entry passes, his drive and dish plays, or just his lightning quick decision making as a key cog in his teams half-court offense. This is both a blessing and a curse for a player like him, since hes clearly able to make everyone around him better, but at times youd wish that he would just be a little bit more selfish and get his team the easy two points.
Sometimes you wonder if its just a lack of aggressiveness he suffers from, while in others you begin to wonder if hes simply afraid of taking contact at the hoop, something that he clearly avoided in both games we saw. He had a chance on one play for example after an offensive rebound in the paint to go up strong and finish emphatically (he would had have absolutely no problem doing so), but instead, he decided to get cute and instead flip the ball to a teammate inside the paint for him to finish instead.
This is a bit of a trend as far as we can tell with Batum. Hell have an open lane to the basket sometimes and will barely look at the rim, or in certain minutes as he did during the Milan game for example, will just completely fall asleep on the court and barely make his presence felt. We saw both sides of this in the Euroleague and French league games this week. In the Euroleague, he didnt grab a single rebound in 19 minutes, while against Nancy, he came away with 9 in 40 minutes. Defensively, he did a very good job for the most part (his tools are just outstanding here), but there were a few moments that he looked a little too laid backexactly his nature off the court by the way. Growing into his terrific frame will help him fight through screens, and might make him tougher finishing around the basket too.
Whats scary is that a player like Batum can warrant so much criticism after producing such an excellent stat-line (he also added 5 assists to go along with his 25 points and 9 rebounds). That might give you a hint as to how much potential he still has at his disposal to tap into. His ball-handling and perimeter shooting skills are still very much improvable, but hes already an excellent player as it is.
He really does remind quite a bit of Rudy Gay
, although he probably possesses an even better feel for the game. To really reach the type of success we can surely envision as a do-it all, 3rd option Scottie Pippen
-type role player, hell have to land in the right situation, with a good point guard, and a coach that likes to play up-tempo. Hell also have to be pushed quite a bit to get there, since he might not be able to get there if hes on his own. We must say that hes clearly making some important strides in this very valuable extra season he decided to give himself in Le Mans.