Notebook: Batum’s offense makes him a starter

PORTLAND — Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum received his first start of the season Tuesday during a matchup against Oklahoma City at the Rose Garden.

Portland coach Nate McMillan said prior to tipoff that he inserted Batum into the starting lineup because he was looking for more energy and increased movement from his team.

Batum’s much praised defensive talents also played into the decision.

But McMillan acknowledged that the second-year forward’s offensive improvement was the main factor.

Had Batum not been averaging 9.3 points while shooting 58.8 percent (30 of 51) from the field and 47.4 percent (9 of 19) behind the 3-point line, it is unlikely he would have received the promotion.

“We’re going to have to shoot the ball (to win), and he’s shooting the ball,” McMillan said. “Both from the floor and the 3. And so that’s a big key. He’s been able to do it on both ends of the floor. If you have one or the other, you wouldn’t really be looking at this change.”

Batum started 76 games for Portland as a rookie last season. But his main asset was on the defensive end, and he averaged just 5.4 points per game.

Batum was slated to be the Blazers’ starting small forward this season. But he missed the first 45 games following shoulder surgery.

Since returning to the lineup, though, Batum has been one of Portland’s best and most reliable offensive weapons.

“The fact that he has made some shots allowed us to take a look at this,” McMillan said.

Bench time

With Batum taking over the starting small forward position, Martell Webster was moved to shooting guard. As a result, Jerryd Bayless was taken out of the starting lineup and returned to a reserve role.

Bayless had started the last seven games while filling in for injured All-Star guard Brandon Roy. The former Arizona standout had shown bright, positive flashes during the stretch. And he recorded at least 11 points in seven of his last eight games, despite dealing with wrist, ankle and thigh injuries.

But Bayless had also been streaky, and he was just 4 of 11 from the field while averaging 6.5 points during the last two games.

McMillan said the speedy, aggressive Bayless should be able to provide energy off the bench. And his trademark playing style that is based on his ability to attack the basket should aid a Portland second unit that must make up for Batum’s departure.

“I think he’s done a good job of scoring for us,” McMillan said. “But defensively, I want him to get back to picking up and pressuring and getting after it. Because he’s capable, and I think the team feeds off of that.”

Moving forward

McMillan said that news about injured center Joel Przybilla being a month and a half ahead of schedule was certainly welcomed. But McMillan cautioned that Przybilla still has a long road to walk.

“That’s a slow process with … both he and Greg (Oden),” McMillan said. “But he’s moving.”

The nine-year veteran underwent surgery Dec. 24 to repair a ruptured right patella tendon. He is not expected to return action until training camp for the 2010-11 season.

But Przybilla has been visible at the team’s practice facility in past weeks, and he recently began walking without crutches and a protective boot.

“It’s always good to see those guys,” McMillan said.

Inching closer

McMillan said he expects to be able to walk without a boot after the All-Star break.

Portland’s coach ruptured his right Achilles tendon Dec. 4. He then missed four games while recovering from surgery.

Since his return, McMillan has often been forced to sit on the bench and relay plays to assistant coach Monty Williams.

But McMillan was eventually downgraded from crutches to a protective boot, and he recently began walking the sideline.

However, McMillan said he was putting too much pressure on his foot while “stomping,” so he plans to wear the boot for at least another week.

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