One Bright Spot For The Blazers

Yikes! The Blazers allow 124 points to . . . Washington?!? But while the wheels have come off the Blazer Bus, Nicolas Batum is on a roll. With 33 points Tuesday, here are his numbers for the past nine games:

Averages of 17.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.3 blocks, while shooting .481 from the field, .411 from 3-point range, and .833 from the line. OK, OK, those aren’t All-Star numbers; heck, they’re not even Jeremy Lin numbers. But they’re a step in the right direction, and they raise a couple questions:

— Is Batum making The Leap?

Way, way too early to say until he develops some consistency. But there’s no doubt that he’s playing with increased confidence and urgency, and he is developing into a dangerous 3-point threat. That points out one of the reasons I’ve thought all along that Batum is a future All-Star: He has had a broad base of skills from which to develop. Maybe he would become a 3-point specialist; maybe a Scottie Pippen-type defender; maybe a slasher who can get to the rim at will.

Any of those appeared possible given Batum’s body type and his skills, and that has made him a good bet to become a star.

— How can Nate McMillan keep him off the floor?

McMillan has been under fire for his lineup choices. So on Tuesday, Batum made his second start of the season and matched his career high with 33 points. On the other hand, the Blazers gave up 124 points to a terrible team. That’s not all Batum’s fault; LaMarcus Aldridge left the game after two minutes. But I don’t know if it’s really going to work having Batum start out of position at off-guard.

Get this: Batum has played at least 32:19 in six games this year, and the Blazers are 0-6 in those contests. Coincidence? I have know idea.

— What does this do to the Blazers’ Batum/Wallace problem?

Both Batum and Gerald Wallace are free agents after the season. Can Portland afford to keep both of them? Not if Batum keeps playing like this. He’s driving his price higher with every outing.

A couple years ago, I wrote that Batum would have a better career than LaMarcus Aldridge. That looks rather silly right now, considering that Aldridge has taken The Leap since then. But it’s really not that far-fetched.

If Batum can sustain his recent 3-point production, that makes him a much better player than he was previously. If he can improve his post-up play or his low-post defense or his help defense or his court vision or any number of things, then he becomes much more effective. If he can improve in two or three of those facets, then he becomes an All-Star.

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