Haynes from Phoenix: What went wrong?
DENVER -- Portland Trail Blazer fans were not the only ones confused with the on-court demeanor of Nicolas Batum during Wednesday night’s 104-91 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe even wanted to know what was up with the small forward.
“Bledsoe said ‘What are you doing tonight? We game-planned for you,’” Batum recalled Bledsoe saying during last night’s game in which he only had seven points on three-of-nine shooting with four turnovers. “So I know got to be more aggressive on offense because I can’t let Dame and LaMarcus be by themselves. I’m going to have to be better this year. I will be better.”
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 60 of the team’s 91 points. Batum did pull down a team-high 13 rebounds in that contest, however a solid offensive night on his part might have been the difference between an embarrassing loss and a victory.
“The message to him and the rest of the team is we have to put forth the mental and physical effort every possession,” Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “Rather it’s on-ball, off-ball. It’s easy to look at the box score and focus on offense but it’s about both ends of the court.”
Batum seemed to just be there last night. He wasn’t overly active and his defense suffered because of it. It’s only one game, and the logical thing would be not to overreact. But Batum has done this a few times in his career.
By simply observing the stats sheet, one would come to the conclusion that he wasn’t engaged. This media publication did. There might be more to it. Batum says last night wasn’t a case of him just not showing up, it was due to defenses playing him differently.
“The last three, four games people are really pushing me to my left hand,” Batum said. “Last year they let me play how I wanted to play on both ends and now they’re denying my right hand so I have to go left. I’m not really used to it. I didn’t really work on it. I tried to work on it this summer but I was in real-game situations so it was hard to do that. Creating jump-shots on my left side will be the next step for me.”
At practice today, during the last 35-40 minutes, Batum said he worked exclusively with assistant David Vanterpool on attacking and creating scoring opportunities while going left in hopes of rectifying that deficiency.
Suns forward PJ Tucker stayed on Batum’s right hand and denied him the ball all night Wednesday, forcing him into uncomfortable situations. Batum is a borderline All-Star player, yet he still has room to grow and the great thing about this is that he acknowledges it.
“I will improve my left but I wasn’t aggressive enough yesterday and I’m aware of that,” he said. “I only took nine shots. There’s no excuse for that. I need to get better. My reputation used to be strictly a spot-up shooter, now people look at me as an all-around player who can score, pass and do so many things on offense. I’ve gotten better, but there’s room for more.”
It’s going to be a work in progress for him to refine his game during the course of the season. To think Batum was putting up triple-doubles with literally one hand is unheard of, yet encouraging. He hasn’t reached his ceiling.
He concluded being aggressive isn’t the main problem. It’s adjusting to how the defenses are playing him. There’s 81 games remaining in the season. He has time to figure it out. Working on your handles and vowing to be more assertive is a start, but his teammate says there’s also another aspect to change.
“It’s more about mentality,” Aldridge said of Batum. “If he takes on the mentality that he wants to rebound like he did last game, he can do it. If he takes on the mentality to do more, he can do it, too, because he’s definitely that talented.”