Monday, April 20, 2009

More to like about Batum

I hate pulling this much from someone else's work, but the whole thing is so good. Remember that New York Times article about Battier from a few months ago (which I linked to here)? Well, one of the things it talked about was Battier combing the a book full of tendencies and percentages before games. I know that this story about Batum doesn't say exactly the same thing, but it might only be a short matter of time until the coaches are putting together the same sort of book for Nicolas. And this kid is only 20. Crazy. Read the full article here. It's just one more in a series of the best beat work in the league by Jason Quick.

The walking basketball encyclopedia

One thing that wasn't different during pregame was rookie Nicolas Batum, and his ritual of reading the game notes at his locker.

The game notes are a stapled pack of statistics, player bios, team trends, records, etc., which are compiled for the benefit of reporters. However, in the Blazers locker room, a small stack is always present on the back counter, and Batum is the only player I have ever seen look at them.

"Every game,'' he says.

I first noticed this early in the season, in Detroit. At the time, I thought it was because Batum was bored and was having trouble mingling with his new teammates. The game notes, I figured, became his pregame buddy.

But as I'm finding out more and more, there's quite a personality and quite a sharp mind behind the docile looks of this Frenchman. He becomes more and more interesting to me everyday.

Turns out, the 20-year-old Batum likes studying the game notes for two reasons: To know everything about his opponent, and to satisfy his curiosity about various players' career highs, which he can recite on cue.

"Did you know Shaq had 29 rebounds and 15 blocks - in the same game,'' Batum offers, unsolicited. "Same game!''

He then flips a page and directs my eyes to Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo.

"Mutombo - 31 boards, 12 blocks,'' Batum says, using his index finger.

Of course, the main reason he scours the notes is to study the man he will guard. That's why he flips the pages back to Ron Artest. He aligns Artest's bio in the game notes with the page on Artest from the Blazers' scouting report.

"I just want to know who I guard,'' Batum says. "I don't want to be surprised by anything.''

I remark that Artest is a big man.

"Two sixty,'' Batum says immediately, lifting the game notes to show the scouting report page, which shows the height and weight of Artest. "I'm 220.''

We study the scouting report page together. Under Artest's height and weight, it informs that he is right handed.

"See here,'' Batum says, placing his finger on "right handed". "It says that, but he goes left all the time.''

Batum then points out two statistic lines. One has his season averages. The next has his averages against the Blazers. Proudly, Batum points out that Artest's averages against the Blazers are lower than his season averages, including points (17.1 to 15.0) and field goal percentage (41.7 to 36.4).

As I write these down, Batum has returned to the game notes, and Artest's bio, where it lists all his career highs.

"Eight steals. Four times,'' he says, shaking his head.

As I get up to head into McMillan's office, from behind I can hear Batum has found another gem.

"McGrady, 62 points ...''

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