London 2012 Basketball: Nicolas Batum's Punch Elevates Question-Mark Status

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterAugust 8, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08:  Jose Calderon #8 of Spain exchanged words with Nicolas Batum #5 of France late in the fourth quarter during the Men's Basketball quaterfinal game on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 8, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

France lost to Spain, 66-59, in a fantastic Olympic elimination game, but that may get drowned out by Nicolas Batum's overhand punch to Juan Carlos Navarro's midsection.

This was one of the ugliest incidents of poor sportsmanship in the history of basketball—no hyperbole. 

For context, Ronny Turiaf had just fouled out after an exaggerated Rudy Fernandez dive. Batum was likely responding to that trigger. 

After the game, Nic was shockingly candid with Adrian Wojnarowksi about why he delivered his dangerous punch: 

I asked Nicolas Batum why he hit Juan-Carlos Navarro in the groin. "I wanted to give him a good reason to flop," Batum said.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 8, 2012

Told Batum some won't think groin shot is in Olympic spirit. Batum: "Do you think if you lost a game on purpose, that's the Olympic spirit?"

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 8, 2012

Batum said he believes that Spain tanked final preliminary game against Brazil to face France in quarterfinals.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 8, 2012

Finally, I asked Batum if he felt like his punch ultimately gave Navarro a 'good reason' to flop. "I hope so," Batum said.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 8, 2012

I can table the discussion of how the FIBA needs better management in favor of another one: Portland must be uneasy about its $45 million man. He shot well in the tournament, but disappeared against Team USA, going 0-of-4 for seven points. 

Between his inability to self-generate offense, to Portland and creating a violent international incident, the Nic era is off to a rocky start. Remember, this is someone who angered a notoriously rabid Blazer fanbase by trying to leave for Minnesota, despite his restricted free agency. During that time, Batum's agent said the following (via ESPN)

Nicolas said, 'I really respect the Blazers' organization, the Blazers' fans. He even mentioned he really loved to be coached by (former assistant) Monty Williams, who was a mentor. But his choice, his heart went to Minneapolis.

Portland is a wonderful city, but there are sources of civic insecurity. The Northwest corner of our country gets the least media attention, and the town has a little-brother status to nearby Seattle. If you tout another place over Portlandia, expect a severe local backlash. 

The comments were especially irksome to certain Blazer fans because David Kahn was involved from the Minnesota side. Kahn has ties to the region and there was a sense (among some, but not in my particular head) that he was making life difficult because of that. 

As for Batum's game and why he became the source of a bidding war, the answer is "potential." There are only so many long, athletic wings who can shoot the three and play a small-ball power forward. Batum can theoretically guard four positions, if his defensive game grows into that body. And at age 23, there could be considerable growth.

I'm more of a naysayer on this. Batum has yet to demonstrate the defensive skills that are attributed to him, and he relies on others for his shot. While he could be a valuable contributor, "max" is pushing it. 

Those were concerns I had before the terrible PR and worse groin punch. Brace yourselves, Blazer fans. And cover up those tender parts while you're at it.