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Nicolas Batum Talks Blazers' Future, French Connection, Overseas Hoops and More

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Nicolas Batum Talks Blazers' Future, French Connection, Overseas Hoops and More
Soobum Im/USA Today

More than 7,800 miles away in Taipei, Taiwan, Nicolas Batum—the final piece of the Big Three on the French national basketball teamwatched his fellow countrymen Tony Parker and Boris Diaw win the 2013-14 NBA championship in San Antonio.

Batum, the Portland Trail Blazers' standout small forward, was in attendance at an NBA Finals viewing party as part of the league's first-ever Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camp in Taiwan. There, along with NBA coaches and players John Salmons (Toronto Raptors), Ronny Turiaf (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Cody Zeller (Charlotte Hornets), Batum helped lead practices, scrimmages, an all-star game and a life-skills seminar for the top 50 players born in 1996 or '97 from more than 20 Asian and Oceanic countries. He also participated in an NBA Cares Special Olympics hoops clinic.

In all, BWBthe NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development program since 2001has featured 1,700 players from more than 120 countries, with 28 of them drafted in the NBA. This year, the top campers in Taipei were Haotian Bai, Xiaolong Cui, Wenlong Shi, Junjie Wang and Rui Wang.

Courtesy of the NBA
Batum (sitting in the middle) and the BWB campers in Taipei watching the NBA Finals live.

Speaking with Bleacher Report from overseas, Batum shared his thoughts on his BWB experience, watching the Spurs win the title, his and the Blazers' growth going into next season, the World Cup and much more.

 

Bleacher Report: What was your reaction when Tony Parker and Boris Diaw won the championship?

Nicolas Batum: I wanted them to do it and get a ring, especially Boris. Tony had three rings already, but Boris didn't have one.

 

B/R: What has impressed you about Boris' evolution in San Antonio?

NB: He's playing the best basketball of his career. I remember in Phoenix, he was great, he was younger, he was athletic, but I've never seen him that good all over the court. He's smarter and knows how to use his body better in the post.

 

B/R: Your Blazers saw the Spurs' hyperefficient offense up close in the playoffs this year. What made it so effective?

NB: It's just about wins. They don't care about numbers. They just want to be the best team on the scoreboard at the end. It's not about points or assists. They just care about the next guy, playing together, ball movement and winning games. It's just team basketball. They don't do anything crazy when you watch them. They just pass the ball, move the ball, [make the] extra pass and they get wide-open shots. That's it—that's all they do.

Eric Gay/Associated Press/Associated Press
Batum (far right) and the Blazers' starting five, who fueled 54 wins this season, are all set to return.

 

B/R: When you see the Spurs, you see a lot of continuity on the court. They don't make many roster moves. With most of the Blazers coming back next season, is chemistry a key ingredient to improving upon last season?

NB: We've been together for four years and have the same coach now, too. So that's good. We've got Damian Lillard. He's getting better and better, and he's one of the best point guards in the league. We've got LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Wes Matthews, Mo Williams, a lot of young guys on the bench, so we have a good team. I don't think we're going to make a lot of changes this summer, so that's good.

 

B/R: How can the Blazers take another step next season?

NB: We went from a 33-win season [in 2012-13] to a 54-win season, so now we've got to repeat the same season. It won't be easy, especially in the West. The West is pretty crazy, pretty intense. So all we've got to do is just come back and be hungrier and even stronger than we were last year.

 

B/R: This past season, you averaged a career high in rebounds per game (7.5). In March, you averaged a double-double (13.0 points and 11.0 rebounds). What was your approach?

NB: If you want to be a good basketball team, you've got to win the rebounding battle. I can't let the two bigs [Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge] do it themselves, so I tried to do better on the boards. If you watch all the best small forwards in the NBA, they're all good rebounders. So if I wanted to be in that category, I've got to be better on the boards.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Batum didn't miss a game this season for the first time in his six-year career, averaging 13.0 points and 7.5 rebounds.

 

B/R: Your jump in rebounding represents the emergence of the do-a-little-bit-of-everything swingman in the NBA today. There's you and the likes of Paul George, Jeff Green, Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard and Chandler Parsons. What do you think about the growth of your position in the game?

NB: At the small forward spot, if you want to be successful in the league, you've got to do a lot of things on the court. You can't just score or play defense. You've got to rebound, you've got to set picks, you've got to have assists. When you've got a small forward like Kawhi right now, LeBron [James], KD [Kevin Durant], Paul George, Iguodala, Rudy Gay—all those guys can do a lot of things on the court.

 

B/R: What's important for your offseason development?

NB: I'll be on the track and in the weight room, working out in France. I want to build some muscle, get bigger a little bit. I want to be a better offensive player, so I want to add a post-up game and mid-range shots.

 

B/R: What do you think is next for Damian Lillard?

NB: He wants more every year, and he'll be even better next season. He wants to be the best point guard in the league. Damian and LaMarcus Aldridge are a great duo.

 

B/R: Soon, you, Tony and Boris will be together again to compete for the World Cup in Spain later this summer. What does that opportunity mean to you?

Pool/Getty Images
French national team stars Nicolas Batum, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw.

NB: It's always special to play for our country. Every time we play together, we try to be the best team possible. We've got a great team and we have great players, too, but it won't easy because Team USA and Spain are going to be there. But we're going to try to go out there and make our country proud.

 

B/R: Speaking of the World Cup going on right now, who do you like in Brazil?

NB: I love soccer. Huge fan. My favorite player is [Cristiano] Ronaldo, and my sleeper pick to win it all is Belgium.

 

B/R: As we speak, you are in Taiwan. Surrounded by a different basketball culture than what you're used to, what has stood out?

NB: People love basketball around here [Taiwan]. They love it and know about the game. Yao Ming made a huge start, and you can see the influence he had on kids. We did a clinic with Special Olympics kids, and you can see the love and excitement they have for the game. That was very cool.

 

B/R: How did the players react to you?

NB: They came to me and said, "BatumBatum!" They were excited to see us. They want to learn everything about the game, about the NBA life.

Courtesy of the NBA
Batum (second from left) with some of the BWB campers.

 

B/R: What messages do you stress to the campers?

NB: I learned this game when I was 15, 16 years old in Europe, so I know what it feels like to be in their shoes. They just want to learn. I say, "Just be yourself, play your game, don't do too much and enjoy it."

 

B/R: Reflecting on your journey from France to the NBA, have you offered any advice to the players there on how to get noticed?

NB: Like I told them, "It's not easy for us." We don't play in college, we don't get exposed like college players, so we've got to be better than American players and want it twice as much. It's all about exposure, so we've got to work twice as hard.

 

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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