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Nicolas Batum Showing He's Ready to Take on Bigger Role for Trail Blazers

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There's a reason the Portland Trail Blazers insisted on keeping Nicolas Batum during the offseason. For one thing, general manager Neil Olshey knows that Batum's only shown flashes of his potential in the NBA.

So the GM matched the Minnesota Timberwolves' four-year, $45 million offer for the 23-year-old restricted free agent, and Batum remained a Trail Blazer.

It was the right move, and already, six games into the 2012-13 preseason, we're seeing signs that Batum is primed for a breakout season.

Despite one clunker of a game -- a mere three points in 23 minutes during a 97-80 win over the Denver Nuggets -- Batum has scored at least 12 points in each of Portland's preseason contests. But it was his performance in the Blazers' 120-114 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night that really caught my attention.

And it wasn't just the stats that mattered in this one, although they were impressive; it was the fact that Batum saw a need for some leadership and he stepped up and delivered it.

With LaMarcus Aldridge taking the night off to rest, Batum went off for 27 points, 15 of which came in the first quarter, and he went 5-for-8 from 3-point range in 28 minutes.

Batum told The Columbian newspaper that his mentality changed a bit with Portland's star forward on the bench.

"I know I'll have to step up sometime when (Aldridge) is out. That's what Damian (Lillard) and I tried to do, Wesley (Matthews) too," Batum said. "We know we have to work together. L.A.'s an All-Star. He's one of the best players in his position, if not the best. I tried to show the young guys like Joel (Freeland) and (Meyers Leonard), who replaced LaMarcus, to do a good job -- and they did a good job."

My only real criticisms of Batum's game the past couple of seasons have revolved around him seemingly disappearing from action, going quiet and losing that aggressive edge. But the fact that he's taking on more responsibility from a leadership standpoint entering his fifth season in the league is a great sign for the Blazers.

Prior to Monday night's game, Batum's preseason high had been 15 points in a loss to Golden State last Friday. He scored 14 against the Suns and the Kings, and had 12 against the Lakers.

Batum is a smooth 3-point shooter who can get to the hoop and can play several different positions. His talent has always been easy to recognize, even if he has, at times, needed to be more aggressive.

But it's clear that Batum is ready -- and able -- to be a leader for these young Trail Blazers, and if Monday's performance is any indication, that could lead to some very good things this season.


Nicolas Batum career stats

Trail Blazers waiting to trim roster until they have to

Blazers Jazz boxscore


Adam Sparks has followed the Portland Trail Blazers since the early 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.

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