During a brilliant stretch between the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, former Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko put together three "5X5" games -- contests in which he produced at least five points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. To a burgeoning advanced statistics community that was attempting to relay how special the do-it-all forward was in terms that went beyond box score statistics, this was the perfect way to relay our charges to those that couldn't be bothered with paying attention to sports until the worker's hour whistle blew, and the early evening cable TV shows got to work. And with the cool, box score-heavy approach of "5X5," we got that in. Too bad Andrei Kirilenko decided to retire from basketball faded a bit from 2006 until the 2012-13 season.
Suddenly, in a random (entertaining, but not altogether expertly played) Portland Trail Blazers/New Orleans Hornets game on Sunday night, Blazers forward Nicolas Batum decided to party like it was 2005. The just-turned 24-year old came up with 11 points, five rebounds, 10 assists, five blocks and five steals in a Portland win marked by Damian Lillard's on-point game-winner in the contest's final seconds. Batum was far from the player of the game, and his work wasn't even noted much by the on-deadline beat reporters who had to file their game stories just minutes after the players shuffled out of the locker room, but his work didn't go unnoticed by an online basketball community that missed you very much, "5X5."
(OK, a few of those assists were dodgy. Then again, some of them were spectacular.)
It's the long ones like Nic that tend to make these stat lines come alive. He's athletic enough to pull off the tougher parts — doubling the amount of blocks and steals it takes, on average, to lead the league in that particular category — and also skilled enough to toss the odd assist (or 10) and score enough. All the things that you need to put in place to earn the sort of four year, $46 million contract that Portland and Minnesota (who wanted to sign him, last summer) fought to hand the guy.
I guess. Though he is frightfully brilliant down the stretch of games.
Weirdly, I've turned into a needless Nicolas Batum obsessive. I'm not going out of my way to point out that I don't think he's worth the sort of money he's making, but I don't pass on remarking about it when it's brought up in the day to day Ball Don't Lie blogroll. And his remarkable evening on Sunday did bring his overall play — if we can use a catch-all stat like Player Efficiency Rating — to about where it was last season. Not great, for a youngster that should be improving year by year.
This is where this remarkable output can help, though. Kirilenko sort of faded, frustrated by his time spent alongside a newly-healthy Carlos Boozer in Utah, attempting to squeeze his game into an orthodox small forward spot in Jerry Sloan's flex (in name only) offense. Other outside pressures hit, to be sure, but the lasting impact was an unfortunate dip in the all-around brilliance that made AK one of the great must-watches for an entire generation of early NBA League Pass obsessives.
Nicolas Batum isn't there yet. Maybe the fact that Hot Rod Hundley isn't calling Trail Blazer games hurts, and it's unfair to compare Nic to something he hasn't coveted, but we're not lining up at 10:30 Eastern with our 'Red Hot and Rollin' banners in place.
This could change, though. The Blazers have the NBA's clear rookie of the year, one of the league's most entertaining fan bases, a legitimate low-post scorer (when he chooses to be) in LaMarcus Aldridge, and the great Sasha Pavlovic. The team might not be appointment viewing in the interim, but if Batum keeps giving both the Portland punters and the League Pass denizens these sorts of numbers all of this may change.
(Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Andrei Kirilenko is having his best season in eight years. We've a long way to go, chums.)