http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2013/11/18/5117054/nicolas-batum-portland-trail-blazers-feature-2013"He was huge for us," Lillard said. "He made shots early, he made shots late. He defended Rudy, he defended DeMar [DeRozan], he defended Kyle Lowry. He was all over the place."
Batum ties the team together. He's a supercharged glue guy, asked to guard the opponent's best player in crunch time, rebound and make plays for himself and his teammates.
"He's Mr. Everything," Lillard said.
When Batum hit that first overtime three, he hadn't scored since the third quarter. In the meantime he moved the ball and stretched the defense. You might forget about Batum when watching Portland, then he'll issue a loud reminder of his presence. Sometimes it's a clutch shot. Other times, it's a pretty pass or a block.
Sometimes, it's a violent dunk you could have never seen coming, like the one he crammed on Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas in the third quarter.
"That's who he is," Aldridge said. "He always blends in, then he stands out."
Batum and the Blazers have won six straight games and eight of 10 to start the season. It's their best start since 1999-2000, the last time they made it to the conference finals. Portland's carving out an identity based on an offense both beastly and beautiful. There's a dynamic point guard, a power forward who demands a double team and an almost always perfectly spaced floor. The ball movement is what makes the team so dangerous and so damn fun to watch.
Damian Lillard: "When a guy gets going, we can put Nico on him with his length and his speed and quickness. He’s a competitor. If we need a shot to be made, we can put Nico out there to make a shot. We can put the ball in Nico’s hands to make a play off the pick-and-roll. It says a lot about his versatility."
Mo Williams: "That’s what I expect. If [Thomas Robinson] goes out there and guards Rudy Gay and does a good job, that’s impressive. But with Nico, I expect that each and every night from him. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks."
Against Toronto the Blazers made a season-high 15-for-32 three pointers, including 5-for-8 from Batum. This season they've out-assisted their opponents in every game but one and made more threes in all of them.
"It's a lot to handle for 48 [minutes]," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after his team tried to deal with it for 53.
Portland isn't stacked with superstars, but it has a lot of weapons. Head coach Terry Stotts keeps three long-distance shooters on the floor at all times, sometimes four.
"I think that's the key thing," Blazers guard Mo Williams said. "The good thing about this team is I have just as much confidence in Nico as I do in [Aldridge] if one of those guys is open. Same with Dorell [Wright]. You can go down the bench ... you're not looking past a guy like, ‘He can't make a shot, so I'm not going to make that pass even though it's the right play.'
"You get in those situations and that's when team chemistry gets messed up. Guys start doing their own thing and that's when everything kind of goes south."
You could say that Portland's precision and poise reflect the personalities of Aldridge or Lillard. That wouldn't be wrong, but the Blazers also are defined by playing an unselfish and balanced game, which describes Batum perfectly.
Batum finished with 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting, plus six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal against Toronto. The points were a season high, as were the attempts: he isn't one to force it. Once purely a spot-up shooter, he's been empowered to create and facilitate in Stotts' system, which he brought over from his days as a Dallas Mavericks assistant. Averaging 5.4 assists per game, it's no longer a surprise when Batum is in triple-double territory.
"He likes making an assist as much as scoring points," Stotts said.