Even through the Foreign Legion and all the relationships that come with it, one of the closer relationships on the basketball court comes between Portland’s Nicolas Batum and San Antonio’s Tony Parker.
The Trail Blazer’s forward met Tony Parker through a French connection. Both players are members of the France National Team. They spend frequent summers together playing back home, including this past summer when they brought home the first gold medal in France’s basketball history.
In the summer of 2000, a young Tony Parker was invited to participate in the Nike Hoop Summit. The game, a contest pitting the best American high school players against European all-stars, was used as a stepping stone for Parker, after he dropped 20 points and recorded seven assists. Soon after, the San Antonio Spurs drafted him, due, in large part, to his highlights in that Summit game.
Nicolas Batum also participated in the Nike Hoop Summit, this time in 2007. Batum exploded on the scene. Going into the game, he was a relatively unknown name, but ended the game scoring 23 points, a game high, and nabbed four steals. Like Parker, Batum used the Summit to vault his value before the draft. In the end, Batum was drafted 25th overall in 2008.
Shortly after, the two were great friends. Parker was there as a mentor. Batum was always eager to listen. Now, the two are matched up for the first time in the playoffs, and it is quite the friendly rivalry.
Batum told the Oregonian, “He was like, ‘How does it feel to finally play in May? How does it feel to finally get out of the first round?’” about Parker.
After all, Parker has been here before. The three-time NBA champion and Finals MVP has quite the impressive resume. Batum’s career highlights include being a French league rising star and a gold medal at FIBA EuroBasket, which Parker also owns.
As Game Four between the Blazers and Spurs approaches, the master has the advantage over the apprentice.
Parker has been dominant in the first three games. The six-time NBA All-Star is averaging 26 points per game (up nearly ten points from his regular season average), while adding 8.3 assists en route to a 3-0 series lead.
Batum has been impressive as well. While he’s been no Tony Parker, the 25-year old is averaging 16.0 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game, and three assists. Those numbers are very close to his career-year numbers. Batum, however, is mainly known for his defensive prowess.
In the first couple games, Portland’s Coach Terry Stotts left All-Star point guard Damian Lillard with the duty of slowing down Tony Parker. After Parker’s 33 point, 9 assist explosion in Game One, Stotts changed his strategy. The bullish defender Wesley Matthews and lengthy Batum have largely been tasked with the assignment now.
In Game Three, Parker was held to 9 points on 3/8 shooting while Batum was on his case a majority of the half. While Parker has been much more of a force in the first half this series, Batum’s length is definitely an issue. Parker averages 15.7 points and 5.7 assists on 55.3% shooting in the first half this series, while only averaging 10.3 points and 2.7 assists on 48% shooting in the second half.
All in all, Parker’s numbers while defended by Batum aren’t too far off his second half totals for the entire series. The field goal percentage (48 to 37.5) is really the only cause for concern, but the small sample size doesn’t really say the whole story.
The whole story is that Tony Parker is the biggest reason to why the Portland Trail Blazers have only been leading this series for 33 seconds. Total. He has come out guns blazing (no pun intended) as evidence by his first half stats. There hasn’t been the need for him to dominate second halves.
As the Blazers face elimination tonight, Stotts figures to assign the young Frenchman on his mentor. The two friends will be face-to-face, and Parker looks to get the last laugh with a series sweep.
Even if the Spurs do sweep, Parker knows the future is bright for Batum. Parker told the Oregonian, “I think when I retire, he’ll be 28, 29, his best years to try to keep winning with the national team. I know he’s looking forward to it and I think the next step is to try to be an All-Star in this league and try to be a leader.”