PORTLAND — While Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard has gabbed much of the attention, forward Nicolas Batum has impressed the stat watchers.
Batum had the first 5x5 since 2006 on Sunday in a 95-94 Portland victory over New Orleans. A 5x5 is a game when a player has at least five points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots in one game. No one had reached the benchmark since 2006.
The 6-foot-8 French forward's final line looked like this: 11 points, five rebounds, a career-best 10 assists, five steals and a career-high five blocked shots.
After the game, he posted to Twitter from Portland's famous Voodoo Doughnut shop: "Yes I deserve it!"
What makes the feat even more impressive is that Batum has been dealing with a sore back that has hampered him for several games. He sat out of Portland's 92-74 victory over Toronto on Dec. 10 and his back is still bothering him.
"A little bit," he said. "I can't really jump and move like I want to."
Batum's 5x5 game was the first since Andrei Kirilenko had one with Utah on Jan. 3, 2006. The NBA didn't tally steals and blocks before 1972 but since then the mark has been hit 15 times. Hakeem Olajuwon has the most 5x5s of any player with six, while Kirilenko has three.
Batum also became the first player with at least 10 assists, five steals and five blocks in a single game since Jamaal Tinsley on Nov. 16, 2001. It was his first double-double with points and assists.
"It was big for me," he said. "I've never had 10 in the NBA yet."
The weight of Batum's accomplishment didn't really hit until later, because the finish against the Hornets was so frantic. Damian Lillard hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left. New Orleans made an alley-oop layup but didn't even try for the game-tying 3 as time ran out, apparently out of confusion about the Trent Tucker rule.
To top it off, LaMarcus Aldridge left the court wincing in the final minute with a left ankle injury. Portland's All-Star forward sustained a sprain and won't play in tonight's game against the Suns.
Batum joked that if his back hadn't been sore, he may have been able to do more. A 10x10 perhaps?
"Yeah, maybe," he smiled.
The mark demonstrates how the 23-year-old is growing into his role as a facilitator for the 13-12 Blazers, coach Terry Stotts said.
"That's something I told him after the game — one of my hopes for him was to expand his role as a facilitator, as a playmaker, not just as a scorer and not just as a catch-and-shoot guy," Stotts said. "I think he relishes that versatility."
Overall this season, Batum is averaging 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.73 steals and 1.23 blocks per game for the Blazers. He has set or tied career highs in points (35), assists (10), steals (six) and blocks (five).
It almost looked this summer like Batum would not play in Portland this season.
The Blazers got into a poker match with the Timberwolves over the forward, eventually matching Minnesota's four-year offer sheet worth more than $45 million.
While Portland insisted the whole time it would match any offers for him, the matter was complicated when Batum's agent said the French forward preferred to play in Minnesota. The Timberwolves had hoped perhaps they could force a sign-and-trade.