Portland Trail Blazers' Nic Batum Has Surprisingly Been Worth Every Penny

Michael DulkaContributor IMarch 5, 2013

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  Nicolas Batum #88 of the Portland Trail Blazers at American Airlines Center on February 6, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

During the offseason, the Portland Trail Blazers took a sizable risk by giving Nicolas Batum a high-priced, long-term contract. 

The team matched the Minnesota Timberwolves' offer sheet for Batum and signed him to a four-year deal, worth $45 million, according to USA Today. For the 2012-13 season, Batum is making $10.8 million (via spotrac.com). 

Despite the high price tag, Batum has proven his worth and played to the value of his contract. 

Batum has improved his game this season in a number of ways. In doing so, he has become a more well-rounded player. Averaging career highs of 15.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, his game is much more streamlined as he's taken more control of the offense.

He has moved the move ball much better and contributed to a smoother flow for the Blazers. Before this year, Batum's best season passing the ball was in 2010-11 when he had 1.5 assists per game. This season that number has risen up to 4.9 assists per game.

His willingness to share the ball more regularly and find teammates has meshed wonderfully with rookie point guard Damian Lillard. As a team, the Blazers are at their best when they are frequently moving the ball and finding the open man.  

Throughout the year, the lengthy small forward has become an everything-man. Batum is beating defenses with his jumper, his ability to use his size to drive to the hoop and his activity on offense.

In addition to his offensive improvements, Batum has continued to be a strong defender. His length has tormented players on the perimeter and in the paint. On a number of occasions, Batum has done this to offensive players: 

He is third in blocks among small forwards with 1.16 per game. Josh Smith (two) and Kevin Durant (1.22) are the only players at the position with more. The Blazers have been less-than-stellar defensively, giving up the 10th-most points per game with 99.8 points per night. Without Batum, that number would surely be higher. 

Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 22, Batum showcased the multitude of ways he is capable of attacking a defense:

In that game, Batum helped carry the Blazers by creating his own offense, knocking down big shots, staying active and grabbing offensive boards. 

His game works nicely alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Lillard. The trio gives the Blazers a solid foundation to build around. By locking up Batum with the contract last season, the Blazers have all three players under contract until Aldridge becomes a free agent in the summer of 2015. 

While they have a large amount of money committed to those three players, the Blazers need to surround that core with sufficient talent. Should they do so, the Blazers will have a great opportunity to get back into the playoffs and start being competitive in the Western Conference once again. 

The Blazers took a risk by giving Batum the contract they did and so far it's paid off immensely. If Batum keeps improving like he has from year to year, the Blazers will have gotten a steal with Batum's contract last summer.