Since Ben posted his homage to Nicolas Batum's run-down block prowess yesterday we might as well keep the ball rolling with Nic's season review today. And boy, did Batum give the Blazers more than those people-pleasing blocks this year!
The caveat to any comparison between Batum's sophomore season and his rookie campaign is that he played only 37 games in 2009-10 compared to 79 in 2008-09. Granted rehab from injury is hard work but it's different work than basketball. He experienced half the wear and tear, half the mental and emotional fatigue, half the chances to slump. Before we go completely ga-ga we need to see another season or two of constant production. But if these 37 games were accurate, Batum is well on his way to fulfilling his promise.
Batum's minutes increased from 18.4 to 24.8 per game this season, cementing him firmly in the rotation. That's an increase of approximately 35% in playing time per game. His assists and rebounds increased at relatively the same rate as his minutes did. But check out these offensive numbers (rounded for convenience). Off of a 35% increase in playing time...
- Field Goal makes were up 90%.
- Three-point makes went up 88%.
- Free throw attempts increased 100%.
- Free throw makes were up 140%.
- Total points scored went up 87%.
Switching to raw numbers, Nicolas increased:
- his overall field goal percentage from 44.5% last year to 52% this
- his three-point percentage from 37% to 41%
- his free throw percentage from 81% to 84%
- his True Shooting percentage from 55.5% to 64.5%
- his Effective Field Goal percentage from 53% to 62%.
- his PER from 12.9 to 17.3
- his points produced per 100 possessions from 117 to 127
By comparison Dwight Howard led the league in TS% and EFG% with 63% and 61% respectively. Nene Hilario led the league in points per 100 possessions with 124.3. Nicolas rated above them all, though obviously without playing enough minutes to qualify. This is not to imply that Batum ranks among the offensive elite in the NBA, rather that his offense this year was far more than an afterthought. He was doing far more than stand-still shooting...a legitimate criticism from his rookie campaign. Batum's offensive improvement is the story of his season.
Representative defensive statistics are harder to come by, which is an issue when you're talking about a reputed good defender. The Effective Field Goal percentage of opponents rose when Nic was on the floor compared to when he was on the bench, which is not a fantastic sign. The same is true of their points per 100 possessions. (That said, Batum held a personal PER advantage over his small-forward opponents and his plus-minus was around +3 so he did make headway in the general sense.) Batum's Defensive Rating of 107 is fairly mediocre, especially when compared to the true defensive impresarios of the league. Observation tends to confirm that impression. He's good, but he's not to the defensive level of a younger Tayshaun Prince or a current Thabo Sefolosha yet. Then again he's matched up against good scorers, against whom "success" is defined as shaving a couple points off of a likely-prodigious final total. He's also depended upon to rotate, making his overall contributions harder to quantify. We also have to remember that he is still young so it's no surprise that he's not prepared to handle every point, shooting guard, and small forward in the league (plus some power forwards).
But part of the so-so nature of his defensive performance owes to statistics and observations being averaged out over time. Batum can be brilliant. (Check that link at the top of the story again if you doubt it.) But Batum still suffers from a malady that plagued him well before he became a Blazer: he tends to play "good enough" for long stretches, especially on the defensive end. He's not bad...especially when compared to other young players we've seen come through the organization in the last six years. But not being embarrassing isn't good enough for a guy with Batum's form and ability. Even with his improved offense the defensive touch is what will endear him to this team. The Blazers can find plenty of guys to score. Nic is one of a select few who can also change the game with his defensive energy. Portland needs that more nights, if not every night, before we can say that Batum has truly arrived in this league.
Consistency quibbles aside, Nicolas Batum is one of the best reasons to get seriously excited about this team and its future. His playing time and impact should continue to increase in the near future. He may never be a headline-grabbing superstar. He probably won't ever be his own team's leading scorer. But given what we've seen so far it's hard to put a cap on the contributions he could make to the bottom-line win total of this team. It's hard to imagine the Blazers or their fans not being pleased with him.
Season Performance: A
Biggest Question Marks: Sustained aggression
Future with the Team: Rock Solid, tending towards untouchable