Is there anyone out there who is, like me, a bit nervous about Nic Batum taking on a larger role on offense? I realize that he has potential to be a more complete player than he currently is, but does the team need him to be a more complete player this season? I don't think so. I think the Blazers just need more of what he already provides.
Batum earned his starting role by doing two things: 1) being a guy you can stick on your opponent's best scorer; and 2) nailing the three point shot. Isn't this 90% of what we want from him this season as well? Why not have him conserve energy on half court sets, and save his energy for transition sprints and tenacious D.
Our team does not lack for offense. We've been at or near the top of offensive efficiency measures for the past couple years. We have a multidimensional offensive talent in Brandon Roy; our point guards can't shoot three pointers but are brilliant at penetration. Oden is a beast down low, and LaMarcus can hit from anywhere inside the arc. This is all great, but none of these people shoot threes well except for Roy, and even then he's better at the rim and at mid-range. With the loss of Blake and Webster, we need a sniper to stretch defenses more than ever. No one who will be playing major minutes is more suited to that role than Nic Batum.
Last year Nic admitted that he let his newfound offensive chops get to his head to the point where he was less effective on defense. Monty Williams had to set him straight and remind him that defense is what butters his bread. Monty's gone this year, and if that message is lost it will be a shame. The Blazers have been a middling defensive team the past two seasons. They have the potential to be a very good (though probably not great) defensive team, but only if Oden and Camby stay healthy, and Batum really embraces his role as the team's stopper.
Of course, if Batum is playing with the second unit, he should be allowed to stretch his offensive game a bit more. But when there's so many other offensive creators in the game, he is best off being extraordinarily efficient on limited touches, freeing up the middle for Roy, Miller, Oden, and Aldridge.
This is important not just for evaluating Batum's progress, but also Nate McMillan's effectiveness as a coach. I think Nate is a good coach, although that's not what this post is about. However, if Batum just sits in the corner and strokes threes, I can see that fitting into the "fire Nate" folks' narrative of convervatism and lack of imagination. However, it may just be good basketball.
Now, my entire argument is predicated on the idea that energy spent on becoming an offensive creator at the NBA level will come at the expense of further progress on the defensive and three point shooting fronts. This may not be the case, although as I noted above, Nic admitted it was the case last year. If Nic can dramatically improve his offensive skill set while doubling down in his stopper/sniper roles, then I'll be expecting the Blazers to meet the Heat in the Finals many times in the next few years. I don't think that it's out of the question, but I also don't think that it's likely. Failing that, what this team needs from Nic Batum is more of the same.