2010-11 Portland Trail Blazers Roster Rundown: Nicolas Batum

Today we resume our post-season look at the Portland Trail Blazers roster, reviewing each player's year, charting progress, and evaluating possible futures.  If you missed last week's reviews, you can check out Wesley MatthewsAndre MillerBrandon Roy, and LaMarcus Aldridge.  Today's subject is small forward Nicolas Batum.  How did the Flying Frenchman fare in Season 2.5?  Check out some numbers as an appetizer.

 

10-11

09-10

Change

Games

80

37

+43

Minutes

2522

918

+1604

MPG

31.5

24.8

+6.7

FG%

45.5%

51.9%

-6.4%

3PT%

34.5%

40.9%

-6.4%

FT%

84.1%

84.3%

-0.2%`

FGA/36

11.5

10.5

+1.0

3PTA/36

4.9

5.2

-0.3

FTA/36

2.3

2.0

+0.3

TRB/36

5.2

5.5

-0.3

AST/36

1.8

1.7

+0.1

STL/36

1.0

0.9

+0.1

TO/36

1.2

1.1

+0.1

USG%

17.8%

16.4%

+1.4%

ORTG

116

127

-11

DRTG

108

107

+1

PER

14.8

17.3

-2.5

TShooting%

56.3%

64.6%

-8.3%

NETPTS/100*

-2.5

+5.6

-8.1

PPG

12.4

10.1

+2.3

PPG/36

14.1

14.7

-0.6

Click through for analysis of the numbers, some anecdotal memories, a final grade, and a look at Batum's future with the Blazers...or without. 

The standout numbers to the positive for Nicolas Batum all ride at the top of the chart:  games played, minutes played, minutes per game.  Batum played less than half a season in 2009-10.  In some ways 80 games, 2500+ minutes, 30+ minutes per game are victories in their own right.  The rest of Batum's numbers are sketchy enough to shade that victory towards the Pyrrhic, though.

Batum's usage rate and field goals attempted per minute went up slightly as befits his status as a key rotation player.  Batum was played like a veteran this year, given minutes and the coach's confidence though not all of the offensive rein he'd probably like.  The problem with wanting more was his steep descent in shooting percentage:  6.4% in overall field goal percentage and three-point percentage alike.  The numbers were not horrible, within shouting distance either way from his last full season, his rookie campaign.  45.5% overall from the field is acceptable.  34.5% from three-point land is less thrilling for a guy taking 40% of his shots from that distance.  But the Blazers didn't fall in love with an average-ish guy at starting small forward.  They fell in love with the guy shooting 52% from the field, 42% from the arc, a 126 offensive rating, that 64.6% true shooting percentage.  Those were spectacular numbers.  Batum fell all the way from spectacular to...eh.  It's like thinking you have a prospective ace, putting him in the starting rotation, and having him eat innings with a mediocre ERA while losing 10 mph on his fastball.

Like so many other Blazers, Batum became more of a jump shooter this year, his percentage of jumpers rising from 69% to 74%.  The effective field goal percentages on those jumpers fell from 57.8% to 48.2%.  Another interesting group of stats:  91% of those jumpers were assisted, as were 72% of his close shots and 76% of his dunks.  True, the offense is set up for the small forward to get mostly assisted attempts but along with made three pointers the enduring memories of the season--the great sparks of future promise--were of Batum streaking down the sideline for a sweet and effortless dunk off the dribble.  Neither happened as much as memory would paint.  Batum just hasn't shown the handle and the hard nose in the opportunities he's had.

Worse, Batum's supporting numbers didn't move.  Free throw attempts, rebounds, steals, assists all flat-lined.  Given the previous paragraph Batum's paltry 2 free throws attempts per game isn't surprising, but a hot young prospect should get more.  Rebounds and steals weren't bad, but again you were looking for Batum to seize the game, to use his ample gifts to turn it to his advantage.  That's a skill he hasn't mastered.

Batum's calling card, of course, has been his defense.  He routinely gets tough assignments.  In some ways looking at his defensive numbers is looking a gift horse in the mouth, as this is the guy you send out to guard Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, and Steve Nash.  He's going to skew high.  His defensive rating was completely consistent with his previous seasons, not impressive but not a disaster.  His defensive win shares rose and were equal to Wesley Matthews'.   But Batum gave up higher effective field goal percentages and PER than he produced across the board, a condition which was not true in 2009-10.  Condemning Batum's defense would be harsh but at least one can say he didn't overwhelm.

The recurring question here is, "What do you expect of Nicolas Batum?"  If you're looking for that average inning-eater with occasional sparks of brilliance, you got it.  If you're looking for a breakout star and game changer, he wasn't.  He wasn't even close.  Batum had some of the best, most dominant possessions of his career this year.  When he was on he looked more like an impact-level NBA player than we've seen in the past.  But those moments were too far spaced and filled with too much down time in between.  Getting more minutes and a bigger role he didn't fail but he didn't quite succeed either. Much like the team itself, the most appropriate description of his season may be that he survived it.

Where do Batum and the Blazers go from here?  The immediate reference will be Gerald Wallace, picked up in a mid-season move, known for his impact play, and capable of playing Batum's position.  But Wallace is a high-mileage player with a high risk of injury and thus game degradation.  You can count on him, but not forever.  Batum is younger and still has upside.  Batum also gives the Blazers depth not only at small forward but defensively.  Depth is not an attribute they can take for granted nowadays.  On the other hand Batum was also (apparently) among the most coveted players the Blazers have in trade.  It's doubtful he alone could bring a prize-level point guard or big man even on a talent-for-talent level though, let alone making contracts match.  Nothing is crystal clear for Batum off the court or on.

The easiest road is to keep Batum and let him develop further.  He's not a liability in any way.  He's cheap for a couple years yet.  Those flashes of brilliance were legit and this season was something of a restart for him in a career still in its infancy anyway.  Unless the Blazers receive a stellar offer they're going to keep him.  But he's probably no longer on the completely untouchable list.  He might be expensive but the Blazers will listen.

Season Grade:  C

Stock Market Recommendation:  Hold  (No longer a hot stock to buy, sadly.)

Discuss your impressions of Batum, his season, and his future below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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