Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.com Insider writes that Portland Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum projects as a top-five player at his position next season.
5. Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers Projected 2013-14 WARP: 7.8
Batum's steady improvement hit a plateau in his fifth NBA season, and his 2.2 percent loss in usage rate suggests that playing alongside Damian Lillard may have actually impacted his game in a negative fashion. For Portland to get back into the playoff hunt this season, Batum needs to be a stronger No. 3 to the core duo of Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Right now, Batum is perimeter-oriented, but his 3-point success rate was just around league average last season. He's been around 40 percent a couple of times, and if he can get back to that, then perhaps he can make more plays off the dribble and get to the foul line more often.
Batum trails only Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Paul Pierce (Brooklyn Nets), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs) and Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors) on the list.
Note: LeBron James (Miami Heat) and Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks) are both regarded as power forwards by Doolittle.
Doolittle previously projected Damian Lillard as the No. 10 point guard in the NBA for next season.
There is a school of thought that Lillard entered the NBA fully formed and that, as outstanding as he was in his rookie of the year campaign, Lillard is as good now as he's ever going to be. This is the season we begin to find out whether that's true. ATH projects that Lillard will take a significant step forward, with progress in shot selection and especially on the defensive end.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter