Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts has taken to putting small forward Nicolas Batum on opposing point guards early in games. Batum's long wingspan allows him to muck up passing lanes as teams try to start their offense.
The Blazers like to fight over the top on all pick-and-roll plays, and with Batum trailing his arms allow him to contest shots from behind and cause backside pressure for shooters.
It also allows for situational switches that wouldn’t be possible with a smaller guard defending. On wing screens, it allows Batum to switch with Wesley Matthews, where the size disparity between wing and guard doesn’t create a mismatch.
Damian Lillard is aware of the strategy, and told Blazersedge on Feb. 2, "A lot of teams run the pick-and-roll with the three and the one and we want to be able to switch that."
In this play against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wesley Matthews is guarding Evan Turner while Batum is guarding Michael Carter-Williams.
As Turner comes to set a screen for Carter-Williams, Batum stays home and takes on Turner on the switch.
This also allows for an advantage in the side pick-and-roll. On this play against the Toronto Raptors, Kyle Lowry cuts across the formation as Chuck Hayes rolls to the right block. Batum follows Lowry as Joel Freeland tracks him across the lane.
As Lowry moves to take a jumper, Batum lets Freeland contest the shot and has the position and size to box out Hayes for the rebound. In both of these situations, a smaller guard would have been at a size disadvantage.
Of course, a lot of this has to do with Lillard’s deficiencies on defense. His inability to fight over screens and his issues staying in front of ball-handlers — particularly by overplaying the dominant hand and biting on the first dribble move — has made him the weakest link on defense for Portland starters.
This forces Batum on to many opposing point guards by default, and unless the Blazers can improve the young guard’s defensive habits, we should continue to see Nicolas Batum guarding the ball-handler earlier in games.
Video via MySynergySports.com.