The Portland Trail Blazers are heavily reliant on their two stars, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. The two averaged 36.2 and 35.8 minutes per game, respectively. They combined for 43 points a game, roughly 40% of the team's nightly offensive output. Between them they generate All-Star appearances, game-winning shots and nationally recognized excitement .
Yet neither one leads the team in minutes played. On a team famous for reliance on its starting lineup, Nicolas Batum stands at the workload apex. The Frenchman led the team in average and total minutes played last season and was second to Lillard in 2012-13 by a mere six seconds per game.
Batum is a crucial to Portland's transition offense and defense. He runs off screens and sometimes plays in isolation. He is usually tasked with guarding the opposing team's best player, especially if they stand taller than 6' 5" (see: James Harden). Batum packs the score sheet -- one of eleven players with two or more triple doubles last year, plus a rare 5X5 game (five or more points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) in December 2012 -- and plays one of the better two-way games in the NBA.
But could this production ever be enough to make him an All-Star?
Dozens of factors go into reaching All-Star level status: popularity, statistics, pedigree, playing on a winning team, position, respect. It's a fraternity not easily exited, thus not commonly entered. Even so, a few factors argue for Batum reaching All-Star status.
Batum can play the 3/4 hybrid, plus even a little shooting guard. While he'd certainly be considered a forward in All-Star balloting, Batum spent an estimated 21% of his time at the Power Forward position last season, according to Basketball Reference. The All-Star Game tends to favor these types of guys: Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, LeBron James, Kevin Durant,. Anthony, George and James play essentially the same position that Batum does. With the center designation getting scrapped, leaving a "Frontcourt/Backcourt" model for voting, Batum should get a practical bump in this regard.
Statistically, there's also a lot to be said for Batum. While he certainly doesn't score the same amount as many of those guys (just 13 points a night), his rebounding numbers (7.5), assists (5.1) and defensive capabilities are comparable to the best hybrid players in the league. Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah were the only other players to average at least 7 rebounds and 5 assists last year. Durant ended up as the MVP, Noah the Defensive Player of the Year, and both were All-Stars.
Defensively, Batum is a tremendous asset. While that isn't conducive for All-Star Games necessarily, it could enhance his reputation with coaches. His length lets him guard power forwards, his athleticism can get him in front of point guards. Coaches respect that.
Also skewing in Batum's direction: his team is winning now. Coaches like that too. Anthony Davis was the only All-star reserve whose team didn't make the playoffs last year. One could argue that Damian Lillard made it over Goran Dragic because his team was higher up in the standings.
On the other hand, the All-Star Game is an exhibition. Flashy usually makes it over efficient. Batum is not going to appear in national commercials. His game doesn't make you say "Wow!" While coaches like to reward winning, they aren't naïve either/ The game is serves the reputation of the league and the appetite of its thrill-seeking fans. Both favor entertainment over practicality.
Though terrific statistically, Batum has been tagged as inconsistent in his effort. While coaches may see through that (especially when they have to game plan against him), he simply doesn't have the reputation of an elite level player.
If Batum were lifted to All-Star status, he'd be the third Trail Blazer to join the group. This raises the bar as well. Miami is the only team of the last few years to field three All-Stars in a single year. They had to play in four straight NBA Finals to justify. Boston also had a string of 3+ All-Stars during their Finals runs just a few years back. If Portland can get into consecutive Finals the argument for Batum becomes easier but the short-term odds of that seem fairly unlikely.
Batum becoming an All-Star isn't necessary for Portland to make the next leap. It'd be nice to see him get that kind of acknowledgement for his talent and contributions though. What do you think? Will Nicolas Batum ever reach NBA All-Star status? If so, what will it take?