Should We Wait For The Real Nicolas Batum To Return?

Nicolas BatumThis season, Nicolas Batum’s ADP (average draft position) was 26 on ESPN, 23 on Yahoo! This was ahead of players such as Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap, Mike Conley, Klay Thompson, Marc Gasol, to name a few. Marc Gasol – just let that sink in for a bit.

Safe to say, Batum might have been taken a bit too high this season. Last season, his numbers came out to:

36 .465 .803 1.8 13.0 7.5 5.1 0.9 0.7 2.5

Production across the board, especially while ranking sixth in assists amongst small forwards, where only seven averaged more than five assists a game.

Now, take a look at his stats from this season:

33 .385 .804 1.1 8.9 5.2 4.6 1.2 0.7 1.8

And the stats from past two weeks:

32 .288 .688 0.7 6.6 6.1 4.1 0.7 0.9 2.1

Conclusion: less than stellar. The field goal percentage is especially troubling.

Let’s take a look at a few issues that will give us a clearer picture of what exactly is going on.

The minutes are still there.

A sigh of relief, as Coach Stotts still appears (against all odds) to have confidence in Batum. Regardless of production, Batum’s minutes are not in danger and are actually likely to increase with LaMarcus Aldridge’s recent thumb injury. Portland simply relies too much on their starters for them to lose playing time. Damian Lillard averages 36 minutes a game, with Wes Matthews at 33, and Aldridge at 35. Batum himself has logged at least 35 minutes in 18 of the last 42 games. Somewhere, Tom Thibodeau is nodding slowly, with his eyes closed and hands steepled. (For reference, Jimmy Butler is averaging 39 minutes a game this season.)

But… His Usage Is Down

2013-14 Usage Percentage: 16.4

2014-15 Usage Percentage: 14.6

Usage Percentage is the percentage of a team’s offensive possessions that a player uses while on the court

For comparison, Lillard’s usage percentage is 26 percent, while Aldridge is sitting at a team-carrying 30 percent. While Batum was never the focal point of Portland’s offense, he was essential as the “glue-guy” with his versatility. However, for a player that is on the court for 32 minutes a game, seeing the numbers drop further from last season is slightly troubling.

Shooters And Wrist Injuries Don’t Go Together Well

Despite an assortment of nagging injuries, Batum has been a crazy durable player, playing all 82 games last season. With hand injuries increasing exponentially across the league the last few seasons for unknown reasons, numerous players have been missing up to weeks at a time.

While Batum is tough enough to stay on the court, the downside is the hit to his field goal percentage: he’s shooting 26 percent from three-point range on 4.4 attempts. For the past season, Batum has launched 4.9 three-point attempts, making 36.1%. The season before: 37 percent on 6.1 attempts. And his scoring average those seasons?

13.0 and 14.3 respectively.

So what’s the reason for his low-scoring output this season? Not only is Batum not making shots but, more importantly, he is not making his three-point shots. Simply put, as a player who takes half of his shot attempts from behind the arc, Batum’s scoring will come and go with his success from long-range.

Option #1: The Case for Moving Batum

For a player to be rosterable while averaging nine points a game on 39 percent shooting, he better be outstanding in the other categories. Batum’s value came from the fact that he was fantastic, especially in roto, with his eight-category production. This year that simply has not been the case. Batum won’t win any games for your team, but he can lose them by underproducing.

Batum is not droppable except in eight-man leagues. On the bright side, there is likely someone willing to gamble on Batum, given his past body of work. Teams who are comfortably in the playoffs and can afford to stash players might be interested in taking on Batum for the long haul. Of course, use caution with this strategy.

Option #2: Zen and Patience: The Case for Keeping Batum

  • The guy is 26. His backup is Dorell Wright.
  • His minutes are consistent. Although the usage rate has dropped, once his shooting touch is back, he should be more involved on offense. His rebounding, playmaking, and steals are still solid and are here to stay.
  • Batum is not a volume shooter, so his field goal percentage does not necessitate punting. He is also not a volume free-throw shooter, but he’s still making a cool 80 percent from the line.
  • Assists are hard to come by on the waiver wire, especially long-term. Players like Mo Williams and Evan Turner are solid streaming options, but they are only short-term players at best. Batum’s 4.6 assists from the small forward spot is nothing to dismiss.
  • With the All-Star Break coming up in February, rest could work well for a Blazers team that commits hard to its starters. Given the chance to take care of more than a few injuries, Batum could easily get back on track after the break.

Or all this can be used as ammo in convincing someone to take Batum. That’s okay too.

Personally, my hopes are that Batum will be rested for a prolonged period of time, meaning weeks, if necessary. While this might frustrate owners further, having him healthy in time for the fantasy playoffs is a better alternative than a minor injury affecting his shot all season.

Unlike other players whose production will likely stay down this season due to crowding (e.g. Joakim Noah), tanking (e.g. Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony) or local produce (e.g. Larry Sanders), Batum has plenty of opportunity to bounce back.

Don’t count him out just yet.

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