*The following stats that include rankings were made by only using a list of players that have played at least 20 games and average at least 30 minutes per game*
First things first — Happy 25th Birthday Mr. Batum!
The summer of 2012 was a big one — for both Batum and the Trail Blazers. Neil Olshey took a calculated risk and matched an offer sheet put in by the Minnesota Timberwolves on their 23-year-old versatile small forward Nicolas Batum that is now reaping amazing rewards. At that time Batum wasn’t really happy with his role in Portland’s offensive scheme that was in place by then head coach Nate McMillan. Olshey never had a doubt about matching the big offer (four years/$46.1 million); here’s what he had to say about it:
“The decision was made a long time ago. We were never not going to have Nicolas back.”
Behind his newly-signed contract Batum did not disappoint last year posting career highs in nearly every statistical category. He finished with 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game — all career highs! The season however was disappointing as the Blazers finished at 33-49.
This produced a lot of, “Yeah he’s good, but can the Blazers do better for their money?” type of comments. Well, the answer is no. I mentioned one of the main reasons why in the opening line of this column — Batum is only 25 years old. What wasn’t mentioned is the resounding versatility that Batum shows on a nightly basis for this roster. LaMarcus Aldridge, along with second-year point guard Damian Lillard, are the team’s go-to scorers, Wesley Matthews has turned himself into a premier shooter and Robin Lopez is the defensive center the Blazers needed. So where does Batum fit?
He Does It All
There are currently only three players in the NBA this season averaging at least 13 points, five rebounds and five assists. I’m sure you can guess the first one — LeBron James does this every season; the other two you ask? Rookie Michael Carter-Williams annnnnddd, you guessed it — Nicolas Batum. Batum is sitting on 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists — if he continues at this pace he would again set career highs in rebounds and assists. As is that wasn’t enough, Batum is also the only forward in the league with an assist/turnover ratio of two or better; he sits at 2.02 (LeBron is at 1.62 for reference).
You might be thinking, “OK that’s all fine and dandy but I can get 13 points out of someone for less than $11.3 million a year!” and you would be correct. You certainly can. However, you cannot get someone who does all the things that Batum does for that salary. Let’s take a look at the four salaries that are closest to Nic’s. Andrea Bargnani ($11.8 million) is averaging 14.2 points and five rebounds a night and Tyreke Evans ($11.8 million) puts up 11.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists. The two just below Batum are: Joakim Noah ($11.1 million) who averages 9.6 points and 8.9 rebounds and Richard Jefferson ($11 million) who is basically stealing money averaging 10.1 points and three rebounds. The only one of which you might take over Batum should be Noah.
So, does he play defense? Why yes, yes he does. Batum is wiry at 6’8″, which allows him to guard point guards, shooting guards and small forwards with great efficiency. His defensive rating (which is an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) sits at 101.8 — for reference Roy Hibbert leads the league at a ridiculous 90.0 rating. So his defensive rating is above average for the league and when you couple it with his league-leading offensive rating (an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions) of 112.9 it makes it look even more pleasing to the eye.
Damian Lillard on Batum after a win over the Raptors on November 17th, “He was huge for us. He made shots early, he made shots late. He defended Rudy, he defended DeMar, he defended Kyle Lowry. He was all over the place. He’s Mr. Everything.”
Again, you can always find examples of guys who make less than Batum, who produce more — for instance Stephen Curry is making $9.88M this season; an absolute bargain for the Warriors. Then you see that Hedo Turkoglu ($12 million), Ben Gordon ($13.2 million) and Emeka Okafor ($14.5 million) are all making more and you realize that NBA contracts are based on potential, age and agents’ ability to negotiate a deal, thus making Nicolas Batum worth every penny for the Blazers.
You can contact Chris about this piece on twitter: @Chris_Reichert