This afternoon Blazers’ faithful (and my best friend who has him on his fantasy team) issued a sigh of relief upon hearing the news that Nicolas Batum‘s MRI on his ankle came back negative. According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Batum hurt his ankle two weeks ago against the Celtics…
#Blazers F Nicolas Batum dealing with right foot injury he sustained 2 weeks ago vs Boston. Has no range of motion. Will have MRI tomorrow.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) January 27, 2014
Again — this is supposed to be good news. Easily the Blazers most versatile player, Batum is already struggling through a finger fracture in his dominant hand and now he we find out he has this ankle injury as well.
I’m all for being tough and playing through injuries, but when your team is 33-12 and you are an integral part to long-term playoff success maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to take a week or two off and rest up. Before you freak out on me, realize that the Blazers only have two games this week (Memphis on Tuesday and Raptors on Saturday) so this would be a great time to sit out and come back rested before the All-Star break.
Since the fractured finger Batum has played and started all 11 games and is putting up great all-around numbers while scoring and shooting less. He’s shooting 45.3 percent from the floor for 10.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists but is shooting about two less shots per night in his 35.4 minutes.
Let’s Get Hypothetical
Hypothetical is always fun, right? Well, let’s just think about this for a second — the news comes out and instead of the MRI being negative it comes back positive, but Batum only has to miss two to three weeks to get back to 100 percent.
What would the Blazers do?
It’s really an interesting dilemma because one would think, “Well, you play Dorell Wright,” and I would be inclined to agree with you, but would Terry Stotts? Wright hasn’t played a single minute since Jan. 4 and in that game he played 12 minutes going 0-for-1 from the floor with three assists — since then, zip. If you’re Wright you have to be a little upset that you aren’t getting more minutes when you are clearly the best option at backup small forward, at the minimum. However, the team is rolling and to his credit Wright has not made any complaints (at least not public ones) and for all we know he is just waiting for his chance.
In my humble opinion, this would be that chance. Sure, Wright has struggled this season but 13.5 minutes per night is hardly enough to truly put your stamp on an NBA game. If Wright did get the nod as the starting small forward we would have to assume he would get Batum’s usual heavy minutes and the last time Dorell got minutes like that he was superb.
The first word that comes to mind for me is, “Wow!” those numbers are pretty similar. I think a lot of you would have combated the Wright can fill in for Batum debate with — but Batum is more of a playmaker. Agreed, but the margin isn’t that wide considering these stats. Wright was certainly playing in an up-and-down style with the Warriors in 2010-11 but they didn’t share the ball like the Blazers do this season as a team (Blazers average 24.4 assists per game while the 2010-11 Warriors averaged 22.5 per night).
For me the real argument would be that Wright simply cannot defend like Batum does. You look at those numbers above and probably think, “How in the world does Batum make so much money?!” but in reality his value goes far beyond the stats. Night in and night out he guards the opponent’s top scoring option on the perimeter — from point guards to small forwards he guards em’ all.
To further nail home the difference in defensive prowess of these two small forwards we compare once again. In 2010-11 Dorell Wright’s defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions) was a paltry 108.1 and even given his dynamic offensive output that season he had a net rating of -2.1. Batum’s defensive rating this year is a middle-of-the-pack 104.8 but his net rating is stellar at 7.3 due to his offensive rating being second only to his MVP-candidate teammate LaMarcus Aldridge.
Again, hypotheticals are fun to discuss and I might be more conservative than the masses with my invaluable small forward and sit him for a week or two even considering the good news; but I can’t argue Batum’s combative nature of wanting to play through the pain either.
My only hope is that is doesn’t come back to bite him (and the Blazers’ championship aspirations) in the long-term.
**You can contact Chris regarding this article on Twitter: @Chris_Reichert