Monthly Archives: November 2012

Nic Batum high-fives LaMarcus Aldridge

Is Nic Batum Worth His Contract?

While Portland’s bench has drawn much of the national ire, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s sudden alleric reaction to the low block has been quick to follow, there’s a murmuring around Portland fans that Nicolas Batum may be the next in line. After signing a large RFA match from Portland via the Timberwolves, Batum now sits on the Portland roster as a de facto producer. Money necessitates numbers, and so far the opinion is that Batum isn’t giving the Blazers what they need.

In fact, Batum’s numbers are up in TS%, eFG%, PER, blocks, steals, points, rebounds, and assists. This is happening with increased minutes, up eight per game from last year, so it would make sense that most of these numbers would go up since their totals are destined to be higher. However, it would not be out of the ordinary to expect a player who was getting 27% more playing time to struggle in efficiency. At the moment, Batum has steadied.

Coupled with his advanced shooting percentages being up, this bodes well for gauging his performance. Batum is in the game for more minutes, and thus is taking three more field goal attempts per game. Somehow, he’s remained an equally efficient shooter despite more attempts. The same can be said for his advanced defensive numbers. While steals and blocks are sure to go up with increased playing time for a player like Nic, they haven’t trailed off in efficiency. He’s still producing at the same great rate with increased minutes. Portland fans should be careful not to discount the fact that overall, Batum’s efficiency hasn’t dropped despite heavily increased playing time.

I was asked on Twitter if LaMarcus Aldridge was getting enough shot attempts, and if Batum needed to share the ball more. My answer? He’s made significant increases in a key area we’re overlooking: assists.

Particularly, Batum’s AST% has shot up. Unlike other floor-time stats that would naturally increase due to increased minutes, AST% tells whether or not a player is directly assisting on a percentage of offensive possessions. Batum’s floor time has increased by 27%, meaning he is in on more posessions. Yet his AST% has shot up by 73%. Looking at his per 36 numbers, Nicolas Batum is producing at roughly the same rate as he was in previous years (save for assists) he’s just playing more minutes. That is excellent news.

That Batum has been able to be this steady, and add some passing to his game, is a wonder. From 2008 to 2012, Portland had a winning percentage of .577 and made the playoffs every year except last season. He played with considerably better bench talent, with a single system and coach (+Canales), with less rookies, and alongside Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. This year is a stark contrast. The Trail Blazers are a team of rookies, with a new coach and a new system. They’re constantly playing from behind and they have zero bench impact. They’re bad. Portland fans should be lucky that Batum has been able to remain as efficient as he has.

Fan expectation for Batum seems to be that he needs to increase his scoring load if he’s now getting paid $10.8 million, especially in the absence of Brandon Roy. As if remaining efficient for this year wasn’t enough, it seems as though fans in Portland want Batum to be some kind of scoring machine, creating his own shot and guaranteeing 25 points a night.

That’s the fatal flaw.

Expecting Batum to explode because of an absence on a bad roster is a fundamental misunderstanding of who he is. It’s a misunderstanding of his talent, attitude, skills, ceiling, the team makeup, offensive strategy, and perhaps most stark of all, why Portland paid him.

The Trail Blazers matched for Nic Batum not to mold him into a number one option, but to work alongside a future star player. He is not Brandon Roy’s replacement, he is Brandon Roy’s replacement’s co-star. Who that is has yet to be determined. It may be Damian Lillard, it may be a future draft pick. This league is about stars, there’s no doubt. But who you put around those stars matters just as much.

Portland will be good again if they stay on track. Part of that timeline was paying Nic Batum. He’s shown growth this year, just as he has every year since Rip City stole him for Joey Dorsey. Unfortunately for Blazers fans, they’re going to have to wait for their star player. Batum isn’t it. And they’ll learn that that’s okay.

LaMarcus Aldridge posts up Pekovic

Three Trade Scenarios for Blazers F LaMarcus Aldridge (and why they don’t work)

There’s a look on LaMarcus Aldridge’s face that I’m surprised has not changed since October, and it’s one of frustration. As the cornerstone of the Blazers, Aldridge looks to be a perfect building block. Yet lately, it’s obvious just from his face that he may not want to be in Portland. His expression hasn’t changed despite the stellar play from Damian Lillard. And with such a massive contract on the books, the Blazers might not want him around either. How could the Blazers move LaMarcus Aldridge?

Aldridge and Wesley Matthews to the Pacers for David West, Tyler Hansborough, Paul George + Johnson

David West was supposed to be the last piece for the Pacers a few years ago and that didn’t work out quite to expectation. LaMarcus would be that player for Indiana and Matthews is a good addition, especially considering the loss of Danny Granger. The Blazers would see West as an expiring, with the real prize being Paul George. Hansborough would be good too, and has around equal value as Wesley Matthews.

Aldridge to the Nuggets for Danilo Gallinari, Corey Brewer, and Kenneth Faried

This is sort of asking a lot from Denver, but they’ve put Gallinari on the block after he has failed to live up to his big contract. That diminishes his value severely. The Nuggets have a bevy of wing players and this one would be fairly even handed, especially if the Blazers threw in a second round pick. Brewer is great and I would love for the Blazers to sign him outright, but the prize is Kenneth Faried. Portland might be able to pry him away if they think Aldridge will create the frontcourt scoring threat they need.

Aldridge to the Jazz for Paul Millsap and Alec Burks

It’s unclear how attached Utah is to Alec Burks, but this trade would be hinged upon the Jazz deciding to keep Favors and Jefferson as their front line. Millsap would need to be extended immediately for this to work properly and pay off for the Blazers, as there’s no way they would want him to walk the following summer.

Why these trades don’t work

They don’t factor in that two of the teams being traded to are mid-level Western Conference playoff teams, which the Blazers are sure to battle for some time. That’s a big issue. The Blazers already have a developing center in Meyers Leonard, and are filled at point and wing. That leaves the forward and guard spot to fill via a trade and there’s just not much out there. Finally, there’s not draft picks being exchanged here and if the Blazers are giving up Aldridge they’re not going to be looking for players but picks. It doesn’t make sense to trade Aldridge for another big-name player and end up just shy of the lottery. Trading Aldridge means putting it into semi-tank mode.

What the Blazers really want for LaMarcus Aldridge

Meyers Leonard dunks over Marcin Gortat

Why Starting Meyers Leonard is Working for the Portland Trail Blazers

There has been talk of moving Meyers Leonard into the starting lineup and rotating JJ Hickson to the bench. In fact, it was suggested by Sean Highkin earlier this season. With Hickson coming off the bench and providing the scoring the Blazer bench desperately needs, Leonard could get some much needed time against NBA starters.

While I liked the idea, I felt that Leonard’s history of hanging his head might come back to bite Portland if he started to get beat consistently by veteran talent. For that reason, I thought it best if he stay on the bench. After two good showings starting, and productive minutes off the bench, it might be time to re-examine this idea.

Leonard has been fairly competent off the bench for the Blazers when starting, and stood up to both Marcin Gortat and Brook Lopez. He still remains deficient on rebounding and rotations, and positioning is something Portland’s coaching staff needs to work on. With exception to the Brooklyn game on Sunday, he’s stayed out of foul trouble, which was a big issue for Leonard in the preseason.

A key factor in his success has been his scoring. He’s taken nine and ten shots respectively in each of his two starts, and shot better than 60%. He’s got good enough instincts to space himself on offense, and usually is the cutter or the final option late in the shot clock. Either way, dumping it off to Leonard has been a surprisingly successful move.

Perhaps most surprising has been Leonard’s defensive ability against other centers. He looked like a rookie in the preseason, but he’s definitely listening to whatever the Blazer coaching staff is teaching him. While Synergy has Leonard at middling total defensive numbers, they are impressive for a rookie center and far surpasses expectations for him this early in the season. He doesn’t foul, he’s not biting at pump fakes, and he’s not getting destroyed by veteran talent. Success!

His development, as of yet, is smooth. He’s yet to hit any bumps and there may be good cause to start Leonard permanently. Hickson is a superior scoring talent and that would be even more apparent against an opposing second unit. Leonard and Hickson have similar defensive stats, and the only real issue is that the rookie is averaging 6.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s not good enough, especially since JJ Hickson is averaging 13.3 in the same span of time. The Blazers are already 23rd in rebounding in the league, so balancing that loss in the starting line will be a tough one for Terry Stotts. The solution might be to continue to play Leonard around 25 minutes per game and give Hickson a higher minute total.

Either way, look for Leonard’s development to continue to be a sleeper storyline, especially for Portland fans.