A lot of recent chatter in Blazer Nation surrounds whether or not Nic Batum should be (re)inserted into the starting lineup. Ever since returning to the lineup, Batum has looked aggressive, sharp and better than the Frenchie we fell in love with last year. In addition, Batum had won the job prior to injuring his shoulder before the season started, many believe he should slide back in. There are various to get to this point. Does he replace Martell Webster? Should Nate start him at the 4 and slide LaMarcus Aldridge at the 5? Nate has been reported as saying that he likes Batum as a ”spark plug” off the bench.
Another reason for Batum staying on the bench? Martell Webster has been playing some of the best basketball of his career this season. One of the major issues with Webster has been his confidence and aggression. Obvious beneficiaries of this injury situation are Andre Miller, Jerryd Bayless and the rookie big men. However, Mr. Webster has benefited indirectly. He’s been given ample playing time and the freedom to just go out and play. Will putting him on the bench stunt all of the growth that he has made so far this season? There is no definitive answer but I can’t help but tip my hat towards yes. And we all know the difference between a confident, attacking Martell Webster and a disappearing Martell Webster. Right now, #23 is mired in one of his mini-slumps. This one has raised a couple more eyebrows because it has co-incided with the return of Batum. Since seeing Batum return, Webster has made 6 of his last 24 shots (25%) and 2 of his last 14 (14%) from beyond the arc. Those numbers are grosser than finding out your mom looked up the Greg Oden pics…and then her talking to you about them. *cringe*.
Obviously, all of Martell’s recent struggles can’t be pinned on Batum’s return to the lineup. Knowing his history, it’s hard to not speculate if there is a correlation. I don’t really pay attention to words in interviews because there are not too many on this team who would rock the boat with their words. I look at actions and production and ever since Batum has returned, Webster’s production has gone down. Another concern I have with just sticking Batum in there is the timing of the move. It’s a delicate situation for Nate to handle. Batum comes back, Martell struggles and then immediately Batum becomes the starter may do more damage to Martell’s confidence than we can imagine. Another issue I have with Batum starting is that Webster has struggled coming off the bench this season. In 9 games off the bench this season, Martell is averaging 5 PPG, 29.2 percent from the field (12-for-41), 21 percent from behind the arc (5-for-21). I know that these were early season games and Martell may have been just getting his feet wet so to speak. I also am aware that in those games the Blazers had a full assortment of talent and were still in that weird ‘getting to know each other’ phase. Either way you split it, those numbers should concern you, especially since without Roy we rely more and more on production from Webster.
The other suggestion was to start Batum at the 4. Just looking at our current depth…I don’t like Batum at the 4. I wouldn’t mind it in the 4th quarter with a certain matchup or against a smaller team, but not in the starting lineup. He could have the same advantages offensively as Travis Outlaw has had when he’s slid to the 4, but defensively we lose most or all of Batum’s advantages as our best perimeter defender. Also that just starts stunting the growth of our rookie big men (who are just gaining invaluable experience this year) and leaves the bench without a spark plug. I like Batum with this second unit right now because he’s bringing energy no matter what. That’s not always a guarantee with Webster. You want your second unit to lift your team up and Batum can definitely do that.
This is a situation that is going to be monitored. My guess? Batum probably re-enteres the starting lineup post All-Star Break. We will see though.