Portland small forward, Nicolas Batum had his shoulder (labral tear) reevaluated on Monday, and unfortunately for the Blazers, is unlikely to take the court against the Lakers on Wednesday. This comes as a blow to the struggling Blazers, who have been battling to keep their players healthy while the season winds down. Batum brings so much to Portland that it is hard to envision a scenario in which Victor Claver could adequately make up for his absence, but until further notice, it looks like he’ll have to try.
See, Nicolas is arguably Portland’s best defender. LaMarcus may best him in the post, but Nicolas is great at the perimeter, in transition, and in the lane. His aggressive play and amazing wingspan (7’4”) make him one of the most difficult players in the league to pass under pressure. Batum leads the Blazers with 91 steals, despite missing four (soon to be five) games this season. Without him, the Blazers are vulnerable to the fast break and any team with halfway decent ball movement.
Of course, his contributions are not exclusive to defense. Nicolas is Portland’s 3rd leading scorer and trails only point guard, Damian Lillard, in assists per game. When Batum is on, Portland tends to come away with the win. The Blazers have won 58% of games in which Batum scored more than 15 points, compared to the 39% in which he did not. His ability to score from anywhere on the court, create opportunities for his teammates, and find the open man is essential to Portland’s success.
He’s also fantastic in a pinch. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Batum prefers to shoot his threes off-balance. He is the catch and shoot dream every team needs in a tight spot. So where does that leave Portland without him? Wesley Matthews? Normally yes, but Wes is out with a right ankle sprain. Luke Babbitt? Hardly. Luke’s hot streak is as gone as he will be, come summer time. The Blazers really have just one clutch 3 point threat right now; Damian Lillard. So what happens if the Blazers find themselves in need of a hoist in the final seconds? You can bet with just one option it won’t be an open look.
The silver lining of Nicolas’ respite is much needed playing time for Portland’s blossoming rookies. Will Barton and Victor Claver will be the primary beneficiaries, but I would be surprised (albeit pleasantly) if they can hold up against the Lakers tomorrow. Nicolas Batum is like a nice rug; he really ties the room together. Portland won’t be quite right without him in the lineup. Just hope the healthy remainders can rally together until he Nicolas retakes the court.