Today, the NBA released the All-Defensive Teams for the 2012-2013 season. LeBron James, Serge Ibaka, Tony Allen, Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah comprised the All-Defensive First Team (Chandler and Noah in a tie), while the All-Defensive Second Team was made up of Tim Duncan, Paul George, Avery Bradley, Mike Conley, and perhaps interestingly, Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol.
Only one Blazer received any votes this year, and that was forward Nicolas Batum, with just one First Team vote.
As a team, the Blazers were nothing special defensively this year. By the numbers, the Blazers ranked 28th in the league in steals, 26th in blocks, 28th in opponent field goal percentage, and 26th in defensive efficiency. Their struggles largely stemmed from a lack of tall, defensive big men to clog up and enforce the paint, as well as a roster that largely featured average or below average defenders.
On a subpar defensive team, Batum really was the best defensive player for the Blazers this season. He earned the lone All-Defensive Team vote that he received.
Batum averaged 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks in the regular season, stats that only two other players (Kevin Durant and Josh Smith) in the NBA were able to top. While those numbers don’t scream “difference-maker” the same way Serge Ibaka’s 3.0 blocks or Chris Paul’s 2.4 steals do, they’re exactly the kind of versatile numbers you love to see from your small forward defensively. On the floor, Batum was regularly guarding the best perimeter players, and was relied upon to act as a defensive stopper.
One such example of this (and personally one of my favorites) was the game against the Miami Heat on January 10th. Batum spent a lot of time guarding both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Both struggled greatly, and that was one of perhaps two key reasons why the Blazers won that game (the other being clutch threes, but the defense allowed the Blazers to stay in it). Due in large part to Batum (and Wesley Matthews, to a lesser extent), LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were only able to combine for 33 points on 12-of-34 shooting, snapping LeBron’s streak of scoring more than 20 points in 33 straight games.
Looking at Batum, he has all the tools to succeed. He has the length with a wingspan of over 7 feet, and he puts it to good use with his agility and instincts to create steals and blocks and all other sorts of trouble for the opposing offenses. Batum’s length and athleticism were what made him such a tantalizing prospect when he was drafted, and he’s certainly proved to be a worthy selection.
With that in mind, only one vote for Batum?
Yep. Batum offers steals and blocks at a rate you don’t often see, and his numerous deflections and shot contests can’t even be tracked on the box score. However, in spite of the skills he has, Batum is far from a polished product defensively, the same way the All-Defensive Team players are. Batum still has work to do on his defensive fundamentals–the mental side of defense.
With his length, Batum has grown used to playing a little loose from the ball so that he has more space with which to create steals or blocks. However, that comes at the cost of pressuring or playing “suffocating” defense on a ball-handler or an open shooter. You would like to see Batum ramp up the intensity at times. Scorers like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant have collectively averaged 31.4 points against the Blazers with Batum in the lineup. Batum needs to be able to hold those types of players in order to be considered a premier defender in the league.
Noted defensive talents like Shane Battier, Kawhi Leonard, and Dwyane Wade all finished with 2 points in the voting, the same as Batum. That’s not bad company to be in. Batum is still only 24, and still has loads of potential. If he makes the necessary improvements (and knowing Batum, it’d be surprising if he didn’t), he could definitely make the All-Defensive Team later in his career. Certainly, he’ll be earning more than just one vote.