Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum will wear a protective splint over his fractured finger for the next six weeks. This is a significant injury for the team, who up until this point has done quite well in avoiding the injury bug.
Thus far, it appears as if Batum will carry on playing with the splint and not miss any time for the injury. While, yes, with all things considered this is a positive development, one has to wonder how much of a hindrance the splint will have on Batum’s game.
Before anything else – splints are cumbersome and annoying little beasts. Being somewhat of a sprained finger connoisseur myself (and currently boasting two fingers that are permanently unable to straighten), I have had my fair share of time wearing a splint, and trust me when I say that it is amazing how much such a little object can affect one’s basketball game.
The issue is magnified for Batum because at the highest level of the sport, in the NBA, small changes can make huge differences. The biggest issue that I personally noticed with a splint was definitely with shooting. The presence of a splint threw my entire form and rhythm off, because my body naturally wanted less pressure on the injured finger.
Luckily Batum’s injury is on his non-shooting hand, so during his shooting motion the left hand usually only has to serve as a guide for the ball. Catch and shoot motions may be hindered, though, as once again your body naturally tries to shield the injured finger from further harm. Even if his shooting manages to escape unscathed, Batum’s “jack of all trades” status means that several other areas could be affected.
According to Batum himself, one such area is dribbling the ball: “dribbling is kind of different so it’s an adjustment for me,” Batum told reporters on Monday. Again, the effects should be mitigated by the fact that his non-dominant hand is the one that has been injured, but it’s apparent that 1) Batum will not be normal for the foreseeable future, and 2) as a perimeter player, both hands are crucial for NBA success.
Batum is also second in the league (behind LeBron) in assists per game for small forwards, which is yet another facet of his game that may be negatively impacted by wearing a splint. While it may not be particularly common, one-hand passes from the non-dominant side are an important skill for a distributor to have in his repertoire, something that sounds like an extremely painful position given Batum’s current state.
Batum is a professional. He may very well be able to shake off the effects of the fracture faster than we non-professional athlete mortals can comprehend, with his game none the worse for the wear. It could also swing the other way, unfortunately, and his entire game could become off-kilter for the next six weeks until he is healed.
Although I certainly hope the negative effects are minimal, I think the injury will impact Batum’s game. Any of the game’s three offensive phases (shooting, passing, and dribbling) are all at risk of being affected for him. Given Batum’s role doing a little bit of everything, even a slight drop-off in one area could significantly affect his overall game.
Head Coach Terry Stotts is also a professional, and you can bet that he will be monitoring all of this. If things go worse than expected, perhaps Batum will have to miss some time, although it shouldn’t have to come to that. I think the story most worth keeping an eye on is if this could open up any minutes for cleared-to-play rookie CJ McCollum.
While sporting vastly different heights and roles on the team, if Batum sees a temporary reduction in his minutes, somehow, somewhere along the line, perhaps this could open up the door for McCollum to get more minutes earlier than anticipated. No one knows exactly what Stotts is thinking, but it is certainly one possibility. Tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings at 7:00 p.m. will give us some answers.