As of last night’s win against the WashingtonWizards, Portland Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum has now averaged an astronomical 13 rebounds per game over the past 11 games. On the season, he is averaging 7.4 per game, trailing only Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant among small forwards.
This rebounding has been especially valuable as of late, since starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been sidelined with a back contusion. With Aldridge being replaced by the much shorter Dorell Wright in the lineup, someone has had to step up and grab the rebounds, and Batum has more than answered the call.
Yet, that isn’t doing complete justice to this rebounding outburst – Batum started on his tear back before Aldridge was injured, and hasn’t slowed down since then. The turning point appears to have been the March 1st game against the Nuggets, when he pulled down a then season-high 16 rebounds.
I do remember that during this broadcast Mike and Mike said (if you can trust them), that the coaching staff specifically talked to Batum about J.J. Hickson grabbing 25 boards (15 offensive) during the teams’ previous meeting, and challenging him to prevent this from reoccurring. If this little exchange actually happened, it appears to have woken a rebounding beast in Batum, and he has not looked back since then.
On the surface, this is an incredible run from Batum. If he averaged 13 rebounds a game over this entire season, it would place him second in the league, among all players, not just small forwards. Obviously part of the trick of becoming elite at something is consistency, and Batum is nowhere near that yet, but it provides some valuable context.
Positionally, as mentioned previously, Batum stacks up incredibly favorably to some of the elites in the league. Obviously he trails the Carmelos, Durants, and LeBrons in the scoring category, but the Blazers have not really needed that from him this season. He’s doing what he needs to do to help the team win. Even then, Batum is only one of two small forwards in the entire NBA to average at least 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and double digit scoring. The other is Mr. Future MVP himself, Kevin Durant (yeah, I think he’ll probably get it this year).
The jack of all trades cliché gets thrown around a lot with Batum, but I think it is totally justified in his case. He really does do a little bit of everything. While we are on the subject of stats, we can throw in his .68 blocks per game (sixth among small forwards), and .96 steals per game. A true stat stuffer indeed.
The final consideration to all of this, though, is that over pursuit of particular stats can be damaging to a team. For example, Wilt Chamberlain decided to lead the league in assists one season, to the complete detriment of his team. In more modern examples, it seems like players who are chasing rebounds will play a softer brand of defense, so that they can ensure they will be in a perfect position to snag the precious rebound in the event of a miss. While I will not levy judgment myself, I have heard this criticism leveled numerous times against the aforementioned Hickson, as well as Kevin Love.
From what I can see, I don’t think Batum’s obsession is doing any harm to the team right now. He has absolutely stolen easy rebounds from teammates (and done this a fair amount), but that’s more of an etiquette / annoyance thing rather than a team-harming one. He also isn’t ‘Rambo vs. five’-ing himself trying to get offensive rebounds, which is something that definitely leaves teams vulnerable to a numbers disadvantage on the other end.
Rebounding is not an easy skill, and even with his conscious decision to step his efforts up, Batum’s prowess must be commended. To simply decide to do something better at the NBA level is not an easy task, yet Batum has once again proven his versatility.