Mar 1, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Wesley Matthews (2) and small forward Nicolas Batum (88) talk between plays against the Denver Nuggets in the second half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Nicolas Batum's Quiet Fourth Quarter Problem


Despite his well-documented inconsistencies, Nicolas Batum is a basketball stud by most accounts. You’ll see statistical cherry picking here and there that links him to contribution levels comparable to LeBron James and other great small forwards, but I think most people are smart enough to make their own distinctions regarding where Batum truly ranks. He is certainly above average and generally on the cusp of All-Star ballot consideration. As far as “glue guys” go, I am more or less comfortable with the “stud” label.

However; there is one facet of Batum’s game in particular that concerned me more than any other this season: He is a fourth quarter liability. I am not solely referring to his boneheaded turnover minimum you can damn-near set your watch to, I speak of his inability to execute on offense entirely. Just take a look at the numbers.

Here I have listed the overall field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, and free throw percentage for every Trail Blazers starter in the 2013-2014 season:

 

Damian Lillard FG%: 42.4 3PT%: 39.4 FT%: 87.1
Wesley Matthews FG%: 44.1 3PT%: 39.3 FT%: 83.7
Nicolas Batum FG%: 46.5 3PT%: 36.1 FT%: 80.3
LaMarcus Aldridge FG%: 45.8 3PT%: 20.0 FT%: 82.2
Robin Lopez FG%: 55.1 3PT%: N/A FT%: 81.8

 

Now here are those same figures for the fourth quarter only:

 

Damian Lillard FG%: 40.6 3PT%: 38.3 FT%: 87.5
Wesley Matthews FG%: 42.6 3PT%: 42.2 FT%: 84.8
Nicolas Batum FG%: 38.0 3PT%: 29.7 FT%: 76.6
LaMarcus Aldridge FG%: 42.0 3PT%: 33.3 FT%: 80.5
Robin Lopez FG%: 45.4 3PT%: N/A FT%: 81.0

 

Suddenly, right when the game is on the line, the Trail Bazers’ most versatile player transforms into one of the NBA’s most inept shooters. Fortunately, the completeness of his game allows him to be useful in other ways (facilitating, rebounding, perimeter defense, etc), but this drastic decline is unacceptable for a core player. He is the only starting Trail Blazer to take major hits in each category of scoring efficiency across the board in the last 12 minutes of a game (though Lopez’s shooting does not inspire confidence either).

Perhaps even more unnerving is what happens when we examine Batum’s fourth quarters on the road:

 

Nicolas Batum FG%: 34.2 3PT%: 25.0 FT%: 68.4

 

November 23, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum (88) controls the basketball during the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Trail Blazers defeated the Warriors 113-101. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If I do some cherry picking of my own, Batum is more comparable to Courtney Fortson (an undrafted D-league washout) than the current best player in the world. Do you realize that Batum averaged under 2.0 points per fourth quarter in road games? He did. Not that it is much better than the 2.9 he averaged at home for a total average of 2.3. It is one of the most impressive disappearing acts in the NBA today, and it goes largely unnoticed.

I do not think it has anything to do with opposing teams locking him down, as he is not the Trail Blazers’ primary scoring threat late in games. In fact, part of Batum’s low scoring total in the fourth can be attributed to Aldridge and Lillard taking the reins. I think Batum just struggles with the closing mentality. He often appears rushed with the ball in his hands and there is an eagerness to make something happen that is not conducive to success under pressure.

Any time we talk about Batum’s drawbacks, we have to bring up his contract—for good reason. The Trail Blazers still owe him more than $23 million over the next two seasons. I am personally uncomfortable with that sort of salary for a wing that struggles offensively down the stretch, but I suppose it was a necessary hit for Portland to keep him in 2012, before they knew how he would develop.

This summer, Batum needs to focus on being an asset instead of a hindrance in crunch time. I have come to terms with his overall inconsistencies, but his fourth quarter inadequacy is one actual constant that needs to change in order for the Trail Blazers to maximize their potential for success. As of right now, he is a stud that needs further improvement to match the value of his bill.

 

Statistics provided by basketball-reference.com & stats.nba.com

 

 

Tags: Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers

  • Rust Schakleford

    As of right now, he is a stud that needs further improvement to match the value of his bill.

    Well I can say his overall game matches that number and has done so for 2 straight seasons, theses numbers–if correct– are disturbing, but do not try and use it as a potential tool to undermine his legitimacy contract wise, it makes you look bad (like your out to get him). As Deng Iggy and Reke Evans all get the same and he is better than all of them.

    batum has improvements to make, like the 4th qtr numbers you unearthed among others, but so does everyone on the trailblazers and a majority of the NBA, it has little to do with justifying his contract.

  • Draftdog

    Agreed, despite Rust’s comment. Just because others have made the mistake of overpaying, does not justify Batum’s contract. Batum has not lived up to his contract for the very reasons you have pointed out; inconsistency and the disappearing act. He is a nice player with a sweetheart contract. It also appears he has lost a little interest in defense. That, of course, I would like to attribute at least partially to Stott’s

    • Bill McGee

      I have said that all along. Batum is over rated and I feel we could trade him and get a better player to help this team.

      • Draftdog

        I’m not sure the Blazers could or would want to trade him. They have two solid players at the wing positions. A championship team can live with either of those two players starting, but both makes it problematic without a dominate superstar. They need an up grade on the wing. If that new player is a small forward then Batum will likely go to the 2 guard and Wes will come off the bench. Either way Wes will be the backup if any improvement is accomplished.

  • Rusty

    Can that problem be overcome? I’m sure he would like to perform better, but maybe the pressure is too much for him. I evaluate players by how they do in the playoffs. Who steps up when it means the most? And who doesn’t? Surprising how some average regular season players step up and shine in the playoffs.