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 LillardFG%: 42.43PT%: 39.4FT%: 87.1
Wesley MatthewsFG%: 44.13PT%: 39.3FT%: 83.7
Nicolas BatumFG%: 46.53PT%: 36.1FT%: 80.3
LaMarcus AldridgeFG%: 45.83PT%: 20.0FT%: 82.2
Robin LopezFG%: 55.13PT%: N/AFT%: 81.8

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

Damian LillardFG%: 40.63PT%: 38.3FT%: 87.5
Wesley MatthewsFG%: 42.63PT%: 42.2FT%: 84.8
Nicolas BatumFG%: 38.03PT%: 29.7FT%: 76.6
LaMarcus AldridgeFG%: 42.03PT%: 33.3FT%: 80.5
Robin LopezFG%: 45.43PT%: N/AFT%: 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 BatumFG%: 34.23PT%: 25.0FT%: 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.

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