With the Blazers breaking in a scoring rookie point guard and jettisoning their best ballhandlers at the wing position over the offseason (Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford), Nicolas Batum figured to take on more responsibility this season beyond being just a spot-up shooter. More than affecting just this Blazer season, how he handled this additional responsibility figured to significantly affect his projection going forward. How are early returns?
This is essentially what folks would have projected coming into the season. His assists are up, but also at the cost of considerably more turnovers. It’s decent, you might say, but not an ideal arrangement. We’d be better off using a more naturally careful playmaker. But the news after this is all good. Here is how Nic is getting his assists:
That’s a great percentage of passes leading to at-rim buckets, particularly considering the Blazers are now more than ever “a nice little jump shooting team.” For comparison let’s look at him against the distribution maestro of the Blazers:
So despite generally having the ball in his hands less, and throwing less low-risk “swing around the perimeter” passes for relatively low risk but low value jump-shot assists, Batum is able to get more at-rim assists than Lillard. This generally matches my eye test, where Batum tends come off the pick and roll either looking to shoot or to find a cutter under the basket. League-wide, the stats also support that he finds easy buckets for his teammates at a high level. Here are the leaders among Hoopdata classified swingmen in at-rim assists this season:
Although there are a huge number of moving parts in analyzing the relative value of a player’s passing as you can analyze ATO, A/36, AR, AST% and then throw the shot locations data at it, this snapshot shows that Batum has clearly arrived in gaining high- quality looks for his teammates. He’s not a point forward, but his passing out of the pick and roll is highly productive. Additionally, his ATO of 1.74 is actually better than the average “swingman” per HoopData, and that’s despite making all those risky passes and using more than his share of possessions.
This year Nicolas Batum has made real strides, despite his scoring numbers staying relatively the same. Coming into the season his selling points were that he’s a player who scores efficiently in the most productive areas on the court: behind the arc and at the cup. He’s retained those skills, but in addition to that he can now get his teammates the most efficient shot on the court with regularity that matches the best wing facilitators in the NBA.