There were only five Frailblazers who played in 72+ games last season and two of those guys have been collecting pensions since ’08! Look at that squad last year. They looked like Spinal Tap drummers. The Crazy 88s after Uma got done with ‘em. Nagasaki. Ants under a magnifying glass. It seems like everyone on the team was wiped out with some horrific injury that displaced their kneecap to somewhere around their calf. If you’re a fan of the team, when is it rational to get nervous about attending games at the House That Walton’s Mangled Feet Built? If you’re a father taking the family for a fun little outing at the Rose Garden, do you skip getting snacks for fear of slipping on the stairs and dislocating a shoulder? Do you walk to the stadium because you’re sure a t-bone is coming in the parking lot if you don’t? Do you move the hell out of Portland and watch the games on TV because your team is cursed? The answer is maybe. After this season. If the injury plague swoops in for another year, then yes – you flee. But for now, stay, if for no other reason than to see how awesome Nicolas Batum becomes.
I won’t bury the lede here (too late!). The kid, in the scant 37 games he played last season after recovering from a shoulder injury, had a 127 ORtg. Now, 37 games isn’t enough to qualify him for consideration among the league leaders (if it had been, he’d have easily taken first place. Nene was the actual league leader with a 124.3 ORtg), but 37 games is 45 percent of the season – it’s not nothing. What also ain’t nothing is the fact that the Trailblazers averaged seven more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court than when he wasn’t. In short, Batum has the capability to become an offensive dynamo, whose long arms can also garner him plenty of steals and blocks. What was missing in the previous two seasons was opportunity.
So here’s where you cross them fingers, Rip City faithful. If he stays healthy, he’ll start. If he starts, it’s off to the races – which isn’t to say there’s nothing else standing in his way. Firstly, there’s Wesley Matthews and Luke Babbitt, but if Batum produces like he’s capable, those roadblocks won’t be in his way for long. Then there’s the team’s slow pace – a big fantasy deficit. Portland averaged five fewer possessions per game than the average NBA team and almost 10 fewer than the fastest teams in the league. That’s an extra 3-5 minutes worth of offensive statistics most teams had over Portland. So 36 mpg on the Blazers would translate to only about 33 minutes on one of the average NBA teams. Multiply that over 82 games and you’re talking over five games worth of fantasy points Batum won’t be accumulating simply because he plays for such a slow team.
That said, his per33 is better than most per36s in this league. Nic may have dropped the “h” in his name, but anyone who’s played H-O-R-S-E knows that once the H is gone, next comes the “oooooohh!”
Season Projections: .505/.855/2 3pt/14.5 pts/4.5 rbd/1.5 ast/1 stl/1 blk/1 tov