Regardless of whether or not Nicolas Batum ends up on the Wolves or stays in Portland, he’s going to get paid $45 million over four years (with the possibility of bonuses). Let’s just pretend the contract is going to be four years and $50 million because of the bonuses. That puts Batum’s annual salary at an average of $12.5 million per year.
Is Nicolas Batum worth $12.5 million per season?
If you look at his raw numbers, he’s not overly impressive. 13.9 points per game on 10.9 attempts in 30.4 minutes per game. His shooting percentages are very nice with FG/3FG/FT numbers of 45.1/39.1/83.6. Let’s dig deeper into putting together a great overall picture of what he does well/above average. Last season, Nicolas Batum had a PER of 17.3, win shares per 48 minutes of .127, and made 39.1% of his 3-point field goals. These aren’t overwhelming numbers that prove his worth is far beyond his available offers, but it shows that he’s a pretty good all around player based on what the Wolves need (3-point shooting and wings that can play) and advanced statistical measures (PER and WS/48, in this case).
If you search for players that had a PER of at least 17.0, a WS/48 of at least .120, and a 3-point percentage of at least 39.0%, you get a list of 11 players. That’s it. On that list, you get names like James Harden, Steve Nash, Andre Iguodala, Ryan Anderson, Ersan Ilyasova, Kyrie Irving, and Steph Curry. You also get Jerryd Bayless and Patty Mills making the cut. There is a wide range of players on this list. I don’t think that Batum is in the Harden-Nash-Iggy level of player, but it’s not crazy to think he’s above Ilyasova and Anderson when you factor in his defense.
In fact, let’s talk about his defense. Is Nicolas Batum a good defender? Yes and no.
Nicolas Batum is assigned to the best perimeter player on the other team every night and in the NBA, it’s REALLY hard to defend those guys without being able to make contact on the perimeter. Last year, Batum’s defense was good and yet ineffective at the same time. According to mySynergy Sports, Nicolas Batum excelled at isolation defense. He was 75th in the NBA in points per possession given up, allowing just 0.69 PPP and 35.4% shooting on isolation plays. He also defended pick-and-roll ball handlers at an above average level (182nd ranked, 0.90 PPP, 43.7%). Where Batum had problems last year is with help defense and in the post.
Nic Batum sort of got manhandled in the post, allowing 1.08 PPP (264th in the NBA) and 57.7% shooting. On spot-up jumpers, Batum gave up 1.04 PPP (287th) on 38.3% from the field. That doesn’t sound like a bad percentage to give up, but opponents shot 41.8% from 3. They killed Batum’s slow closeouts when they were behind the arc. With his length and quickness, this seems like something that can be corrected with proper coaching, or maybe this just ends up being a problem of his.
So why did he have a defensive rating of 106.0 when the Blazers’ overall team defense gave up just 103.7 points per 100 possessions? It could be in how he was used.
Take a look at these lineups for the Blazers from last year, thanks to NBA.com/stats.
A few of items jump out at me here:
1) The lineup the Blazers used the most was absolutely devastating on defense. Giving up just 93.7 points per 100 possessions is kind of insane, so it’s easy to see why the team’s defensive rating was so much lower than Batum’s individual defensive rating.
2) The lineup the Blazers used the second most happened in the second half of the season, well after the Blazers dumped a bunch of their key players. Joel Przybilla was the center for those lineups and he wasn’t exactly in the best of shape.
3) The lineup the Blazers used the fifth most consisted of Nicolas Batum playing PF and a three-guard lineup of Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford and Wesley Matthews. Unless you expected Bill Russell to be the center to round out that five-man lineup, it shouldn’t shock you to know that they gave up 115.2 points per 100 possessions, which is astoundingly horrific.
Seeing this lineup with Batum at the 4 made me wonder exactly where he did his best job defensively. 82games.com says Batum was really good defensively guarding shooting guards (opponent’s PER of 13.5), very solid defensively defending small forwards (opponent’s PER fo 15.4) and pretty bad defending power forwards (opponent’s PER of 19.3). It seems like if you keep him guarding perimeter players (assuming he’s close enough to close out on them), then he’s a pretty good defensive player, especially factoring in he’s guarding the best guy on the other team’s perimeter. When he has to play inside, he’s just not suited for doing so.
The Wolves/Blazers wouldn’t be employing the next Scottie Pippen during this contract, but they certainly wouldn’t be employing Michael Beasley anymore either.
In terms of offense, Batum scores pretty efficiently. He was ranked 27th in the NBA in points per possession, according to mySynergy. Where he was most deadly was cutting to the basket. Batum just knows how to move without the ball, and could use a great passing point guard to make that skill even more of a weapon for his team. He scored a ridiculous 1.55 points per possession on cuts, which was good for third best in the NBA. He shot 75.4% on those plays, as well. Now imagine him running the baseline and diving into the lane from the weakside corner with Love in the high post or Rubio handling the ball on the perimeter. He could see a pretty big increase in his free throw attempts and points per game just by having Rubio and Love feeding him the ball when most players might not know he’s open.
He was also a really solid 3-point shooter last season, making 39.1% of his 3s on 4.7 attempts per game. Check out his 3-point shot charts from the last three season:
He’s been consistently solid from just about everywhere on the court, other than the right corner and the top of the key. Other than those two spots, he’s done a good job of making the defense pay from the right wing, the left wing and the left corner. For a team like the Wolves that struggled shooting from downtown, especially in the corners, his addition makes a lot of sense.
Getting back to the list of 11 players who seemed to match Batum’s PER-WS/48-3FG% criteria, let’s talk about where their contracts currently are.
Ryan Anderson and Ersan Ilyasova just signed for $9 million per season. Steve Nash is going to make $12 million per season on his new deal. Andre Iguodala will make $14.7 million next season. Manu Ginobili will make $14.1 million next season. You can assume Stephen Curry, James Harden and Kyrie Irving will all get either the max or near max contracts when their rookie deals are up. Jerryd Bayless is still waiting to sign a contract this offseason but it’s easy to see that it won’t be anything near what these guys get, and Patty Mills probably will be on a minimum deal.
Based off the contracts we know from these guys (Anderson, Ilyasova, Nash, Manu, Iggy), they’re averaging $11.76 million per season for their current deals. If you factor in the rough estimates of what Irving, Curry and Harden will make in the first year of their next deal (let’s just say $14 million per), then the average raises up to $12.6 million per season.
Granted, this isn’t a completely scientific way to measure what a guy should or shouldn’t be paid, but it seems like Nicolas Batum’s production has the correct market value for what he’s being offered by the Timberwolves right now. It doesn’t mean he is or isn’t worth that much money necessarily, but it seems to be the fair market price for what a guy like Batum does on the basketball court. Now we just have to wait until July 11th to see if Portland will allow him to join the Wolves or whether the Wolves will be sent searching for a good wing player once again.
Update: One more thought on his defense that just occurred to me. Look at his defensive rating with the team by month:
December (3 games): Batum – 96.4, Blazers – 92.9
January (18 games): Batum – 102.2, Blazers – 96.8
February (12 games): Batum – 104.4, Blazers – 99.8
March (17 games): Batum – 113.3, Blazers – 111.3
April (9 games): Batum – 103.2, Blazers – 110.0
The Blazers didn’t always play their best defense with Batum on the floor, but they also didn’t always play bad defense with Batum on the floor. In the first two months of the season, the team had a very respectable-to-good defensive rating with Batum out there. In February, it started getting shaky. When the Blazers decided to blow everything up, the team was atrocious defensively both with and without him. In the final month of the season, They were far superior defensively when he was on the court, as opposed to when he wasn’t playing.
It doesn’t absolve him of not making a great impact at all times, but it also shows that when the team was trying to move toward the playoffs (before the trade deadline) Nicolas Batum was helping a pretty decent defense.