PORTLAND — After suffering a home loss in which they only mustered six points in the final five minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers hit the road for a bruising back-to-back against the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies.
But after their loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, it was evident that nobody’s game is hurting more than Nicolas Batum’s.
Batum’s season appeared to reach new lows on Wednesday night. He was 0-for-5 from the field with six assists and five rebounds. He was unusually tentative, turning down shots like no other game this season.
“We need him,” said LaMarcus Aldridge of Batum. “I think he knows that. He’s a big part of this team and what we do offensively and defensively. So, we need that Nic guy from last year. I don’t think he’s happy with it. I think he’s trying to figure it out and I think every guy on the team is trying to help him out too.”
In 33 games this season, Batum’s production is down across the board. While he was as hesitant as ever on Wednesday, Batum has a higher 3-point rate than he posted all of last year according to Basketball-Reference, meaning a higher percentage of his field goal attempts are 3-pointers.
Batum is shooting just 26 percent from 3-point range, well below is 36.1 percent career mark. But that’s not all that’s been off with him.
He suffered a knee injury in November followed by a nasty fall in December. That left him with a wrist injury on his dominant hand.
He’s shooting fewer free-throws per 100 possessions than he has at any point in his career at a minuscule 1.9. The Blazers are second-to-last in the league free-throw rate.
The only positive may be that his turnovers are down and his steals per 100 possessions are up.
One season after hitting huge shots and plays during the Blazers historic 2013-14 season and only a few months removed from making the All-Tournament team at the FIBA World Cup, Batum’s offense has fallen off and hasn’t yet recovered.
Batum is taking 18 percent of his shots from within three feet per Basketball-Reference, a career-low.
Damian Lillard said he’s seen the old Batum at times this year.
“We want to see him take those shots,” Lillard said. “There’s times where he’s so unselfish, he puts shots up, makes the next play when the shot he could have taken was the right shot.”
While Lillard felt that Batum was perhaps too unselfish he doesn’t have a clear answer either.
“I think he’s been himself,” Lillard said. “He just needs to be aggressive, come into the game with his mind right. He’s been himself. But I think he’s still trying to catch his rhythm maybe.”
Friday the Blazers will face the Spurs, who have stayed in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff race but are expected to have 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard back in the lineup.
Saturday they face the Grizzlies who are in third place and are only two games behind Portland. They handed the Blazers their largest home loss so far this season on Nov. 28.
Thirty-two of Portland’s 44 remaining games come against the Western Conference, of this fact the Blazers are very aware. But the question nobody can seem to answer is what’s up with Nicolas Batum?