Last year, over at NBAPlaybook Sebastian Pruiti took a look at players who struggled during the season and looked at whether it was a fluke season or the start of a trend. This year, Sebastian is bringing the series to Basketball Prospectus.
Nicolas Batum has seen his minutes and usage increase each of his first three years in the NBA, to the point where he was playing over 30 minutes per game for the Blazers last season. Despite playing more minutes and using more possessions, Batum seemingly took a step back this season, becoming a less efficient player. Batum's PER dropped from 17.3 two years ago to 14.8 last season. The main reason for this was that Batum shooting dropped off. After seeing his True Shooting Percentage (TS%) jump up to 64.6 percent two years ago, it dipped all the way to 56.4 percent this past season.
Where Did He Struggle?
When trying to find the explanation for the drop-off in Batum's True Shooting Percentage, the numbers point to his midrange shooting. According to Synergy Sports, Batum's shooting percentage on midrange shots (from 17 feet to the three-point line) dropped from 47.1 percent to 38.5 percent this past season. One of Batum's biggest problems when he is shooting off of the catch in the midrange is that he doesn't allow himself to get squared up to the rim:
Unlike elite shooters like Ray Allen, Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick who do extremely well on the move, catching the ball and squaring up to the rim in one smooth motion that allows them to quickly get a shot off while being square, Batum is very herky-jerky with his motion. Batum doesn't set his body up to make the catch square to the rim, and because he wants to quickly get the shot up before the defense can contest, he finds himself jumping to shoot not even facing the rim, then rotating his body in the air, finding the rim and trying to get an accurate shot.
I cannot begin to tell you how difficult that is to do. Not only is it really tough to be accurate with your shot while you are turning in the air, but that rotation really screws with your lower body. Instead of going straight up and straight down on his shots, Batum's legs kick out, throwing off his balance and giving him something else to overcome when trying to make a jumper.
Can He Bounce Back?
Is this something that can be corrected? I think so. If Batum recognizes that he struggles with his mechanics when catching and shooting off of screens, it is something he can work on during the offseason, allowing him to be more comfortable with it during the regular season. Batum went from being a third or fourth option on the Blazers' two years ago to being one of the main guys last year. This was a large reason for the drop in Batum's shooting percentage.
Batum is a good shooter when his feet are set and when he can catch and shoot while standing still and not on the move. When he wasn't a main option on the Blazers' offense, he could just spot up in the midrange, catch and shoot. However, this past season, with the defense focusing more on him, the Blazers had to do more to get him open, running him off of screens and getting him on the move more. The numbers prove this. According to Synergy, Batum spotted up 45.2 percent of the time and used off-ball screens 9.6 percent of the time two years ago. Last year, those numbers were 32.9 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively. That forced Batum into doing something he just isn't comfortable doing yet, and the result was missed shots. With what could be an extended offseason, expect Batum to work on this and come back more comfortable catching and shooting on the move, allowing him to return to his 2009-10 self.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.