Nicolas Batum, the Blazers’ 6’4″ shooting/passing/defense forward, was a major part of the All-Star conversation this season, and he’s been getting a lot of attention in the NBA Draft discussion as well. Why Batum? Because he’s a better fit for the Luka Doncic-less Mavericks than Dallas is for Doncic, and this is where Batum’s value to the Clippers becomes apparent. The Clippers are ranked No. 32 in the league in defensive rating, which is a big reason they are 4-7 in their last 11 games. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, however, given how bad the Clippers are at getting stops. In order for them to have a chance
The LA Clippers are set to face the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, and if you follow the NBA, you might have heard the buzz about a young Slovenian point guard called Luka Doncic. https://www.cbssports.com/nba/eye-on-basketball/26-news/2819056/did-the-ucla-lions-totally-just-go-full-grizzlies-with-the-nba-draft
Los Angeles Clippers swingman Nicolas Batum was one of the NBA’s underdogs in the 2020-21 season, but he was key to LA’s victories over Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Batum’s journey so far has been very interesting. The Charlotte Hornets desperately tried to get rid of his salary last season, but his cap hit of $27.13 million made a deal nearly impossible. Charlotte was forced to stretch and fire Batum so he could sign with the team of his choice. The Clippers contracted Batum, giving Los Angeles a swingman who can play at any forward position and stretch the floor, but can also help on the boards and even make a few plays while rebounding. But his defensive skills and physical length have suddenly made him the most important player for the Clippers, who hope to overpower Doncic and the Mavericks.
The first two games of this series have been miserable for the Clippers in many ways. Los Angeles couldn’t stop Doncic, who kept shutting down smaller defenders like Patrick Beverley and benefited when he was changed in the pick-and-roll. Doncic’s ability to get into the paint, score, drive and shoot was a nightmare for the Clippers, and the Mavericks got a barrage of three-pointers. Still, there were some bright spots in what was considered a disaster for the Clippers, even though they came back from a 2-0 deficit. Batum was one of those previously mentioned bright spots. In the first two games, Batum was 7 of 13, including 5 of 10 from mid-range. But those seemingly unimpressive numbers are nothing compared to the impact he had when he was on the field. In fact, Batum was a plus-minus of +13 in the first two games, but the Clippers weren’t as good the rest of the way. His versatility and commitment clearly benefit Los Angeles, and he always gets along well with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. That’s how Batum proved himself early in the series. On Sunday, he really slacked off in Game 4.
Doncic is worried about a neck problem, but he readily admitted that he played very poorly on Sunday. Batum had a few things to do with Luca’s poor play. The Clippers could have surprised the Mavericks by putting the Frenchman on Doncic. It was a gesture that made a lot of sense in its context. Batum has enough length to interact with Doncic and enough length to dodge passes. These qualities were fully reflected in the fourth game. Batum, who started the game for the first time in the series, had four steals and two blocks. He chased Doncic when he played the ball and could also help defensively when needed. Luka finished the game with just 19 points on 9-for-24 shooting and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said replacing Batum with Doncic has changed the structure of L.A.’s defense, especially in terms of its ability to help: Defensively, I thought he did a good job of coming up the field and trying to take the ball away from him and put pressure on him, Liu said, according to Lowe Murray of The Athletic. He had a block or two, just to fly around. Nico’s departure today allowed us to trade more and defend more, and that’s why we were able to hold them to 81 points. Perhaps more importantly, Batum takes some pressure off of Leonard and George. The latter says his ability to stay on Doncic sometimes leaves him and Leonard breathing. That thought is vital to the Clippers. Lew considered putting Leonard on Doncic, but didn’t want to jeopardize Kawhi’s ability to score and maximize his performance in that area of the field. Batum’s limited role on offense allows him to chase Doncic more aggressively on defense, meaning Leonard and George don’t have to expend as much energy. It wasn’t that long ago that Batum was known more for his terrible contract than as a two-way impact player. He could now be the Clippers’ most important asset if they hope to beat Doncic and the Mavericks and reach the Conference semifinals.
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