Minnesota Timberwolves: Is $50 Million Too Much for Nicolas Batum?
If Portland declines to match the offer, Batum would become the second highest paid player on Minnesota's payroll by a wide margin.
But should the Timberwolves pay the 23-year-old Frenchman top dollar?
Last season, Batum averaged 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds on 45.1 percent shooting. He's a strong athlete with shooting touch and good off-the-ball instincts. And, with a 7'0" wingspan, he brings weak-side shot-blocking to the table (1.2 blocks per 36 minutes in 2012).
However, the Timberwolves are loaded at the wing position with Derrick Williams, Wesley Johnson, and the newly-acquired Chase Budinger, for whom Minnesota dealt the 18th pick in the 2012 draft.
Williams, in particular, still needs developmental minutes to reach his considerable potential. The No. 2 overall pick (2011) showed good chemistry with Ricky Rubio, but disappointed with his inconsistency and still-raw skill set—shortcomings for which playing time is the only corrective.
Nevertheless, Minnesota rarely has a chance to make a splash in free agency, and Batum is a premier talent who fits into the their future, and their present. After finishing last season a Rubio torn ACL away from making the playoffs, Minnesota would be wise to aggressively pursue players who can put them back in the hunt immediately.
Answer this: Are there cheaper, more suitable fits for Minnesota's roster than Nic Batum?
Turkoglu, Maggette, Jefferson, Jackson, Marion, Salmons and Butler are all far inferior talents at this stage of their careers.
Gerald Wallace, recently signed to the Brooklyn Nets, is a consideration at $9.5 million per year. However, his game relies on athleticism and he turns turns 30 on July 23. By year two or three of his contract, he would be a diminished asset, particularly on a Timberwolves team built around a young nucleus of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.
Thaddeus Young, 24, is a tough young forward who thrives in the open court, rebounds well and posted an 18.9 PER in 2011-12. He doesn't have Batum's shooting range, but there's an argument to be made that he returns stronger overall value at $8.0 million.
Looking higher on the list, Danny Granger and Luol Deng are proven winners, but both are far older than Batum—29 and 27, respectively—and have no upside.
Andre Iguodala is an excellent athlete and would be a deadly fast-break threat alongside Rubio. But he struggles to score in the half court, where Rubio's poor jump shot (35.7 percent from the field last season) already compromises Minnesota's spacing.
Look higher than that and you enter a tier of All-Star forwards who are not available to Minnesota in free agency, or by trade, with the possible exception of Rudy Gay, whom Memphis might be willing to move after his abysmal 2012 postseason. Minnesota would be better off with Batum, however, as he is the much more efficient scorer (Batum: 57.5 true shooting percentage; Gay: 52.1 percent).
All told, outside of rookie contracts, superstar talents and the consistently underrated Thaddeus Young, Batum may be the best dollar-for-dollar value in the current crop of small forwards, assuming he signs Minnesota's offer sheet. He also brings a package of qualities Minnesota needs most: shooting to spread the floor for Rubio, athleticism for the transition game, and upside to grow alongside the roster's young talent.
According to NBC Sports, there are strong indications that Portland will match all but the most outrageous offers for the young forward. But in the event that they don't, Minnesota will add a talented—and relatively cost-efficient—new member to their already promising core.
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