When a team is tied for the second-best record in its respective conference, there isn't much to be dissatisfied with. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard were recently announced as All-Star reserves for the Western Conference, and the Portland Trail Blazers are sitting pretty in the upper echelon of the NBA.
It's possible the team could be even better, but only if Nicolas Batum increases his aptitude as a scorer.
Presently, Batum is one of the most versatile players in the league. He can score, rebound and distribute with ease, in addition to being a suffocating defender.
Batum is averaging 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game in his sixth season with Portland, all in 35.8 minutes per game. He's converting on 45.1 percent of his shots, in addition to 34.6 percent of his three-point attempts.
Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), Batum is holding opponents to 39.5 percent shooting this season. His seemingly endless wingspan, measured at 7'4", makes it very easy to contain defenders and contest shots. Batum also stands 6'8". While his 200-pound frame might be light, he makes up for it with quick footwork to keep up with his man.
As talented as Batum is defensively, it's offensively where the Blazers need to incorporate him more. He averages just 9.7 field-goal attempts per game, which ranks fourth on the team. Batum narrowly edges reserve guard Mo Williams' 9.1 attempts, but it's a number that should be higher for him.
He's never been a high-scoring forward, averaging 11.3 points per game for his career. But the fact remains Batum could be.
Once again courtesy of Synergy Sports, the Blazers run Batum as a spot-up shooter 22.9 percent of the time. He's run as the pick-and-roll ball-handler 16.6 percent of the time but is shooting just 35.7 percent and 39.1 percent in those plays, respectively.
Batum has the versatility to uphold both respectably, but he's much more efficient playing off the ball. He shoots 46.2 percent in hand-off plays, shooting 44.2 percent coming off screens. Batum also converts 78.3 percent of his attempts cutting to the rim.
In the midst of that jungle of statistical mumbo jumbo, what we can take from it is that Batum, while efficient handling and distributing the ball, works just as well as a scorer for Portland.
Aldridge is one of the best in the league at operating at the high post, both scoring and distributing. He averages 2.8 assists per game and turns the ball over just 1.8 times, hence using him as a high-post passer would be beneficial overall for the Blazers.
Portland leads the NBA in three-point field goals made per game, as well as coming in third with 24.3 assists per game. The Blazers have a very clean offensive system, with very few miscues (13.2 per game) and a ton of extra passes.
As such, it makes sense and doesn't deviate from the game plan for Aldridge and Batum to play some two-man here and there throughout the game.
Should the Trail Blazers integrate Nicolas Batum more as a scorer?
Batum could cut, come off a screen or receive a hand-off pass from Aldridge and either shoot or drive to the rim. Per NBA.com, Aldridge is second to Lillard in terms of assisting Batum with 38 dimes. It's clear there's chemistry between the two, it just needs to be an increased area of use for Portland.
Aldridge could still get his in the post and shooting from mid-range, but turning a few of those shots into passes helps both himself and Batum. He's shooting the ball 21.2 times per contest, with 2.8 assists, but Aldridge is certainly capable of a slight role change.
It would make his job a little easier too, with a less-strenuous workload every night.
Again, there's really no need for Portland to shake things up. The team is tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the second-best record in the West and is looking like a real contender. Yet it doesn't hurt the Blazers to experiment, especially if it's in the interest of getting more from their players.