My hope with the release this morning of “final” SCHOENE projections was that injuries would not be an issue between then and opening night. Alas, within a half an hour of the column going up news broke in Portland that starting small forward Nicolas Batum will undergo surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum and miss the next 3-5 months.
If anyone is prepared to replace an injured starter, it is the Blazers. In fact, Batum’s absence might make things somewhat easier for Nate McMillan to juggle minutes, as Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez will be able to play at small forward in addition to their primary positions (shooting guard for Fernandez, power forward for Outlaw, where they back up the team’s best two players). Martell Webster, who looked like an overqualified 10th man, now becomes the likely starter at small forward. McMillan will have several options as far as finishing games depending on matchups.
Losing Batum will hurt the Portland defense. Even as a rookie, the Frenchman was the Blazers’ best perimeter defender, and his improvement over the course of the season as a stopper would surely have continued in year two. Still, the bottom-line cost to Portland’s record will probably be fairly minimal because of the quality of the alternatives. Docking Batum 60 games for the surgery – the same amount as Brandan Wright, who recently underwent similar shoulder surgery – costs the Blazers about 0.8 games in SCHOENE’s projections.
The bigger loss is Batum’s development as part of Portland’s young core. It may not be until 2010-11 that Batum is truly back at full strength, and the injury will cost him valuable NBA experience.
I’m personally upset because Batum was one of my late picks in my super-deep fantasy league (14 teams, 14 players per team); my team has now experienced two injuries in the last week (Kevin Love being the other). Also, Batum’s absence undermines some of the analysis Blazersedge’s Ben Golliver and I did in this week’s two-part season preview Dontonio Wingcast podcast.