Resume: 14.3 points (career best), 5.6 rebounds (career best), 4.9 assists (career best), 1.2 steals (career best), 1.1 blocks (career best), 38.5 minutes (5th in league, career best), 165 threes made (career best), 42% FG, 37% 3PT, and 85% FT (career best)… Team record in games played: 32-41 (1-8 without)
Resume: 18.2 points 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 35.8 minutes, 42% FG, and 81% FT (career best)… Team record in games played: 46-29 (0-2 without in Memphis, 0-1 without in Toronto)
As promised, a Bill Simmons-esque Dr. Jack breakdown to determine who gets the cutoff spot in the Top 50.
Offseason news: While Batum stayed as quiet as a librarian would appreciate this summer, Rudy Gay made some waves when he admitted that he’s had vision problems his whole life and didn’t even wear contacts because, as he put it, “I can’t put anything up my nose and I can’t touch my eyes.” Well then! Now it makes sense why he’s been clanging deep two’s for the last five years… he couldn’t see the three-point line OR the basket. Seriously, I don’t know whether to give this category to Gay for taking initiative, or to Batum based solely on how ridiculous it is that someone could play in the NBA for seven years before deciding they want to be able to see. Hmmm. I guess I’ll credit progress.
Batum is a lanky 6’8” Frenchman who grew up playing center and wagging his finger in Mutombo-esque fashion after blocks, and now spends time on the perimeter nailing three’s and creating offense. Gay looks like he was taken right off an assembly line of players who were created through AAU basketball and camp circuits across the country, only he has a chip implanted in his brain to take as many 21 foot jump shots as he can.
Role/Fit in role: Last season Batum transformed from a defensive stopper/corner three sharp shooter (two things he thrived at) to a legitimate third scoring option/slasher/defensive stopper/facilitator of the offense. Despite some lumps along the way—a drop in field goal percentage and a career worst 2.6 turnovers per game—Batum made the transition relatively smoothly, increasing his scoring and rebounding, and tripling his previous high in assists. Defensively, nothing changed. Batum remained one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league, and a legitimate threat to challenge LeBron as the master of the chase down block.
If we’re judging based on the difficulty of the role, the category clearly goes to Gay. He’s a textbook case of a player who is under qualified to be the best guy in the team, yet continually cast to fill that role. In Memphis he was that guy from his 2nd season on, and by no coincidence Memphis had their most success when Gay was injured (the 2011 playoff run) and after he was traded (the 2013 playoff run). Now Gay is left to be the go-to-guy on a team that will be just good enough to finish in 9th place if Gay does all he could. Is that what you really want out of “the man”? No, and that’s why Nic Batum gets the edge. He gives you just about everything you could want from your small forward, and the third best guy on the team; and you’d assume he’s only going to get better. We know what Rudy Gay is at this point: He’s a good, but not great, volume scorer who can give Toronto between 16-22 points per game this season… and that’s about it.
Contract: Rudy Gay is making $56,000 more than Kevin Durant this season… and that doesn’t really make sense no matter how you try to wrap your head around. Meanwhile, Nic Batum is making $11 million a year, which is far more reasonable than Gay’s $18 million and roughly 85 thousand times more reasonable than Tiago Splitter making $10 million this season.
International Play: I don’t like to put too much stock in international play, but for the sake of the Dr. Jack breakdown, let’s take a look at both Gay and Batum’s biggest international accomplishments.
Gay: Roughly the 40th best American player in the NBA… Helped the United States win their first gold medal in the FIBA World Championships since 1994… Averaged 7 points and 3 rebounds per game for Team USA
Batum: 2nd best French player in the NBA… Helped France finish 6th in the 2012 Summer Olympics… Averaged 15.5 points and 6 rebounds per game for Team France… Assaulted Juan Carlos Navarro’s groin area
Major Edge: Batum
Head to head: Batum and Gay only met once this year with the Blazers getting the best of Gay’s former Grizzlies team, 86-84. Gay finished with 19 points on 8 for 21 shooting, and nine rebounds. Batum scored 11 points on 4 for 11 shooting, dished out four assists and pulled down five boards. The stats don’t tell the whole story. With the game tied at 80, Batum nailed a three from the left wing that gave Portland the lead for good. Gay missed a potential game tying jumper (You’ll never believe this, but it was a deep two) with Batum contesting the shot.
Slight Edge: Batum
Best Stat Line: In mid-February Gay and the suddenly streaking Raptors held on for a 100-98 win over the Knicks, with Gay leading the way scoring 32 points and dropping 24 in the 2nd half. Gay matched everything Carmelo Anthony did and by leading the Raptors to their 7th win in ten games with the Raptors. While a 24 point 2nd half outburst is impressive, Batum put together a stat line that hasn’t been seen since his game-play doppelganger Andrei Kirilenko did it back in 2006. Batum notched an extremely rare 5×5 (at least five points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks… in Batum’s case it was 11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, and 5 blocks) in a 95-94 win over New Orleans back in December.
In a roundabout way, the stat line argument epitomizes why Batum wins the breakdown 5-1, and ultimately why I give him the edge for #50. He’s just a more well-rounded player who in all likelihood will continue to improve once he gets comfortable with his role. Gay is a finished product at this point, and a wise man once said, “There is only so much value I can place on a guy who scores 18 points per game on 18 shots per game when he is supposed to be ‘The Guy’.”