Shane Battier has made a living for himself in the NBA by dint of his two best skills: defending opposing shooting guards and small forwards, and being able to shoot the three-pointer at a high percentage. Zach Lowe of Grantland set out to find the league's new Battiers--though the old one is still around--and explains their importance to the game the way it's played in 2013.
"Defense and shooting are fundamental basketball skills," Lowe says. They have always been important. But they are becoming more important as the league changes, and on the flip side, the absence of those skills has become more damaging."
Orlando Magic swingman Arron Afflalo figures prominently in Lowe's list of Battier's heirs apparent. The UCLA product was "clearly" on his way to growing into a Battier-like player earlier in his career, but Lowe says Afflalo's case illustrates "the difficulty of finding these players at the right stage of their career and developing them." Afflalo took on more offensive responsibilities with the Denver Nuggets, and took on even more of them still with "a lousy Orlando team" in 2012/13.
Afflalo shot just 30 percent from three-point range with the Magic, and he never quite returned to the ace defensive form he showed in his first two seasons with Denver. The point, Lowe says, is that "[a] New Age Battier can only be a New Age Battier if someone else is around to create all those 3-point looks on offense by running pick-and-rolls, posting up, and generally kicking ass." The Magic don't have such a player.
Notably, Lowe says Afflalo is fairly paid and can still fill that Battier role, but he has to be in the right situation. Orlando isn't it.
Afflalo isn't the only Orlando player whom Lowe mentions in his piece. Rookie small forward Maurice Harkless appears under the heading "More Intriguing But Unknown Young Guys." Lowe is optimistic that the St. John's product will grow as a defender, but he's skeptical about Harkless' three-point potency: "[Harkless] shot just 27 percent from 3-point range while shooting too much on a bad and injury-ravaged Orlando team."