Though Shane Battier had just won a national title at Duke and been named the college player of the year, NBA scouts were hardly surprised when he slipped to No. 6 in the 2001 draft. Many of them believed that he was a finished product, lacking the alluring "upside" of the high school stars taken ahead of him, Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. Four years later Battier is doing for the Grizzlies (33-25 at week's end) what he did for the Blue Devils: helping them win.
"He impacts the game in so many ways," says coach Mike Fratello, who credits Battier with helping the Grizzlies go 10-6 in the absence of Pau Gasol (out indefinitely with a left foot injury). "Look at how many big rebounds he has come up with at the ends of games. I'm talking about a one-point game, we're leading, they're shooting, and several times this year it's been Shane who comes out of the middle of the pack with the ball."
Though the 6'8" Battier starts at small forward, the label becomes irrelevant once the ball is put into play. Last Friday against the Raptors he initially lined up against 6'9" shooting guard Jalen Rose. "Then I moved over to Morris Peterson," says Battier, referring to the 6'7" small forward. "I had [6'9" power forward] Donyell Marshall for a few possessions, and then I guarded [6'10" center] Chris Bosh." Every now and then screens would force him to switch onto 6'1" point guard Rafer Alston. When he wasn't working his way through the Raptors' lineup defensively, Battier was pouring in a career-high 33 points from the post to the three-point line, where with 1:27 remaining he nailed an off-balance shot-clock beater to seal the Grizzlies' 86-75 win.
Battier's statistics (9.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game through Sunday) are as modest as his vertical leap, but at 26 he has emerged as one of the league's most sophisticated handymen, making vital contributions in every phase of the game. "You look at the winning teams--the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Suns--and they're all filled with guys who know how to play the game," says Battier. "That's what I see myself as: not as an athlete, but as a player." ‚ñ†