MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Shane Battier has long had the ability to morph into the kind of player his team needed him to become. As a senior in high school outside Detroit, Battier suddenly showed he could score. As a freshman at Duke, he launched his reputation as a defensive stopper; by his junior year, he was the team's unquestioned leader.
So what Battier has done as an NBA rookie for the Memphis Grizzlies shouldn't be that surprising.
The Grizzlies, a team that won 23 games during the final season of a six-year stay in Vancouver, needed a lot of everything when they moved here. That's what Battier has given them, showing that the player who slipped to sixth in June's draft was more prepared to play at this level than all but one of those chosen ahead of him.
Going into tonight's game against the Washington Wizards (7-12) at The Pyramid, Battier leads the Grizzlies (5-14) in minutes played and three-pointers made, is second in steals and blocked shots and is third in scoring, rebounding and assists.
Among NBA rookies, he ranks in the top five in seven different categories.
Acting like the politician he aspires to be someday, Battier said what he has accomplished so far is more the byproduct of the opportunity he has been given and the responsibility he has accepted than whether those who passed on him - including then-Wizards president Michael Jordan - made a huge mistake.
"First of all, I'm in a great place for myself. I'm in a position where I can come out and I can play 40 minutes a game, I'm going to start, I'm going to make mistakes and I'm going to learn," Battier said yesterday after practice. "That's pretty much the difference in the rookies.
"I know the high school kids have been much maligned at this point, but they really haven't had the freedom that I've had on a nightly basis to really learn. I knew during the draft process that I had a good base, playing at Duke for four years, with the overall basketball knowledge that I had, that I could come in and help a team."
Battier also said he wasn't surprised that after leading the Blue Devils to the national championship and being a consensus Player of the Year as a senior, he was drafted behind three high school players, most notably top pick Kwame Brown of the Wizards, as well as Pau Gasol of Spain and Jason Richardson, a freshman at Michigan State.
"I really didn't feel slighted," said Battier. "I'm not naive. I know how the system works. I know how appealing untapped, raw potential is, especially in this league. I went to sleep very peacefully the night before the draft because I did everything that I was asked to in the workouts, in my college career, in interviews, to show people that I could be a solid player in this league."
The Grizzlies' front office did not sleep as easily because the team had worked a pre-draft trade with the Atlanta Hawks that would send Gasol, the No. 3 overall pick, along with Lorenzen Wright and Brevin Knight to Memphis for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Gasol, a 21-year-old 7-footer, was recently named the NBA's Western Conference Rookie of the Month.
While Gasol has put up bigger numbers - 16.3 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field - Battier has been asked to do more. He is playing a team-leading 39.2 minutes a game and has taken on the opposition's top perimeter scorer.
It has meant guarding everyone from Toronto's Vince Carter to Philadelphia's Allen Iverson to the Lakers' Kobe Bryant to tonight's matchup against Jordan himself. It has also meant playing both small forward and, more recently, shooting guard after Michael Dickerson was sidelined with a broken foot.
Battier has had his share of big scoring games, including a season-high 30 points on Nov. 15 against Portland and 20 points two nights later against Cleveland in the team's first victory after starting 0-8. He has been in double figures 15 times and has only struggled mightily once, scoring two points and going 0-for-9 against the Lakers.
"Probably the biggest surprise is that he's been better than we thought he was going to be," said Grizzlies general manager Billy Knight. "He's done everything you need done except sell popcorn at halftime and clean up afterward."
Memphis coach Sidney Lowe said it is easy for others now to be second-guessed.
"Was he looked on as being a potential star? That I don't know, and people want to find that star," said Lowe. "We got lucky. But I'm not a gambler. I put a lot of credence into winners, guys who have won, guys who know how to win. There is something special about those guys."
However, Battier has spent the first six weeks of the NBA losing with more regularity than at any other time in his life.
"This year is really about learning, about myself, about how I can be an effective player in the pros, learning how I can make my team better," he said.