The Charlotte Hornets are fresh off a home win against the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday night -- their fifth in seven games. Contributing in a big way to their recent success has been Frenchman Nicolas Batum, who scored 33 points against Portland. It was his third game in a row scoring 20 points or more, but for the past two games Batum has played with a heavy heart following last Friday's attacks in Paris, France.
For Batum, the attacks hit very close to home. As reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, Batum's sister lived blocks from Stade de France, one of the sites of Friday's attacks. Batum heard the explosion while watching the French national team, and immediately contacted his sister to make sure she was all right. She was, but as Bonnell reported, Batum couldn't get the events off his mind:
Batum was on his phone until the last minute before pre-game warmups. At halftime he stared at a television in the hallway outside the Hornets’ locker room. With each new report, the toll grew grimmer.
Batum played one his best games of the season Friday, finishing with 28 points, eight rebounds, and two assists, going 5-6 from the 3-point line, a remarkable performance given the circumstances, but Batum was determined to play well for his country:
"We’ve got to stay strong. I tried to show people in my way that we’re strong and we won’t (back) down because you are doing bad stuff to people. We’ll keep our heads up, step forward and say we’re better than that."
Friday's game against the Bulls was insignificant compared to what was happening in Paris, but it was a chance for Batum to show strength and solidarity for his country. It was an outlet for him to channel every emotion and feeling going through him, and the game will likely continue to provide that the rest of the season.
Bonnell also wrote about Batum's positive start to the season. Though it's recently small sample size, Batum has contributed effectively for the Hornets on offense. Bonnell's article profiles Batum's play prior to Sunday's win over Portland, so Batum's numbers look even better. Through 10 games, Batum is averaging 16 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game, shooting 45 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from the 3-point line. When Batum is on the court, the Hornets have an offensive rating of 106.7, when he's off the court, it's 98.8.
The Hornets asked Batum to be a first option player for them, and an inconsistent start, Batum has begun fulfilling that role. While he has stated that being a primary option doesn't necessarily mean leading the team in scoring, his play over the last three games suggests he may be able to do just that. Even when he isn't scoring 20 or more points a night, his play making is creating a lot of opportunities for others.
Finally, Al Jefferson put in a strong performance Sunday after a recent stretch of poor performances, totaling just 19 points in three games. The issue however, wasn't necessarily all Jefferson's fault, but his also on his teammates:
As good as Jefferson is in the post, catching the ball 17 feet from the basket isn't putting him in a position to utilize his strong offensive game. While he has the ability to hit mid-range jump shots, he often hits them at a higher rate once he's put himself in a groove closer to the basket. Getting in a rhythm is an important part of Jefferson's game, so it's important that the Hornets are getting him high percentage looks. The good news though, is despite his struggles over those three games, the Hornets went 2-1, and score 100 points or more in two of them. Jefferson remains an important part of the offense, but the team isn't totally reliant on him as they have been in years past.