One of the first moves of the offseason was the trade that the Charlotte Hornets made for Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trailblazers. It seems like it has been an eternity since this trade has happened after a whirlwind of an offseason, but here we are with training camp right around the corner and rosters starting to finalize.
The Batum trade has brought praise from some and criticism from others. There are mixed reviews for several reasons. For one, Batum is an expiring contract and will be a free agent next summer, making it sort of a head scratcher that the Hornets would give up a second year lottery pick for a possible one year rental. Another reason to maybe have second thoughts about the trade would be Batum's injury history the last few years in Portland, missing more than ten games four out of the last five seasons.
Batum's natural position is also small forward, the same position as current Charlotte Hornet Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. There are some who may think that this is a bad fit and that the two overlap positions. Although the team immediately commented saying they would like Batum to play as a big shooting guard.
One of the new revolutionary parts about the modern NBA, however, is the fact that many teams play "positionless baksetball." All five guys on the court simply just play. It doesn't matter what position you are known for having. The Warriors just won the championship by not starting a player taller than 6-8. To be successful, you need players who can play and guard multiple positions on the floor.
The notion that MKG and Batum can't co-exist is a bit far fetched to me. Both should be considered "wings" instead of small forwards; they both play naturally on the perimeter and guard other perimeter players. Take MKG for example: there isn't one position or player in the league that you are uncomfortable with him guarding. Batum has also been a solid defender throughout the course of his career, using his length and athleticism to bother guys. With MKG and Batum on the floor at the same time, the Hornets will have one of the best perimeter defending duos in the entire league.
How the two work together offensively is a completely different story, but not too difficult of a task as would be expected. It is hard to be on the floor if you can't shoot, and MKG has tried his hardest to rework the mechanics on his shot in an effort to be at least a competent jump shooter. While there has been a bit of progress, it is still not enough of a weapon to rely on a consistent basis.
MKG isn't completely lost as an offensive player, however. He still plays harder than just about any other player in the league and what he lacks in shooting, he makes up for in smart off ball cuts and extra passes. Even if the defense doesn't respect you as a jump shooter, you can still keep them on their heels by constantly moving and keeping them guessing.
Batum will help squeeze out more spacing for the Charlotte offense. Despite shooting poorly last season, Batum is a career 36.3 percent three point shooter, with his only season below 36 percent being last season, and 2010-11. It was no secret that Batum battled several injuries last year, giving him a justifiable excuse for the drop in production. I'm optimistically expecting the 2013-14 Batum, who averaged 13 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 36.1 percent from deep and 46.5 percent from the field.
Like MKG, Batum is a constant mover, always running off screens or making back cuts. It makes it even tougher to track him when you know that he can bury shots from deep. Throw in the off the bounce creating that Batum can do, and you have one of the more underrated two-way wings in the league.
There could be problems that arise from this, especially since the ball tends to stick in the hands of Kemba Walker a fair amount. If MKG and Batum are endlessly scampering around while Kemba is aimlessly dribbling in an isolation, then it can clog a lot of things up.
Nevertheless, Batum gives the Hornets essentially what they thought Lance Stephenson would give them; a secondary playmaker that can create shots for others and space the floor. He is a huge improvement over any player that the Hornets lost and currently have offensively, on the wing, while providing several of the things the Hornets were lacking last season. Lets just hope it goes a little better this time around.