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2016-17 Player Preview: Nicolas Batum

Perhaps the most versatile star in Hornets history is back for another go.

NBA: Preseason-Minnesota Timberwolves at Charlotte Hornets Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 STATISTICS: 70 games, 14.9 points, 5.8 assists, 6.1 rebounds, 38.4 3FG%

Batum is back.

The five-tool Frenchman was supposed to leave the Queen city in quite a bit of dust following the 2015-16 season.

That was the expert opinion at least — His Airness had let his legendary competitiveness get away from him once again, and had dealt a promising, young lottery pick for an oft-injured rental. A career specimen with prodigious potential and zero chance of tapping into any of it for all teams not with the name of the French National one.

He would play one year and then bounce. Probably for Toronto, or another more “international” city, because — you know — he is a cerebral foreign player after all and Charlotte was just so...national.

Or if he couldn’t find a city to his liking, he’d take after his countrymen and compadre Boris Diaw, slacking to the degree that it became noticeable on his BMI, before making his way to greener competitive pastures with the likes of the San Antonio Sours or Golden State Warriors.

But alas, the magic that is the sweet song of Steven Gerald Clifford wooed Nicolas. Talk of offensive aggressiveness, defensive versatility, and prime time playmaking, lured perhaps the Hornets most prized asset back on a five year deal valued at $120 million — a hometown discount of sorts that allowed the team to fill out the roster in the wake of an inevitable and sadly necessary free agent exodus that saw the evaporation of offensive talents Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson, as well as defensive dynamo (and all-around good guy) Courtney Lee.

The Hornets offense took a quantum leap last year, and one could argue that if you could only choose ONE difference between last year and the one before — one difference about the team as a whole that accounts for this change — the answer is the arrival of Nicolas Batum. For years, the franchise had struggled with developing and/or bringing in scorers and creators. Players that could facilitate offense without being a liability of defense, guys who could create a bucket for themselves and others.

Batum was Clifford’s “size and skill” refrain fully realized. A gift from the front office gods. Perhaps the most compelling statistic was mentioned by At the Hive’s own Chris Barnewall on the Limited Upside podcast, saying essentially that when Nic Batum was on the court last season, running mate Kemba shot 41%, and when he was not, Walker jacked a putrid 28% from three.

Kemba Walker and Marvin Williams had career years last season. Coincidence? Or did the insertion of Batum allow for basketball’s natural alchemy and chemistry-level processes to take effect?

While we don’t know for certain, you can be damn sure everyone on the team is glad he’s returned. Meshing with your teammates’ myriad skill-sets — as it turns out — becomes significantly easier when yours has no holes of its own. Now will Batum take the next step to finally embrace his eventual super-stardom? Most likely, not. At this point Batum is who he is as a player, and while it’s not the star we all want, he’s most certainly the role player supreme that the Hornets need.