The holiday season as apparently revitalized no. 5 for the Charlotte Hornets and the team has followed suit, winning four of their last five, good enough for fourth in a tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The team’s mini-resurgence — minus a brutal Brooklyn defeat — can attributed to Saint Nicolas Batum, the team’s versatile do-it-all shooting guard and weirdly enough, leading rebounder.
Speaking of rebounds, Batum began the 2016-17 season in a bit of a slump. He didn’t shoot, and even when he did, he didn’t make them. Passivity had been the knock on Batum during his years in Portland and with Kemba Walker’s particularly hot start to the season it looked as though Nic had become resigned to his old blasé modus operandi, often failing to finish the game in double digits — something that may worry a team that just signed you a $120 million contract.
Who knows why in fact the Nic had an early season hangover but he seems to be recovering at just the right time. In the last five games the man is averaging essentially 19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and two steals while shooting 49 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. He has a triple double and another near-one if Coach Cliff had let him play in the fourth. He’s hit at least 20 per game in four straight and shows no signs of slowing down. Batum’s not only picked up his offensive scoring but it’s his overall aggressiveness on both sides of the floor that really stands out.
In the third quarter alone last night, Batum had ten points, eight rebounds, and four assists — all while missing one shot. One of the takeaways I had from Charlotte’s play during the quarter was just how crisp and sharp the ball movement was. Eight assists total, with hockey assists galore, resulting in easy layups and dunks. This is Nic’s bread and butter. The man is an engine of ball movement and has created a Spurs-ian culture of unselfish play that was on full display as the Hornets out scored the Magic 35-13 to finally pull away for good.
Here’s to hoping a change of the calendar coincides with Nic’s change in play. 2017 needs a Batum that is more Kemba’s equal than sidekick.