Nicolas Batum tore a ligament in his elbow on October 4th. Unverified early reports claimed he was in danger of missing the entire season, but the Vertical’s Shams Charania later reported that he would miss somewhere between 8-12 weeks. That timeline is somewhere between 6-8 weeks after Batum was notified he wouldn’t need surgery. With his apparent Wolverine like healing factor I fully expect him to be back on the court by the time anyone reads this.
The injury and uncertain timeline make it difficult to preview what can be expected out of Batum this year. The Charlotte Hornets will desperately miss Batum during his absence; he is the second best playmaker on a team whose offense is almost entirely based around putting the ball in the hands of the best playmakers and running the pick-and-roll. Luckily, this injury is to his non-shooting arm and he was never much for going to his left that much to begin with. So let us assume that Batum will return in full bloom and soon we can resume to tune into the Hornets at full strength.
Batum is the industrial strength superglue that holds the Charlotte Hornets together. He is the type of versatile player that is so valuable in today’s game, doubly so considering some of the glaring deficiencies in the construction of this Hornets roster.
He is a great secondary playmaker; just stagger his minutes from Kemba Walker’s and he’ll be the second unit’s point guard. Have spacing issues that hamper your star point guard’s pick and roll heavy style? Nic can fire away from behind the three-point line to alleviate some of that cramped spacing for you. Feel like playing Frank Kaminsky at center because you don’t have any better options? Batum has a massive wingspan and a knack for racking up blocks and steals, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can combine to mask some of that non-existent rim protection!
Batum is vital to a lot of success the Hornets will hope to have in this coming season, and on a personal level he has long been one of my favorite players to watch. Breaking down a jack of all trades type of player by the individual parts of his game is always a dangerous proposition, but being a sports fan is like picking at a scab when you know it will only make you feel and look worse in the long run so in the interest of pain let’s take a closer look.
More than anything else, Batum is a smart player. He knows where to be on the court and knows how not to clam up an offense. His usage rate has taken a big upturn since coming to Charlotte two seasons ago, due in large part to the team putting the ball in his hands far more often to act as the de facto backup point in any lineup without Walker. Batum is a very capable ball handler and passing, accounting for over 25 percent of the team’s assists when he has been on the court over the past two seasons.
On the flipside, he has a tendency to look for the homerun pass, has always been turnover prone, and that combined with his high usage led to a myriad number of problems for the Hornets last season. He is still a capable pick-and-roll player, preferring to work to his right hand and too often settling for midrange jumpers when he can’t find an open man. Under 15 percent of all his shots from the floor were within 4 feet of the basket last season, a career low. Early in his career, he was fantastic moving off ball, often hitting backdoor cuts to get easy looks at the basket. As he becomes more of a focal point of the offense it’s tougher for him to get those looks and he has to do a lot more shot creation by himself which isn’t particularly his strong suit.
As he enters the back end of his athletic prime, it’ll be interesting to see if his lack of ability to get to the rim is a result of drooping athleticism or poor spacing around him. His elbow injury may further impact this upon his return as well, forcing him to finish exclusively with his right hand (he pretty much does that when completely healthy, not that it bothers him to be told so or anything).
It’s my left arm guys! Everybody knows I’m not using my left hand (that’s what the scooting report says).We have a deep roster we’ll be fine— Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum) October 5, 2017
He remains a capable shooter, not the elite one that he showed flashes of being early in his career but defenses still have to respect him and he doesn’t further cramp the often-cramped Hornets spacing. The real issue is he shot just under half of his attempts from the mid-range last season — a dinosaur of a number in today’s pace and space brand of basketball. It is no surprise that taking the least efficient shot in the game led to the least efficient shooting season of his career, as his Effective Field Goal percentage was a Ramon Sessions like 47.3 percent on the year.
If the Hornets can get anything at all out of Michael Carter-Williams this season it should be a boon for Batum’s efficiency allowing him to play off ball and get easier catch and shoot looks from the three point line. Batum has talked about filling a Hedo Turkoglu like role from his Orlando Magic days beside Dwight Howard. His game has never been particularly similar to Turk’s mainly because he is a far less active and efficient three-point shooter. Turkoglu was especially effective shooting the corner three which as all but evaporated from Batum’s game since coming to Charlotte. (Under five percent of his shots in the past two seasons.) It is exceedingly difficult for him to get those looks in Charlotte’s offense both because the ball is constantly in his hands and the corners are the only two places Marvin Williams is legally allowed to stand on a basketball court while on offense.
Defensively, Batum has a reputation that probably precedes him. He has a mammoth wingspan that has always made him very effective at getting in passing lanes to force steals and block shots as well. As an overall defender, however, Batum is average at best; he is usually not particularly interested in getting down into a defensive stance and is prone to getting caught sleeping while standing totally upright. The hope for improvement here is with less usage on offense and Howard patrolling the paint that he is able to focus more on effective man to man defense. The Hornets’ hopes for greatness rely on having an elite defense; Batum is a smart player and knows where to be within a team system and in all honesty I don’t see him having much of an effect on that side of the ball overall one way or the other.
Batum and Walker were the two sure things the Hornets thought they could count on heading into a season of uncertainty. The elbow injury it puts an even heavier burden on Kemba’s shoulders, so it will be fascinating to see how the Hornets try and compensate for his absence and how units without both Batum and Walker on the floor will be able to survive and squeeze out enough points to keep them in games.
Just how much time can Charlotte endure without Batum jeopardizing their playoff aspirations in a weak Eastern Conference? The hope is he is able to return in short order, but without surgery it is tough to know if this will become a nagging injury and how it will impact both Batum and the team long term. The Hornets need to get as many minutes with Batum on the floor as possible, just how many they are able to get may end up telling the story of their season.