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Nicolas Batum has been an unsung hero for the Hornets

Despite underwhelming box score statistics, the Frenchman is a key to the Hornets success this season, particularly on the defensive end.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Nicolas Batum has been a frequent target of frustration among Hornets fans since he signed a five year, $120 million contract in the summer of 2016. An under-performing Charlotte Hornets team was begging for a second scorer to complement Kemba Walker and Batum’s near max contract brought with it expectations that the Frenchman would step into that role. In the first season under his new contract, Batum delivered. He averaged 15.1 points per game - a respectable amount for a team’s second option. However, his scoring has decreased significantly in the last two seasons and it has many fans questioning whether or not Batum is worth his contract.

So far this season, Batum is averaging 9.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 41.0% shooting from the field and 36.4% shooting from the field. Those numbers are underwhelming, and it lends further credence to the idea that Nic is a $120 million albatross that’s holding the team back. But box score numbers rarely tell the full story and that’s very evident when looking at Nicolas Batum.

Batum only averages 1.1 steal and 0.9 blocks per game this season, but the Hornets defense is 24.0 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the court than when he’s off. In all, the Hornets total net rating is 25.0 points per 100 possessions better with Batum on the court than when he’s off. Accoring to BBall Index’s new player impact plus-minus stat, Batum has been the twelfth most impactful player in the league this season and second most impactful player on the Hornets behind Kemba Walker. His +2.3 PIPM is two spots behind Kawhi Leonard and ranks just ahead of Nikola Jokic, Blake Griffin, Joel Embiid, and LeBron James. His +1.8 defensive PIPM is the second best mark in the NBA behind only Marc Gasol.

Nicolas Batum is never going to be a prolific scorer. Expecting him to be that only opens the door for disappointment and misplaced criticism. Batum is an offensive connector and a versatile, savvy defender. He does the little things that a team needs to operate at peak capacity on both ends of the floor. Nicolas Batum has made the Hornets better this season, and that’s all we could ask of any player.