No Charlotte Hornets player felt the wrath of the fanbase more than Nicolas Batum this season (except for maybe Micahel-Carter Williams). In his third season as a Hornet, Batum had his worst season by far. Injuries were a part for sure, but there was also concern he was trending downwards due to age. What makes this so problematic is his monster contract that the team is likely stuck with unless the new front office finds a smart way to get rid of it. Batum is 29 and still has four years left on his contract at $22 million a year. His contract is a problem, but we are here to talk about Batum’s season.
In the preseason Batum hurt his elbow, and it initally looked like he would miss the season due to surgery. Instead, he declined surgery and went with rehab. He missed the first twelve games of the season and even once he came back, he didn’t look the same. Batum re-aggravated in a game against Washington, and it still bothered him for a while.
I was at a home game against the Spurs, and the Hornets were losing by a wide margin. It was clear watching that Batum was a shell of himself. His conditioning was down, as was his effort, his shooting stroke looked off, and his defense was atrocious. It was tough to watch. He was back playing consistent minutes by December, but he continued to struggle mightily.
Int he month of December he only averaged 10.2 points, 5.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds on 41 percent shooting from the field, 31 percent from 3 and 72 percent from the line. What was concerning was his lack of aggressiveness — he was only getting to the line 1.2 times per game. It was never his thing, but it was never that low.
Batum responded to play his best basketball in January and February. In those two months, he averaged 13.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. He still struggled shooting from the field, shooting only 41 percent, but his 3-point shooting improved to 35 percent and 80 percent from the line on 2.2 attempts per game. He continued solid play into the first half of March until he got re-injured and missed four games. Batum returned for the last seven games, but he was pretty terrible for the most part in those games.
Batum turned around a bit this season, but overall he was more bad than good. His passing was a weapon and necessary for the Hornet offense, but his poor shooting, lack of aggression and lousy defense all were a significant reason the Hornets struggled this year. Steve Clifford sticking with him for so long might of been a reason he was fired, but that’s for another day.
As I wrote earlier, the Hornets were better without Batum this year, posting a net rating with Batum of -2 when he played and +2.9 when he didn’t. The numbers prove that if Jeremy Lamb were the starter for the whole season, the Hornets would have likely been better.
It was his defense that was the biggest problem. Batum was eight on the team in defensive rating and 67th among all shooting guards in defensive RPM. He was 28th a year before. According to Synergy Sports, he ranked in the 11th percentile in individual defense. That is horrible for a player with his skill set and length. This is honestly more concerning than his poor shooting. He at least adds value on offense with his passing; on defense, he brings nothing.
He was 31st among all shooting guards in total RPM. His net rating was 0.0 which was 11th on the team. For the season, he averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds. All of those are career lows for his time in Charlotte. His 83 percent shooting from the free throw line on only two attempts per game are also both career lows for his time as a Hornet.
Batum is trending downwards, but there is a chance he has a bounce-back season next year under a new coaching staff. That said, I think the best of Batum is behind him. Mitch Kupchak will try as hard as he can to get rid of him, probably by attaching him to Kemba Walker in a trade. That is likely the only way it’s possible unless we use our first round pick, which we need. I think he stays and our new coaching staff needs to find a way to bring out the best of him, so his trade value goes up. My guess is next year he comes off the bench as the second unit point guard, as we play a bunch of a young guys. Either way, it was a disappointing season for Batum who just two years ago was brilliant and a big part of a 48 win playoff team.