How do you say “veteran mentor” in French? Those two words will likely define Nicolas Batum‘s 2019-2020 season with the Charlotte Hornets.
After spending most of his 11-year career as a starter averaging in excess of 30 minutes per game, the versatile small forward will likely see his role change this season. The Hornets are in full-on rebuild mode and focused on developing young talent. GM Mitch Kupchak recently said the Hornets will be a “team built around our young players.” Batum, who turns 31 in December, doesn’t exactly fit that mold.
Batum’s role is expected to be reduced as more minutes go to younger wings like Dwayne Bacon, Malik Monk, and Miles Bridges. That said, Batum should still play an important role both on and off the court.
On the court, the 6-foot-8 Frenchman can still be an effective, though sometimes inconsistent, two-way player. The 9.3 points he averaged last year was the lowest since his rookie season and at times he completely disappeared on offense. But on the positive side his 45.0 percent field goal percentage was noticeably higher than the 41.4 percent he shot during his first three years in Charlotte. His three-point shooting also jumped from 34 percent over the last three years to nearly 39 percent last season. He will continue to be a smart passer and good rebounder for his position.
Defensively, he’ll remain long and effective on the wing, an increasingly important skill in today’s NBA full of pick-and-rolls and corner threes. From a nerdy advanced stats perspective, per Basketball Reference Batum finished third on the team last year in Defensive Box Plus/Minus behind Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo, making him the team’s best wing defender by this measure.
Nicolas Batum isn’t washed up by any stretch of the imagination, he’s just playing for the wrong team. Ideally, he’d be playing a key sixth-man role for a team competing for an NBA championship, not running into blind screens his 20-year-old teammates forgot to call out. Only time will tell if any of the NBA’s better teams will be willing to work out a trade and take on his $25.5 million salary this year and his $27 million player option next year.
Off the court, Batum should serve as an effective mentor for the young guns. He’ll be a stabilizing influence in the locker room, a teacher in film study, and a provider of life lessons throughout what will be a rocky season. Batum is both mature and experienced and will help his younger teammates develop as professionals. These contributions will be a positive no matter how many minutes the veteran plays on a young, rebuilding team.