October 9, 2015 by Brandon Keller
To win in the NBA, teams need a player to exceed expectations. With that in mind, we look at 2016’s make or break players for each NBA teams.
In the entire NBA, few players are more versatile then Nicolas Batum.
In that short 2 minute clip, you see the whole repertoire at work. Few guys on the planet can block a LeBron James layup, jump a passing lane and go coast-to-coast, drop some dirty dimes, hit open threes and throw in a few posterizations for good measure. But Nic Batum is in a special class of his own, a player who, besides post up offense and defense, doesn’t really have any other discernible weakness. At least it seemed that way coming in to the 2014-15 season.
Batum came into the league as a rangy 6’8″ swingman with a 7’1″ wingspan and freakish athleticism. Throughout his career he had always been an interesting prospect, but it wasn’t until Terry Stotts took over the helm and a precocious young point guard named Damian Lilliard arrived that he blossomed into a multi-dimensional playmaking force. In Batum’s first two season with Dame and Stotts, he finally seemed to have put it all together.
|Regular Season Averages|
Then, out of nowhere, last season happened. Batum played like a man without purpose, posting career lows in FG% (40%), 3 Point % (32.4%) and his worst stats since his rookie year in blocks (0.6), points (9.4) and PER (13.10). At 25, an age when most NBA players enter their prime, Batum had his worst season since he was a teenager. Was this a case of a prolonged shooting slump, or a harbinger of what is to come?
Signs seem to point to this just being a blip on the radar. Batum was still able to finish effectively in the paint, shooting 65.9%. While that is not reaching the lofty heights of 2013-14 when he shot 73.6%, it still is an encouraging sign that his athleticism is not beginning to erode. His biggest drop was on midrange jumpers, a very fickle shot that he shouldn’t be shooting anyways.
All of this bodes well for Batum’s future, and the future of the Charlotte Hornets. Charlotte gave up a promising young big and a rotation wing in Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson for Batum in hopes of getting back to the playoffs. It is a gamble that made perfect sense at the time. The Hornets have a nice offensive foundation in Big Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, and a defensive star in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They had long targeted Frank Kaminsky in the draft, and with Cody Zeller also in the mix it made sense to sacrifice some big man depth for someone to fill in the gaps. A guy who could defend guards and/or forwards, depending on the matchup. A guy who can hit a spot-up three. A guy who can cut off the ball when Big Al gets double-teamed. A guy who can take over some playmaking responsibility from Kemba. They thought they had that guy in Lance Stephenson, but that worked out about as well as a bicycle with no wheels. Now they may just have that guy in Nicolas Batum.
Then, disaster strikes. MKG, the anchor of the defense, has shoulder surgery and is out 6 months. Suddenly, for the Hornets to even sniff the playoffs, they no longer need Batum to be just that guy. The need him to be more then that. They need a Kawhi Leonard-esque season of shutting down the best perimeter player on one end and consistently delivering efficient offense on the other. Batum has yet to show he is capable of delivering a season of that caliber, but if he does the Hornets will make a return to the promised land.