The NBA's 30 Men of Intrigue: Nicolas Batum

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Nicolas Batum (Batman)
2014-15 Charlotte Hornets: 33-49

A year ago, the reincarnated Charlotte Hornets (nee Bobcats) were looking for some major offensive help. After watching Al Jefferson limp through their first round series with Miami a few months prior, they hoped that signing former Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson in free agency would have provided a decent inside-outside combination that would have freed up Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrest to pick their spots on the floor. He was supposed to be a player that, given the right conditions, would help elevate the Hornets from surprise team to rising stars.

Yeah, no.

The failed Stephenson experiment ended with a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers after a single season, but it also brought Hornets management – namely owner Michael Jordan and general manager Rich Cho – back to where it was before acquiring the mercurial guard. How does the team take the scoring load off of Jefferson and Walker? How do they add talent while maintaining or improving a top-10 defense in the league? How do they bring in a bit more maturity to a team still rather young and frustrated from not living up to expectations?

In trading Henderson and Noah Vonleh, the Hornets acquired Nicolas Batum from the Portland Trailblazers. The mass offseason exodus from Oregon is supposed to be a net gain for a few teams – San Antonio, Dallas and New York – but considering the recent injury to MKG, it’s very possible that Charlotte will see the most immediate benefits from having Batum, one of the better two-way players in the league.

The presence of Batum can add to what was already one of the better defenses in the Association. Allowing 97.3 points per game, the Hornets were the 7th-ranked defense a year ago. Much of this was on the strength of defending the interior as they were 8th in total blocks and 10th in total rebounds – this was done with Bismack Biyombo, their best defensive big, coming off the bench and also missing some playing time last season. According to Basketball Reference, Charlotte ranked 9th in adjusted defensive rating which is the number of points allowed per 100 possessions adjusted to consider the strength of the opponent’s offense. They were last in steals, interestingly enough, making them just 27th in opponent turnovers.

Batum adds length and quickness on the perimeter, something incredibly necessary in the Southeast Division where Miami, Atlanta, Washington and Orlando have quick backcourts and spot shooters that can stretch the offense. He will certainly be asked to stop the opponent’s best player each night, and fortunately for the Hornets in that division, he will be able to guard multiple positions.

In the search for more points, the Frenchman will be called upon a bit more because the team still needs to relieve the offensive burden from guys like Jefferson and Walker. Perhaps this is where the additions of the Jeremys - Lamb and Lin – are supposed to come in, but Batum has proven that he can carry some weight on that end.

His offense has been considered a pleasant revelation in the Carolinas as his scoring totals dipped last year with the Blazers. In fact, they’ve declined in consecutive seasons since his career-best 14.3 PPG in 2013-14, which came from just having more plays where the ball was in his hand. To that point as the clip above shows, Batum is a capable ball handler, which can afford head coach Steve Clifford the opportunities to get a bit creative on offense. Perhaps we’ll see more pick and roll offense with Jefferson, but you will definitely see Hornets guards playing off the ball more. As long as Jefferson is able to handle the double teams that normally come his way, Batum will be good for a few open threes in a given game.

This doesn’t have the looks of a playoff team just yet, but stranger things have happened. The Charlotte Hornets can be one of those teams that gives a contender a tough time, if not outright beat one on a given night. Having a very good two-way player like Nicolas Batum doesn’t solve all of the problems the team will face in 2015-16, but it’s a corrective step in attempting to – pardon the cliché – recapture the buzz in Buzz City.

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