Will Nicolas Batum be able to help fix some of the issues that have plagued the Charlotte Hornets so far this season?
Let’s start by saying that Nicolas Batum’s return couldn’t come soon enough for the Charlotte Hornets. After suffering a torn ligament in his left elbow in only the team’s second preseason game versus the Detroit Pistons on October 4th, Nic’s season was in jeopardy. The 28-year old chose to forgo surgery and after only six weeks of rest and rehab, he is set to make his 2017-18 regular season debut against the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 15th.
Leading up to his come back, the Hornets have a 5-7 record, have lost four straight and are only 1-6 away from home. They are 21st in points per game, 22nd in offensive rating, 12th in opponents points per game and 13th in defensive rating. In just about every way, Charlotte’s struggling and not playing their typical brand of basketball.
Even though Jeremy Lamb is putting up career numbers and has filled in admirably for the injured Batum, the return of the France international should give the team a much-needed boost. But will Nic alone be able to save the Charlotte Hornets?
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This team has some major problems. Along with inconsistent players, they’ve struggled to close out games. Steve Clifford’s side is tied with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets for last in fourth-quarter points per game with only 23.1. This has led to multiple late-game collapses early in the season including one to Boston Celtics team without Kyrie Irving and Al Horford.
Granted, a lot of their issues have stemmed from a number of key players being out, most notably Michael Carter-Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who have missed multiple games.
The return of Nicolas Batum should address some of Charlotte’s needs. Not only will they get their second-best player back but it should also help strengthen their depth. WIth Nic returning, Jeremy Lamb will move back to the bench and give the Hornets another consistent scoring option off of the bench. Their second unit ranks 17th in the NBA with 35.5 bench points per game. That number should only increase with the addition of Lamb who is averaging a career-high 16.7 PPG.
As for Batum, his versatility has been missed. Nic was not only the Hornets’ second-leading scorer last season but he was also their leading assist man and fourth leading rebounder. Without the Frenchman, the team has been forced to rely even more heavily on Kemba Walker. The all-star point guard has been without his running mate.
Opposing defenses have been able to lock in on Kemba and without a true secondary scorer/playmaker to go to, Charlotte’s offense has become stagnant at times. Even though Batum isn’t an offensive juggernaut who averages 20+ PPG, he adds another wrinkle to the Hornets’ offense. He can do a little bit of everything from shooting and passing to rebounding and defending.
His versatile play has been a staple in Charlotte’s offense in each of the last two seasons. Just to pinpoint how important Batum has been, he was one of only six players in the entire league to average at least 15+ PPG, 6+ RPG and 5+ APG last season with the other five being all-stars in LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler. He should immediately have a positive impact on the offense while also helping improve the Hornets’ defense.
It’s worth noting that Batum still has a torn ligament in his elbow and it’s unclear if it will flare up or become a problem at some point later on in the year. It’s impossible to know how limited he will be because of the injury, if at all.
Considering how early in the season it is, Charlotte’s not in that bad of a spot. They don’t really need that much saving as they have shown some glimpses of brilliance and have the tools and key players necessary to make a playoff run.
Although it will take time for Nicolas Batum to get back to 100%, his presence alone should be enough to help the Charlotte Hornets. With that being said, they still have plenty of issues going forward that they will need to address if they want to have a successful season. Poor fourth-quarter play and struggles away from home are still big question marks.