So far, this Hornets season is feeling a lot like last years. Full of injuries and close losses. Charlotte is 5-7 and coming off a disappointing 0-4 road trip, in which they blew two substantial leads in their last two games. Several players have missed time for the Hornets this season including Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Michael Carter-Williams and Treveon Graham. The most significant absence so far has been to starting shooting guard Nicolas Batum, who has not played yet this season. Batum is perhaps Charlotte's most versatile player. Last year he averaged over 15 points per game, five rebounds per game and five assists per game. Not a lot of players can do that, and he is also a capable defender. Batum returning to the starting lineup most importantly solidifies the rotation and puts everyone in their correct roles. Here is a breakdown of what Batum's return means for the Hornets.
Perhaps Batum's best attribute is passing. He led the team in assists last year. Batum and Zeller formed great pick and roll chemistry, and Batum is at his best when passing out of the pick and roll. Boy, Charlotte needs some passing right now. Charlotte ranks 27th in the league in assists. Kemba Walker is leading the team in assists, but he is a score first guard at heart. The rest of the team consists of score-first players or defenders. Batum at starting shooting guard replaces Jeremy Lamb. Lamb has improved his passing this year, but he is not Batum. Batum should help players like Dwight Howard get easy buckets in the paint.
He has all the passes in his wheelhouse, and he knows how to find his teammates. Whether that is finding Kidd-Gilchrist on a cut or Marvin Williams for a corner three, Batum knows how to deliver the ball to his teammates in their sweet spots. Not only did he average 5.9 assists per game last season, he had a career-high seven assists per 40 minutes, and an impressive 26.1 assist ratio. Batum passes at a high level without turning it over as well. Charlotte after a bumpy start is back to playing careful basketball, as they lead the league in fewest turnovers per game, Batum will only help with that. What Batum does best is see the play develop faster than the most. He can pass people open, and he can make the next level passes. Check out this play from last year.
Batum comes off a dribble handoff from our old friend Spencer Hawes. Once he gets it, he flips his body and out of the corner of his eye, he sees our other old friend Marco Belinelli cutting to the basket. Batum throws a one arm laser right on the money, and Belinelli finishes the layup. No one on the Hornets can make this pass beside Batum.
One more thing. Expect Batum to play some backup point guard once he gets back. Malik Monk is not ready for that yet, and Michael Carter-Willaims is still working his way back from injury.
Charlotte has struggled on offense in the first 12 games to put it lightly. They are 21st in offensive efficiency. Lack of ball movement is undoubtedly a part of that; the Hornets just have just been missing shots. They are 21st in effective field goal percentage and 25th in true shooting percentage. Meaning they are not making enough efficient shots. Three-pointers and free throws mainly. Mainly free throws. Charlotte is last in the league in free throw percentage. Adding Dwight Howard is a big part of this, but a lot of players are struggling from the line. Batum will help with his last year he attempted a career-high 3.7 free throws per game and shot 85% from the line. As for threes, right now Charlotte is shooting a respectable 35% from deep, which is 15th in the league.
Batum is not a great three-point shooter, but he is a good one and shoots right around 35% for his career. He has always had an above average true shooting percentage. Meaning Batum can score efficiently. 3.7 free throw attempts per game and 5.3 three points per game. Batum is at his best spotting up, using dribble handoffs and in the post. At 6-foot-8 he is a big guard, who is great at posting up smaller guards. Spotting up, he is a threat because he can shoot from deep, plus drive and either score at the rim or pass to his teammates. Finally, his craftiness is a weapon with dribble handoffs. You can see it in the clip above. Batum keeps defenders guessing; you don't know which way he is going to use the handoff, and what he is going to do with it. This simple play gives Charlotte some level of unpredictability, something they desperately need on offense. Watch this play:
Batum drives and, realizing he has nothing, kicks it back out to Cody Zeller. Zeller immediately takes one dribble towards Batum, and Baum runs off it and gets the dribble handoff. Once Batum has the ball, he rises and splashes the midrange jumper. Only Kemba can currently do this on the Hornets. Batum gives the Hornets another dribble handoff option, and that gives them another dimension on offense.
While Batum is not a great defender, he is a solid one. He is versatile, and he competes. Sometimes he can struggle against bigger physical wings, but he has great length, which helps make up for his lack of strength. His long arms allow him to get blocks and steals most guards would not get. For his career, he averages a steal per game and 0.7 blocks per game. Good numbers for a shooting guard. Right now Charlotte is 11th in defense. Pretty good, but they need to be in the top ten if they want to go anywhere. Their offense just isn't good enough to make up for anything less than a top ten defense. Batum should help. His versatility and ability to switch to multiple positions alone is an asset. Charlotte can now unleash some tremendous defensive lineups.
Imagine Batum with MKG, Treveon Graham, Michael Carter-Williams and Dwight Howard. If they want another shooter, they can add Marvin Williams to that group. Batum is not an all-world defender, but he gives Charlotte more defensive versatility. I mentioned earlier that Batum puts everyone back int heir rightful spot. His return is the final puzzle piece to solidifying the rotations. Sure there will still be some lineup experimentation, but now at least everyone is healthy. Kemba, Batum, MKG, Marvin, and Dwight will start. MCW, Jeremy Lamb, Treveon Graham, Kaminsky, and Zeller are the backups. The rookies will get their minutes as well, even though Dwayne Bacon's are likely to go down. Now Charlotte is a legitimate 12 man deep, and they have the most depth they have ever had.
Batum helps them in a lot of areas; this is the biggest one. Enjoy his return Charlotte fans; it may just turn the season around.