Nicolas Batum is Charlotte's Best Player


Nicolas Batum is the Charlotte Hornets’ best player.

Kemba Walker is the face of the franchise and the team’s leading scorer. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a defensive maestro and fans are thrilled to have him healthy. Cody Zeller is having a great season through five games, and Frank Kaminsky is shooting over 40 percent on three-pointers. Still, no player is more valuable to Buzz City than the 27-year-old Frenchman.

Through five games, Batum is second on the team in points per game, tied for first in assists, and third in both rebounds and steals. He does it all for the Hornets, but the best thing about his performance this season isn’t even shown in those numbers. Batum’s most valuable attribute is his ability to make everyone on the floor around him better.

Take Walker, for example. He’s a talented guard, but even the best players struggle without the right kind of help. He finally got that help last year when the Hornets traded for Batum. The latter’s presence as a secondary ball handler took pressure off Walker and allowed them both to find success. Walker has only played 13 minutes without Batum on the floor this season, but a look at last year’s numbers shows just how much Batum’s presence meant to his point guard and his team.

Source: Stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats

Walker’s shooting efficiency is higher when Batum plays; he registers assists at a higher rate and turns the ball over less often. The team as a whole scored at a more efficient rate as well. Walker has always had talent, but he was never able to take the leap and become a star until Batum was by his side. Now, Walker is a legitimate star at the point guard position and the face of an Eastern Conference playoff team. He means a lot to the team, but that is in large part due to Batum’s presence.

Batum is a delight to watch: his long arms make him a pesky defender, he’s a capable ball-handler and shooter, and a crafty passer with great vision. It’s clear just by watching games how much the offense opens up when he’s on the floor even if he isn’t handling the ball. The ball whips around from man to man, and he’s often the player finding the last, killer pass. He’s also probably the best player on the team when at making passes out of the pick-and-roll. He’s capable of throwing a bounce pass into the smallest slivers of space to the man rolling to the rim. If that’s unavailable, he’s great at throwing the ball back to an open player at the top of the key for a three-pointer or resetting the offense.

It’s not just the eye test that works in his favor – it’s also backed up by the numbers. This season, the offensive rating with him on the floor is 109.9, which would be a top-10 number. During the minutes in which he sits, however, the Hornets can only manage a putrid offensive rating of 86.4. A five-game stretch is such a small sample that it’s unfair to read too much into it, but it’s an ugly trend.

Batum’s importance to this team cannot be understated. He’s not the flashiest player, and he doesn’t get the most attention, but he is invaluable.

Simply put, Nicolas Batum is the best player on the Charlotte Hornets.

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