The Clippers made their biggest move of the offseason on the second day of free agency, but then waited about a week before adding a backup wing. The reason for their delay was clear; they were hoping that a veteran would become available on the buyout market, and their prayers were answered when the Charlotte Hornets waived Nicolas Batum.
Once Batum was a free agent, the Clippers immediately swooped in, adding the 31-year-old forward to fortify their wing depth. From a distance, Batum’s latest season was a bit of a red flag, but in order to get a more complete picture of Batum’s game at this stage of his career, we reached out to Jonathan DeLong, the site manager for At The Hive, our SB Nation Hornets site. Here’s what Jonathan had to say about Batum.
What is Batum’s best skill on offense at this point in his career?
Batum’s most reliable offensive skill at this point of his career is his facilitation. He’s a very savvy passer and is very unselfish, probably to a fault. Even if he isn’t the primary initiator of the offense, he’ll find ways to get open looks for teammates, sometimes in very creative fashion. That will come with some facepalm-worthy turnovers from time to time, but he generally takes good care of the ball. He should also be a decent spot up shooter as a complementary piece with the Clippers.
How can Batum be best deployed on defense: covering someone in isolation, help defense, a switching system, or something else?
Batum is still a very good defender at this point of his career. You probably don’t want him on guards full time, but he can handle them in small doses in switch situations. He’s probably best guarding wings and forwards on the ball and as a help defender in general. He doesn’t have the pop to get up and block shots or jump passing lanes for steals, but he plays angles well and knows where to be.
Should Clipper fans be concerned about his drop-off last season?
I don’t think so provided he’s deployed in a role that best suits him at this point of his career. One thing that became apparent in Charlotte was that Batum’s play on the floor was closely related to his presumed comfort level. When he became burdened by that big contract and the second banana expectations that came with it, his play fell off a cliff. Then last season he struggled to get in rhythm because of spotty play time paired with fans and media treating him as a pariah. Without the pressure of the big contract and a role that better suits his skills, he should be fine.
What’s your favorite thing about Batum’s game? (Or what’s something Clippers fans don’t know yet that they’ll love about him?)
Probably that he generally has a positive effect on the team despite his low individual production. The Hornets were better with him on the floor in four of his five seasons, including in his limited time last year. He gets a lot of heat for underperforming relative to his contract, which is warranted to an extent, but he’s still a good NBA player. He won’t create offense or put up big stats, but he’s a fine role player who will play good defense and make smart plays on offense.
Thanks to Jonathan for his time and his perspective, and make sure to check out his Hornets coverage on At The Hive. It will be interesting to see Batum transition to the next phase of his career as a veteran in a smaller role. Hopefully, the positive trends he showed on a less successful team in Charlotte carry over to his time in Los Angeles.