It’s been another strange start to the NBA season. Just when we thought we could leave behind the madness of the bubble, the empty arenas and shortened seasons, we get presented with new reasons to be sitting and scratching our heads.
If you’re a Los Angeles Clippers fan, you’ll have had plenty of questions about how our guys got started. What happened to the confidence the team had shown in the playoffs without Kawhi Leonard? When will guys like Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris be completely healthy? Above all though, when will our guys be able to make shots fall consistently again?
Luckily a few of those questions now have answers of sorts. A spell of three consecutive wins has seen the team looking a little more like themselves, and has made it a little easier for us fans to acknowledge the positives that were present even when the results weren’t.
One such positive has been the performance of Paul George. Palmdale’s finest has come flying out of the traps this season, marrying being one of the league’s leading scorers with near career-high numbers in rebounds, assists and steals so far. The problem through the first five games was that he couldn’t do it alone, and the Clippers starters were leaving a lot to be desired. However, they’re starting to see some success now, and it’s no coincidence that Nicolas Batum has been a big part of that turnaround.
The Frenchman missed the season opener and it’s entirely possible he was still carrying some fitness or fatigue issues from his busy postseason and subsequent injury struggles during preseason. While he was still giving his all on the defensive side of the ball, demonstrated by his performance in the team’s first win over Portland, he wasn’t able to knock down shots or make much of an impact on the scoreline whatsoever. Even a 16-point display against Cleveland wasn’t enough to stop a horrible defeat.
Since the Clippers’ last loss, though, Batum has been hot. His defensive energy has been more than matched on the offensive end, as he has started to find some rhythm and help his teammates claw themselves back to .500. He’s averaged more than 15 points through the past three contests, while shooting 60 percent from beyond the arc and pulling down seven boards per game.
Batum has been one of the effective shooters on the roster at 41 percent from deep on the season, as a number of the other guys continue to struggle with shooting the ball despite seeing more positive movement within the win column. Only Luke Kennard currently boasts a better percentage from 3-point range with 45.8 percent, and sitting just behind a guy with one of the league’s sweetest strokes is absolutely no bad place for the Frenchman to be.
His 20-point performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves, in the first of his team’s back-to-back wins in Minnesota, showed all the best aspects of his offensive game. Batum went 6-of-8 from 3-point land and filled up the rest of the stats sheet with five rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block.
As one of the veterans within the squad, it’s been crucial that Batum looks to lead by example. That’s clearly a role he is taking seriously, particularly as the team got younger with their offseason acquisitions. The Clippers’ mentality was such a huge asset for them in the playoffs and was able to carry them through even as their injury problems continued to mount. Batum was not only a big part of that but has shown the same kind of steel to turn things around to start this campaign.
Seven different players have logged at least 10 minutes alongside Nicolas Batum this season. All seven have a positive Net Rating. Clippers have been 22.6 points per 100 possessions better with Batum on the floor than off thus far this season.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) November 6, 2021
As per Justin Russo, there are seven different players who have played at least 10 minutes alongside Batum, and all seven pairings have a positive net rating. The team as a whole has been 22.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor this season, showing just how deep his impact goes. Batum spoke after the hard-fought win against the Thunder about the team not losing confidence despite their cold shooting start, and it’s clear to see that he has been able to provide that kind of boost for his teammates, encouraging those around him to be the best versions of themselves.
It’s hard to believe that not too long ago the French knight was seen as one of the worst contracts in the league, but perhaps it’s that low point in his career which has helped him become an expert at recovering from setbacks. It’s a trait that the Clippers have become known for after several 0-2 comebacks in the playoffs, and they’ll need to keep channeling that energy if they want to make this season a positive one. They’ll also need as much support from Batum and his battalion to ensure that’s the case.