(image from Scout.com)
Nic Batum has been the basis of my frustrations through the first half of the Hornets season. My anger with Batum isn’t his play style, I understand the type of player he is and I realize he is not going to change, but my problem lies in the difference in his production from the 2015-16 season to now. It isn’t that I feel he needs to change his play style to be effective like some couch coaches, it is that I have seen him be much more effective before by playing the exact same way. In the 2015-16 Batum was very talented, talented enough to land him a 120-million-dollar contract over the course of 5 years. Looking back to when we gave Nic this handsome contract, we had just come off of a playoff series which saw us lose to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. This team looked to have a lot of potential, and one of the key players who had an expiring contact was Batum. Entering the off-season, we let Jeremy Lin walk, and signed Batum with the expectation being he would continue to improve adjusting to being a leader of this team, and hopefully help Kemba change the narrative of this franchise by leading us to more playoff consistency. Fast forward to today and none of that has come to fruition, we failed to make the playoffs last season and we are currently sitting 5 games out of the 8th seed half way through this season, and something needs to give.
So far, the team has yet to remove Batum from the starting lineup following disappointing outings and fourth quarter struggles, as if they are still trying to justify the contract given to him. If the coaches are not yet willing to move him into a 6th man role, he is going to have to shoot the ball. As it stands Nic is averaging 10 points per game and that just isn’t going to cut it for 30 minutes per game and 20 million dollars a year. He has all of the scoring ability he needs to average a solid 15 to 18 points per game and the idea that he is a facilitator should not be an excuse. Last season Batum averaged 15 points per game to go with 6 assists, while this year his assist total has dipped to 4.7 per game along with his scoring dropping back to 10 points. This proves he can score and pass effectively at the same time, it all just depends on his aggressiveness.
When Batum is making it a priority to score and pass equally it forces defenses to focus more on him, and opens up passing lanes for everyone around him. His best version is when the defense never knows if they should expect the pass or the shot and that is the Batum we need. If Batum can’t find a balance, and the coaching staff refuses to bench him, then Batum, and the team is in hot water. Our hopes to salvage this season rely on this dilemma and it definitely should not be overlooked. Nic might be on the trading block soon if this continues, and we could be looking at more lottery picks for the next couple of years if his contact is not unloaded. We will have no cap flexibility in the FA market, and Batum will continue to soak minutes from developing players on the roaster if this turns out to be the case.
With all of this being said, I still have a glimmer of hope for Batum and our season. Batum is a very intelligent player and I know he has produced at higher levels before. Clifford is also returning Wednesday, which could produce different results from what Stephen Silas has been receiving. Also, five games out of the 8th seed is not insurmountable, so if things begin to click at the right moment we could manage to recover from this disappointing season so far. I have not given up hope on our season yet, but we are beginning to run out of time to recover.