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Undeniably one of the toughest seasons of combo guard Nic Batum’s NBA career, the seasoned veteran handled injury and a scaled-down role with admirable professionalism and a positive attitude this year.
Slotted into a reserve role, Batum’s season got off to a rocky start after he suffered a fractured left middle finger midway through the team’s Opening Night win over Chicago, causing him to miss the team’s next 11 games. He reentered the rotation on Nov. 16 and averaged close to four points, four rebounds and three assists over his next 13 outings.
An ongoing issue with his left hand sidelined him again for about a week in mid-December, and upon his return on Dec. 21, he appeared in just eight more games the rest of the season with the organization leaning heavily towards player development and a youth movement.
The now 31-year-old Frenchman’s final outing of the campaign couldn’t have been more memorable though as he was inserted into the starting lineup for the team’s game in Paris against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 24 and finished with five points, six rebounds and five assists. The contest marked the first-ever regular season NBA game played in France.
Batum wrapped up the year averaging around four points, four rebounds and three assists in 22 appearances, three of which were starts. In his second-to-last game of the season, he passed Hedo Türkoglu for the fifth-most threes in NBA history by a player born outside of the United States (1,247), now trailing only Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojaković, Steve Nash and Manu Ginóbili.
“After the [trade] deadline, everything changed and I accepted my role,” said Batum during his exit interview. “In a career, you have some ups, some downs, some good seasons and some bad seasons. You have to go with it. I’ve been lucky and blessed in my career. I’ve had more good seasons than bad seasons, and I’ve been around for 15 years, counting playing in France. I just have to learn from what happened this year. I think my attitude was good. You have to learn from every situation.”
Having also gone through a rebuilding situation in Portland a handful of years ago, Batum mentioned that he sees notable parallels between the two organizations.
“[This organization] is going in the right direction,” he stated. “Devonte’ [Graham] showed he can be a great point guard in this league for the next 10 years. PJ [Washington] has tremendous potential, you’ve got the [Martin] twins, you’ve got Miles [Bridges], who won the MVP in the Rising Stars Challenge. I’ve been part of a [similar] situation with the Trail Blazers a few years ago. We had a lot of young guys trying to go the right way and this [Hornets] team is going the right way. They understand what they have to do, they’ve been on the court every day, even though the season got shut down.”
He added, “When we started the season, people didn’t really expect a lot from us, especially the young guys, but they showed that they’re NBA players and good players, as well. Especially the last six weeks, they did well. They showed what they can become. If they focus on their work, they can have great careers. When you get a chance as a young guy to get on the court, you have to take it. Those guys are doing a good job of it.”
Batum has a player option for next season, and while it’s still a tad unclear as to what exactly his role will be for the 2020-21 campaign, there’s no denying the seasoned veteran sees tremendous potential within this young Hornets roster.