Don’t look now, but the Charlotte Hornets have light reinforcements on the way. Injury-prone forward Nicolas Batum has been on the mend since tearing a ligament in his left elbow 40 seconds into their Oct. 4 preseason matchup against the Detroit Pistons. However, the Hornets’ versatile swingman is finally ready to re-join the Hornets lineup when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. Batum confirmed his availability to the Charlotte Observer after practice on Tuesday.
“If it’s my call, yes,” Batum said of playing against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers. “If the coaches and the training staff are OK with it, it should be a go tomorrow.”
Batum was slated for a six to eight weeks of rehab. His Nov. 15 return would mean his return comes six weeks after his original injury. Although, Batum is expected to start, he’ll begin the season on a minutes restriction according to head coach Steve Clifford.
Per Clifford, the plan is to start Nic Batum Wednesday night. He won’t play his normal minutes but he will start against the Cavs #Hornets.
— SportsFromMyEyes (@JustinThomasNBA) November 13, 2017
Batum’s return will be welcomed by everyone on the 5-7 Hornets. After trading for Dwight Howard this summer, a return to playoff form seemed to be in the cards for Charlotte. That hasn’t been reflected in the Hornets record.
Instead, the Hornets are a team in need of defibrillation. Currently, they’re drifting aimlessly into the middle of the Eastern Conference pack as a bottom ten ranked team in effective field goal percentage. Batum won’t be a game changer in that regard. He hasn’t shot better than the league average in four seasons. Batum is a 6-8, nightly triple double threat, who led the Hornets in assists. When his minutes are staggered with Walker’s, he’ll essentially be the second unit’s point guard and primary ball handler.
Getting in sync with Dwight Howard is also high up on Batum’s priority list after he thrived connecting with Cody Zeller in the pick and roll for two seasons.
“I think that our connection on the floor is going to be very key for us to succeed,” Howard told the Charlotte Observer on Monday. “He and Kemba and I have to be on the same page in all situations. The faster that happens, the better this team will be.
Batum has fallen off as a shooter in recent years and his return may eat into Jeremy Lamb’s career year. The Hornets starting guard is averaging a career-high in minutes and making the most of his increased offensive role. He’s also contributing career-best averages in points, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.
However, scoring don’t accurately depict Batum’s value in the lineup. he’s a rangy wing playmaker whose extensive wingspan allows him to defend opposing team’s No. 1 scorer, alter or block shots and create deflections or steals. When the Hornets can trot out some combination of Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to supplement Howard blotting out the paint, Charlotte should be an even stouter defensive unit that can throw a wrench into the plans of opposing offenses.