Harris’s Hustlers: Volume 2
Welcome back to another volume of Harris’s Hustlers. The NBA season is about 4 weeks in, and we are starting to discover the identity of teams across the Association. There have certainly been some early surprises in both conferences. As we have pointed out on our OTG podcast, the young Los Angeles Lakers led by Luke Walton have people talking out west. As for the east? Look no further than those scrappy Charlotte Hornets, who definitely have home court advantage on their minds. In Volume 1 of Harris's Hustlers, I mentioned how in this column, I would stay away from the established names, and most likely the established franchises. The Lakers and Hornets fit that bill, both have exceeded my expectations throughout the first month of play, so it's fitting that both guys this week call Hollywood and Buzz City home.
Eastern Conference: Charlotte Hornets, Forward, Nicolas Batum
If you appreciate stat stuffers with a high basketball IQ, you enjoy watching Nicolas Batum play the game. The word winner often comes to mind when I think of his play. He was a great complimentary piece on those successful Portland Trail Blazer teams, and he has now taken on a larger role for this Hornets ball club. He hasn’t shot the ball extremely well, but he has played a key role in the early season success in Buzz City. The Hornets have enjoyed an 8-4 start, and no one has logged more minutes for them than Batum (34.1). Batum is up to his same old tricks, grabbing 6.8 rebounds per contest and dishing out five assist a game (only trailing Kemba Walker for the team lead). Batum is high on my list of guys I would like to play with in the NBA. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t need the ball to be effective, which is extremely important to have on a winning team. If the Hornets stay healthy, unselfish and Walker keeps playing like an All-Star, an improvement from last year’s first round exit is inevitable for the Hornets.
Western Conference Los Angeles Lakers, Forward, Julius Randle
Randle's rookie season lasted fourteen minutes after a gruesome leg injury. Everyone in LA had the same thoughts..BUST. However, Randle rebounded last season, averaging a respectable double-double (11.3ppg, 10.1 rpg) in 81 games. His solid season was lost in the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, but OTG took notice of the former Kentucky Wildcat standout and his raw ability. He reminded me of a very young Zach Randolph with more athleticism. Julius just has a natural feel for the game and he is a main reason why (along with Walton) the Lakers have surprised most of the league. The Lakers' 7-7 start includes a huge win over the mighty 11-2 Warriors (who’s only other loss came by the Spurs) and great play from the other young guns on this roster. Randle’s field goal percentage has jumped to 54 percent this season and his assists are up to 3.9 compared to 1.8 last season. It's safe to say he is more comfortable in this offense and he has spent some major time working on his game. The Lakers may just have found their cornerstone big.