The Impact of Nicholas's Batum's Injury on the Charlotte Hornets!
The Charlotte Hornets were one of the more disappointing teams last season, and this year was poised to bounce back. In the offseason, they added Dwight Howard and Michael Carter-Williams. They also drafted two wing scorers in Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon. An improvement was even hopefully going to come from within. Young players like Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb, and MKG were all poised to take a step forward.
Last season Charlotte only won 36 games despite having a better point differential than three playoff teams. They were a disaster in close games, and their bench killed them. With an improved bench and better luck in the close games, Charlotte was a lock to make the playoffs this year in a weak Eastern Conference. Then starting shooting guard, Nicholas Batum tore a ligament in his elbow in a preseason game. This is a significant loss. Batum is Charlotte's swiss army knife. Players who average 15 points, five assists and five rebounds last season don't grow on trees. Batum led the Hornets in rebounding and assists last season. With Michael Carter-Williams expected to miss time to start the season, he was going to play back up point guard behind Kemba Walker. He mainly did that last season.
Now here is the good news; Batum won’t need surgery. He is slated to miss 8-12 weeks, possibly even 6. If its 6-8, Charlotte can survive, if it’s 12, things get dicey. Lets look at the impact of Batum’s injury on the Hornets.
Inside Batum’s Game!
Last season Batum averaged 15.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. He is a versatile player, who can play and guard multiple positions.
Now Batum is not perfect; he only shot 40% from the field last season and 33% from three. Sometimes he is lazy on defense and not aggressive enough on offense. The problem is he does things no one else on Charlotte can do as well as him. Like, initiate the pick and roll. His pick and roll chemistry with Cody Zeller is money. Even though his scoring in pick and roll is not always excellent, his passing is, and you take the good with the bad. Where he excels on offense is a spot-up player, a post up player, using handoffs and as an iso scorer. Last season he didn't iso enough, it's not a big part of Charlotte's offense. When he gets back,
Charlotte may use that a little more. Batum can be passive and needs to be more aggressive at times. He can be a pass-first player to a fault at times.
On offense, he spotted up 15% of the time, used handoffs 10% of the time, and posted up 9% of the time. These numbers only account for 34% of his offensive possessions, but it's where he was best even though the sample size is small. I did expect his off-screen and pick and roll numbers to improve with better offensive players around him. Charlotte will need Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon and Jeremy Lamb to fill his role as a spot-up player and using handoffs. Better post play will need to come from Frank Kaminsky, Dwight, and even MKG. I have faith in Monk as a spot-up shooter, but none can use handoffs quite like him even though Lamb is solid, and none can pass like him. Kaminsky may have a more prominent role as a passer now. Here is Batum at his best.
This is the chemistry between Batum and Zeller that I was talking about. Zeller goes to set the screen and then slips it. Batum is then able to throw an on-time perfect bounce pass to the side of his defender and feed Zeller for the easy dunk. Charlotte will miss this, as no one can throw passes like this consistently out of the pick and roll beside Batum on the Hornets.
Then there is Batum off the handoff, where he is deadly. Especially handoffs from behind the three-point line. Batum comes off the handoff quickly and uses his long limbs and quick release to launch from deep and draw fouls. He was seventh in the NBA in and one threes. Here's what I mean.
Batum comes racing off Kaminsky, who gives him the ball as he sets a screen. Batum then immediately squares up and drills a three. A simple play, but one Batum has mastered.
There are some things on offense that Batum does, that Charlotte just can't replace. While there are some things that they can replace by committee. Defensively Batum is solid, not spectacular. He is better than rookies and Jeremy Lamb, however. Lamb will have to improve; luckily the Hornets now have Dwight to erase some mistakes. Batum is average; Lamb is bad on that end. That's a big jump. Bottom line is Jeremy Lamb, and Malik Monk need to replace a lot of Batum's production. How well they step up will decide how well Charlotte survives Batum's absence. Speaking of Monk!
Charlotte took Monk with the 11th overall pick in the draft. Monk is a 6'3 combo guard who played one year at Kentucky. At Kentucky, he averaged 19.8 points per game, on an impressive 39% shooting from deep. This guy can fill it up. Monk was projected to have a significant role off the bench. Now with Batum out his role will get even more meaningful. Monk will still come off the bench as Lamb is starting at shooting guard. Here are the pros of Monk's game that should translate to the next level. He shot 39% from deep, 45% from the field and 82% from the line. Monk attempted 14.7 field goals per game. That means he's not afraid to put it up, and he also scores with excellent efficiency. Watch this!
Monk runs off a screen and catches the ball with his back to the basket behind the three-point line. Then Monk immediately turns and rises and then fires. As Mike Breen would say BANG! You have to love Monk's stroke, quick release, and confidence.
As an athlete he is underrated. He can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. You can see courage in Monk; he wants to take and make the tough and clutch shots. As a passer, he is solid, not spectacular. He averaged 2.3 assists per game last season. Monk should get some time at point guard this season.
The concerns are on defense. At 6'3 and only 205 pounds, he is undersized. Monk must get stronger to overcome his lack of height. Most rookies struggle on defense, but Monk must compete and not be a liability. To earn minutes for Steve Clifford, you have to defend. Offensively his game looks good; defense will decide how many minutes he gets. Good news Hornets fans Monk is looking good in the preseason. Watch this!
Monk gets the ball takes on dribble steps back and drills the long jumper over Marcus Smart. Get ready for a lot more of this Hornets fans. The kid can flat-out shoot.
Like Monk, Lamb was posed for a significant role off the bench this season. Now he is the starting shooting guard with Batum being injured. Lamb has had an up and down first five seasons in the NBA, now he is expected to put it all together. The good news is Lamb had his best season last year, and I think he will be even better this year. Lamb averaged a career-high 9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds on a career-best 46% shooting from the field.
It was good to see Lamb being more aggressive last season as he attempted career-high 9.7 field goals per game, along with 2.1 free throws per game, in which he shot 85%. Dig deeper, and you see that Lamb had a career-high PER at 17.09 and a career-best true shooting percentage of 55%. His turnover ratio was also a career low 6%. Efficiency has finally come to Lamb's game. The downside was he only shot 28% from deep last season that must improve this season.
In good news, he rated in the 82% percentile as a pick and roll ball handler according to Synergy Sports. His attempts will inevitably go up this year in that area. Lamb was also in the 85th percentile using handoffs, so expect him to replace Batum in handoff action. There is a lot to like about Lamb as a scorer. He was in the 91st percentile as a cutter, 98th on putbacks and 87th in iso situations. Off screens, he was a reliable 68%.
No real week marks beside the long ball, he could improve a little more in transition and as a spot-up player. Lamb gets his three-point percentage up to at least 32-33% along with a more significant role he is capable of averaging 15 points per game. What I like most about Lamb is his slippery drives and finishes at different angles around the basket. Watch this clip here.
Here in semi-transition Lamb goes away from the screen drives right and crosses to his left. Then gets deep into the paint and rises over Robin Lopez. He attacks the body of Lope to avoid the shot block and goes back to his right hand to release over Lopez and kiss the ball high off the glass for the layup. Plus Lamb should have been fouled on this play. This guy can score people.
While Lamb can score he is an average defender at best, and he is not a good passer. Lamb only averaged 1.2 assists per game last season, and his assist ratio was just 11.2%. Both low marks. On defense, he rated as worse than average across the board. He gets sucked into the first action to easily and loses sight of his man too often. Being inattentive and lazy is a dangerous combination, and that's Lamb a lot of the times. He is a great athlete, so he should be better. Hopefully this year as a starter he commits to defense more. He has too for Charlotte to stay afloat while Batum is out. Even if his defense is just average, I expect Lamb to have his best season especially now as a starter. So far in the preseason, he has looked great.
Batum's injury hurts and will impact the Hornets win total. If he misses only two months, the Hornets will make the playoffs as the seventh seed. I have them behind Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Miami. However, if they are healthy come playoff time they are a dangerous team. Charlotte controls the glass, doesn't turn the ball over and don't beat themselves.
Last year they had horrible luck in close games, which should even out this season. The bench will be better, and that will help Charlotte from blowing leads like it did a lot last season. Cody Zeller off the bench behind Dwight should ensure 48 minutes of good defense at the center position. Dwight will make up for Batum's rebounding and clean up some of Lamb's and the rookie's defensive mistakes. Charlotte is capable of being a top ten defensive team and a top 15 offensive unit. Someone will have to step up to help Kemba at that end. Charlotte is a solid team, well coached and they played hard. With Batum I had them at 45 wins, without him I will put them at 42. He is worth three wins, if not more.
Being in the east saves Charlotte and allows them to make the playoffs still. There are a lot of questions and x-factors on that team, and that makes for an intriguing season. The rookies will take their bumps; Charlotte will struggle against the elite but beat the bad teams. Add it all up you get a 42 win, seven seed who will lose in the first round in five-six games.