Perley’s Press Pass: Nicolas Batum Nearing Return to Court

by Sam Perley

The Charlotte Hornets will soon have a key rotational piece back in the lineup with Nicolas Batum eyeing a return to on-court action sometime during the team’s upcoming four-game road trip. The 11th-year wing player has missed the past three-and-a-half weeks with a fractured left middle finger suffered during the Opening Night home win over Chicago.

“It’s been a long process, but we’ve got a great training staff,” said Batum after Thursday’s practice, his third day of contact work. “Every day, I’ve been rehabbing and trying to keep working on my cardio. By next week on the trip, I should be back. I wouldn’t say there’s no pain, but it’ll be there for a little while. I’ll have to get comfortable with it.”

Fortunately for the 30-year-old Frenchman, the break occurred on his non-dominant hand, allowing him to keep shooting while healing at the same time. Batum has missed each of the last 12 games and is currently listed as probable to play on Saturday night in New York.

“I could still keep working because it was my left hand,” he said. “I couldn’t do any contact. I tried to do a little bit of contact last week and after like one minute, there was real pain and it hurt. So, maybe it needed one more week. Now, I feel a little bit more comfortable playing live. By next week, I should be okay.”

Batum posted an individual defensive rating of 110.3 last season, the second-highest mark of any returning player on the team this season. He finished third on the Hornets in deflections (142) and should provide an immediate boost to a Charlotte defensive unit that currently ranks 24th in the NBA through Nov. 15 (111.0 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Having more veterans on the floor can always be a helpful calming mechanism, particularly with a younger Hornets core committed to playing at a higher pace. Batum was going to be taking on a different role this season, likely coming off the bench and focusing more on defensive play-calling, vocalization and overall leadership.

“Sometimes the good part of injuries is that you can really sit down and watch where we are as a team, a new team, a young team,” he added. “Sometimes, I have to get out there and relax everyone a little bit. We’re playing with so much space and pace. We have a lot of guys who can do a lot on the court, that sometimes guys like myself or Marvin can help slow things down. We need that on defense, especially. Talk more and do much more stuff.”

How Batum’s reinsertion affects the rest of the rotation is still to be determined. Rookie Cody Martin has played quite well as an on-ball defender and with Devonte’ Graham spending more time amongst the starters, using Batum as the primary ball-handler and lead guard off the bench (along with possibly Malik Monk) is an option.
“Nic was really helping that second unit before he got hurt,” said Head Coach James Borrego. “I think he was a calming presence on Malik and Devonte’. Anytime you have a veteran out there with poise, that has been through the battles before, it just keeps everybody calm.”

Borrego could go in a handful of different directions with the rotation, depending on what he wants to prioritize. Still early in the season, there will be continued experimentation to figure out who works where and with whom best. And with the margin between winning and losing so extraordinarily small, the more resources the Hornets have at their disposal, the better.

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