Nicolas Batum, along with Reggie Jackson, is probably the LA Clippers’ biggest hit story this season, given where he was when they bought him.
After the worst season of his career in terms of efficiency in 2019-20 (he recorded a career-low 46.3% true firing rate), Batum was given up by the Charlotte Hornets back in December and subsequently given a veteran minimum contract from signed the clipper. The move seemed marginal at the time; Batum would play behind Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. in terms of the forward’s minute distribution, not to mention the young offspring Terance Mann. He should be a veteran presence at the end of the rotation. But then Morris failed with a knee injury, and head coach Tyronn Lue threw Batum into the fire as a starting power.
Batum took over the role and ran with it.
His 2020/21 season was sensational, especially in terms of efficiency. He jumped from a career low in true shooting to his best in a decade (61.7%), knocking down 40.4% of his threesomes. He had the highest +/- of any non-Leonard or George player on the list, and he made an impact whether he started out or came off the bench. In the postseason, he cemented himself as an integral part of the team’s success, often playing in the Clippers’ small ball lineups that proved fatal against Dallas and Utah.
Batum has fully rehabilitated his worth this season, and his body type and style of play are very trending across the league right now. A 6’8, long, reversible corner three specialist who can also protect the rim has been a hot commodity since the Warriors scored gold with Draymond Green (after whom Batum said he modeled his small-ball play style) . Batum will have a lot of potential applicants this off-season as a free agent and he will be making quite a lot of money regardless of which team he chooses. But he made it clear that money won’t be the only factor influencing his decision to work for a free agency.
During his exit interview days after LA’s defeat by the Phoenix Suns in the Conference Finals, Batum was asked if the Clippers fan base gathered behind Batum even coined a wonderful, alliterative title for themselves as his followers (the Batum Battalion), would affect his choice this off-season.
“Of course,” replied Batum without hesitation. “The Batum Battalion, I didn’t expect that. That was pretty cool and the fans in general welcomed me with open arms. I know they had some doubts about me when I got here, but the way they greeted me, greeted me and my family was great and I cannot thank them enough because it has been a great year . That was a special year for me. ”
In addition to Batum, LA will attempt to re-sign Leonard and Jackson once the vacancy begins on August 6th. Leonard is obviously a priority and he will be given a maximum contract should he stay in LA. Once Leonard is paid, there won’t be much room for the remaining free agents (the Clippers are already facing the luxury tax). It will be painful for both the organization and the fans, but the team may have to choose between their two unforeseen success stories.
Lue may have shot himself a little in the foot. He has trained so well and done such a great job maximizing the players provided to him that they may now be too valuable to the Clippers.