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Hornets need more from Nicolas Batum

Charlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum, right, drives against Miami Heat's Rodney McGruder, left, in the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton

The NBA season is in its infancy, but the Charlotte Hornets may already have a familiar issue on their hands concerning Nicolas Batum. For most, if not all, of his career, Batum has struggled with striking the balance between scorer and playmaker. Although his playmaking has proven crucial to Charlotte’s offense, he still lags behind when it comes to putting the ball in the bucket. He’s content with getting his offense in the flow of the game, but that can’t be the case anymore if the Hornets are going to make a significant leap this year.

Batum has many skills, yet one-on-one scoring isn’t one of them. He doesn’t have the burst of speed of Kemba Walker nor the explosion of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It’s not as if he can’t score out of an isolation, but Batum and the Hornets are better off when he attempts to score in other ways.

One of those ways involves Batum coming off a down screen that leads to a dribble hand-off (or DHO) where he most often takes a jumper. The play effectively creates a double screen, affording him some space to get the shot off. He was one of the most prolific users of DHO’s last season, scoring .91 points per possession, per NBA.com.

Although Batum is relatively adept at making the shot, it’s inherently difficult. Coming off the screen/hand-off, he has to turn and orient his body while shooting over his teammate and his defender who’s jumping out to deter a possible drive. While this is happening, the original defender is trying to force his way between Batum and the hand-off. The initial down screen usually cuts off that defender, but sometimes he makes it through to challenge the shot.

The play is great when it’s working because it’s hard to defend and sometimes draws fouls, but when Batum’s jumper is off, his effect as a scoring threat diminishes. Obviously, he’s a good shooter so it would be ridiculous to tell him to stop, but it would also be foolish to repeat an action that is ineffective.

In the instances where Batum is having an off night or when the Hornets want to get him going, an adjustment to his pet play should be considered. If a screen was deployed following the DHO as opposed to prior to it, he would have a clear path to the rim to score or make a pass to the open man. The defender jumping out to deter Batum’s drive out of the DHO would be stonewalled by the pick, allowing the swingman to curl off the screen with freedom and time to make the appropriate read.

Batum isn’t a particularly strong isolation scorer, but that doesn’t mean he has to settle for jump shots or wait for the offense to come to him. Charlotte has leveraged the threat of his jump shot to created space for Walker and MKG, but Batum has to be able to score in other ways to help the team. Plays like this give the ability to score in the inside without needing a dynamic one-on-one game.

After signing his five-year deal, Batum doesn’t have the luxury of playing an auxiliary role. The Hornets need him to be more, and he has to adjust that reality.

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