Nic Batum isn’t particularly loud or fiery. You won’t see him raging at referees or screaming at teammates much.
Don’t be fooled. Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford says shooting guard Batum is among the most competitive players on this roster. Clifford could tell from Batum’s expressions and body language at halftime Wednesday that he grasped what had to be done.
If you’re wondering why the Hornets were so quick to award Batum a new 5-year, $120 million contract in July, check out the box score from the third quarter of the Hornets’ 109-93 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
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Batum scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He added two assists and two rebounds in that 12-minute span. He rescued the Hornets, who had trailed a 0-4 Sixers team by as many as 13 points in the first half.
What was Batum thinking at halftime?
"Wake up," Batum recalled, noting that while the 76ers played a home game Tuesday night, the Hornets hadn’t played since Saturday.
So perhaps rest made for rust. The Hornets were pretty awful in the first half, committing eight turnovers (only one less than their previous average per game) and giving up 22 points in the lane to the other team.
Batum set off quite a reversal in the third quarter. The Hornets ended up outscoring the Sixers 39-20 that period, making 16 of 22 from the field. The Sixers unraveled, committing eight turnovers in the third.
The balance between Batum, the scorer, and Batum, the facilitator, is important, and changes a bit each game.
So the Hornets were safe in improving to 3-1. And Batum got a little lesson about the balance between unselfishness and aggressiveness.
"I need to look for my shot a little more," he said in the post-game locker room.
That was true Wednesday, but the balance between Batum, the scorer, and Batum, the facilitator, is important, and changes a bit each game.
Clifford says basketball is simple when players grasp that when open, shoot, and when tightly guarded, move the ball. That’s easy in theory, but not always in practice.
Clifford says one of the things that makes Batum an elite player is his judgment about the shooting/passing balance. He sees plays, he assesses risk, and he usually makes the right call in real time.
"No seventh-grade coach taught him that," Clifford observed. "You just have it."
Clifford turned the offense over to Batum immediately after the trade that acquired him from the Portland Trail Blazers in June of 2015. They wanted him to score and pass and rebound, but most of all they needed him to think.
The Hornets’ big men, particularly center Cody Zeller, all seem to cut a little harder when Nic Batum’s got the ball because they know he’ll find them open.
That’s something he does very well as Wednesday’s box score reinforced. He ended up with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. His turnovers were a bit high at four, but he certainly made up for those mistakes in the third quarter.
General manager Rich Cho said one of the factors in the urgency to re-sign Batum was how much teammates love playing with him. He’s lifted a playmaking burden off Kemba Walker. The big men, particularly center Cody Zeller, all seem to cut a little harder when he’s got the ball because they know he’ll find them open.
Sometimes that favor gets returned, too. One of Batum’s third-quarter baskets was a hard cut to the rim that allowed Spencer Hawes to feed him with a bounce pass for a layup and a free throw.
When the ball moves like that, this is the "beautiful game," Batum recalls from his youthful love of soccer in France.
That first half was pretty ugly Wednesday, but the third quarter was simply gorgeous.