Charlotte Hornets

Nic Batum has been crucial in Charlotte Hornets’ three-game winning streak

Charlotte Hornets guard Nicolas Batum has been dominant in his team’s three-game winning streak.
Charlotte Hornets guard Nicolas Batum has been dominant in his team’s three-game winning streak. AP

Agreeing to pay Nic Batum $120 million over five seasons was the boldest step the Charlotte Hornets have taken.

Over the last three games, that whopping contract has looked like a prudent investment.

Batum has averaged 14.7 points, 5.6 assists and 13 rebounds in those games. Not coincidentally, the Hornets are on a three-game winning streak following a dominant 109-88 victory over the Orlando Magic.

Friday’s line score sums up why the Hornets traded for Nic Batum two summers ago.

The Hornets have been shaky at Spectrum Center, something that has troubled coach Steve Clifford. Friday was a dramatic contrast. This game was such a blowout that no Hornets starter played a second of the fourth quarter.

Had Batum received his normal fourth-quarter minutes, he undoubtedly would have been in hailing distance of a triple-double. Playing 29 minutes he finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Batum says triple-doubles aren’t of much importance to him. So it’s a safe guess that he preferred sitting that last quarter, with the Hornets about to face the NBA champion Cavaliers Saturday night in Cleveland.

Though Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will draw primary responsibility for guarding LeBron James, Batum figures to be asked to spend some time defending the magnificent No. 23.

Friday’s line score – Batum also shot 6-of-11 from the field and made all four of his 3-pointers – sums up why the Hornets traded for him two summers ago. They needed someone who did a little of everything, who could take some play-making responsibilities off of Kemba Walker’s job description.

This couldn’t have worked out much better. For the bargain price of Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, the Hornets got something approaching what they pursued when they signed Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward to that offer sheet. Of course, the Jazz matched that sheet. Eventually Batum became an attractive Plan B.

I get Nic Batum’s flaws. ... But he fills a box score and he isn’t easily rattled in an NBA game.

I get Batum’s flaws. He gets a little too cute with his passing, which can lead to some spectacular turnovers. And at times he comes across as cool to the point of seeming dispassionate.

But he fills a box score and he isn’t easily rattled in an NBA game. He showed up in Portland, Ore., from France as a teenager and competed hard with men much older and bigger from his rookie season on.

He has playoff experience that could be invaluable to the Hornets this spring. I think a big factor in the Hornets not closing the deal against the Miami Heat in last season’s first round was Batum being injured. His absence reinforced what a connector he is for this team.

Batum might not be a great shooter, but he makes big shots, even when he’s off-balance. In fact, he seems to shoot better sometimes when he isn’t perfectly vertical upon launching a shot.

Is he an All-Star? Coach Steve Clifford has suggested he should be in the discussion. I don’t know that I’d go quite that far just yet.

But for these last three games, he’s consistently been the best Hornet on the court.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell