The Nic Batum that I watched in this Olympic basketball tournament was a ghost of the one who played in Charlotte last season.
Batum started, but you could hardly tell he was out there. He deferred to everyone on offense. Not just Tony Parker – everyone.
Batum actually had a double-zero Wednesday – zero points and zero rebounds in 18 minutes in France’s 92-67 loss to Spain. The defeat knocked the French out of the tournament in the quarterfinals and ended Batum’s Olympics.
But Batum doesn’t want Hornets fans to worry about him, he told me afterward. And, after talking to the Hornets’ $120 million player, I feel a bit more reassured.
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I will be the same guy in Charlotte because I will have the ball in my hands more again.
“The way this national team is built, they don’t ask me to do the same things,” Batum said. “They don’t ask me to do what I did all year in Charlotte, the things I was successful at all year.”
Is that frustrating?
“A little bit,” Batum said. “But I know what I have to do. I have to push my ego to the side and work for the team. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past two years (on the national team). I knew we could win anyway. I could do more, but they ask me to do it this way. So I do it.”
The Hornets will ask him to do what he did last season, of course. The ball was often in Batum’s hands as a point forward who took playmaking pressure off Kemba Walker. And while Batum basically never drove to the basket and rarely created in these Olympics, he will be asked to do so in Charlotte.
“I will be the same guy in Charlotte,” Batum said, “because I will have the ball in my hands more again.”
Numbers way down everywhere
It was painful to watch Batum in these Olympics, though. In both the games I saw him play in person, he did not take a single shot until the third quarter. He did have a good game that I didn’t see in a three-point loss to the U.S., when he was more active and scored 14 points.
But for the tournament – for a completely mediocre French team that finished 3-3 and out of the medals – Batum averaged seven points, 2.8 rebounds and two assists.
Batum who averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists last season for the Hornets, who won 48 regular-season games and lost 4-3 to Miami in a first-round playoff series.
Each of those numbers were slightly less than half what Batum averaged in his single season with the Hornets in 2015-16, which was so good that it prompted Charlotte to give him that five-year, $120-million contract (which exceeds the amount of money that Panthers quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton is paid). And, to be fair, if the Hornets hadn’t given that contract to Batum, other NBA suitors were lined up to do so.
Batum, 27, puts a lot of personal stock in playing for his home country and always wants the French team to do well. He was disappointed that the French won’t win a medal in these Olympics. When I asked him if his reduced role caused him to be in conflict with France’s head coach, Vincent Collet, he said absolutely not.
“No, we’ve got so many ball handlers on this team,” he said. “So I do something different. ... I stand in the corner, or move the ball around, or shoot the three.”
‘I already miss Charlotte’
Batum shot only twice Wednesday in the 25-point loss to Spain. He had two open corner threes on the same possession and missed them both. Collet pulled him out of the game after that, as Batum played only four minutes in a second half that was never close.
“They played great and we had nothing going our way today,” Batum said afterward. “Nothing going in, no calls, nothing. Just a really, really bad day for us and they had a great day as a team.”
Batum said he planned to return to Charlotte as soon as possible.
“I can’t wait to go back and start a new season,” Batum said. “I already miss Charlotte. I will be back before long.”
And when he comes through customs, he can leave the Olympic version of Nic Batum in the security bin. We want the old one back.