The guy averaged just 5.8 points the past couple of seasons. He hadn’t played an NBA game since Jan. 24, 2020, because even after his elbow and hand injuries were behind him, Charlotte chose to develop younger players instead of calling his number.

And still, Nicolas Batum had multiple suitors lined up in November, hoping he’d pick them.

He was a low-risk, potentially high-reward signing if ever there was: The 6-foot-9 Frenchman could add height and length on the perimeter. Not so long before, he’d cultivated a reputation as a multi-positional defender and a good ball-handler with playmaking chops.

He’d also bring experience – including 39 postseason games – and a reputation as a savvy player and a class act (“I apologize to the people here,” Batum told the Charlotte Observer last March, “because they put so much faith in me. And it didn’t go well.”).

All for the low, low price of a minimum salary.

That was the case because the Hornets waived and stretched Batum – who’d signed in Charlotte on a five-year, $120 million deal in 2016 – to clear space for Gordon Hayward’s new four-year, $120 million contract.

And so the Clippers – as well as, reportedly, Brooklyn, Golden State, Utah, Milwaukee and Toronto – all invited him aboard.

Batum thought he’d fit best in L.A.. He could be the make-the-other-guys-better guy and serve as the do-the-little-things link that was missing last season when the Clippers flamed out in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Coach Tyronn Lue was optimistic Batum would – as advertised – be able to contribute those subtle, winning plays.

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But Batum has offered so much more.

Through 11 games, Batum is averaging career bests in 3-point percentage (43.5), steals (1.3), net rating (9.9) and offensive rating (118.7) – a category in which he ranks sixth-best league-wide.

“I didn’t really know if he was healthy or what was going on with him,” Lue said before practice Tuesday, via Zoom. “I knew I loved him when he was in Portland and how he played the game. Just didn’t really know his health situation … or what was going on with him, because a talented guy like he is, for him not be playing, you would think something was wrong.”

Now, as the Clippers’ starting power forward, it’s as if Batum can do no wrong. He’s made it a habit to deliver in big moments, like in Sunday’s 130-127 victory over Chicago.

With the Clippers trailing 119-118 and just three minutes left, Kawhi Leonard drove and delivered a backhanded bounce pass to Batum, who was hanging out where he’s so comfortable: In the corner, from which he’s made 13 for 24 (54.2%) of the 3-pointers he’s taken this season, including all five he’s shot in the fourth quarter.

Including Sunday’s. Batum drew a foul on Thaddeus Young as he converted an off-balance, one-handed shot – a sequence that prompted a delighted eruption from the Clippers bench, a scene that seemed as if it had as much to do with the man who’d …read more

Source:: Los Angeles Daily News


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