The Charlotte Hornets will be without starting shooting guard Nicolas Batum for around six to eight weeks after tearing a ligament in his left elbow early in the Hornets’ second preseason game against the Detroit Pistons.
The injury will be a significant blow to the Hornets’ goal of returning to the playoffs. The 29-year-old Batum was the team’s second-leading scorer last season by a wide margin behind All-Star point guard Kemba Walker.
The Frenchman averaged new career-highs of 15.1 points, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 5.9 assists, although his shooting (40 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc) were down from his career norms.
But more than his scoring, the Hornets really needed Batum’s playmaking. Outside of Walker, he was the only other Hornet who could consistently make something positive happen offensively off the dribble. He had a 27.7 percent assist rate last season, which was a new career high.
He was also a versatile player who was basically the team’s backup small forward behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, not to mention an emergency backup point guard, so his absence will be a big loss to Charlotte.
Should Malik Monk start?
The Hornets do have options to replace Batum. They drafted an outstanding scorer in Malik Monk No. 11 overall out of Kentucky in this year’s draft, and the rookie will be one option to become the team’s new starting shooting guard.
Monk is just playing his first games as a Hornet during preseason after missing the entirety of Summer League with an ankle injury. After Batum went down, he went off for 19 points on 4-of-10 shooting on three-pointers in 23 minutes against the Pistons.
However, Monk’s poor defense next to Walker could be worrisome, so he might be better served as a sixth man while veteran Jeremy Lamb starts.
Lamb also had an impressive game against the Pistons as he finished with 18 points (5-9 FG, 8-11 FT) with three rebounds and four assists. Although he doesn’t provide the scoring or three-point shooting that Monk brings to the table, Lamb has developed into a strong rebounder and is at least more competent defensively than the rookie.
Monk’s explosive scoring might be better served in the second unit to give the team more offensive firepower when Walker is off the court. Fellow rookie Dwayne Bacon is a similarly intriguing scorer and could also see minutes behind Lamb and Monk.
More work for Walker to do
Even though the Hornets have the bodies to take up Batum’s spot on the court, neither Lamb nor Monk is close to being a capable playmaker for others that Batum can be. The same goes for backup point guards Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone. That means more responsibility will be put on the shoulders of their All-Star point guard, Walker, to set his teammates up.
Walker’s usage rate was already nearing 30 percent last season as he set a new career high with 23 points per game. Expect that percentage to rise even higher while Batum is away, all while doing his normal point guard duties.
It will be a lot of work on Walker’s plate, and while the All-Star may be up to the challenge, Charlotte better be careful not to wear him down so early in the season. But if the Hornets are to survive the 28-year-old’s absence and remain in striking distance of a playoff spot, they may have no choice but to ride their All-Star hard.
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