Top 15 NBA Free Agents: Nicolas Batum
Good ol under-the-radar, semi-forgotten Nicolas Batum. What’s little Nic been up to this past year? What’s he been doing? He’s still in the NBA, right? Most importantly, why do Americans always seem to undervalue the French? Dating back to, literally, the birth of the U.S. The ghost of Lafayette rests uneasy knowing his name isn’t glamored across American history books. Whichever team signs the unrestricted free agent might not make as big a splash in free agency headlines as marquee stars of the NBA surely will, but don’t under appreciate this Frenchman. Batum is the type of basketball player that every team in the league wants on their squad. His physical features check off just about every box that would have some GM’s turning down anniversary dates with their wives if it meant signing the 27-year-old. A sneaky athlete, standing at 6’8’’ with a 7’4’’ wingspan, Batum may be a second-tier player in the league — a third go-to option on a championship contending team — but he is a complete player on both ends of the floor and someone who can improve a franchise by 10-15 wins. Did I mention he’s only 27? He’s entering the peak of his basketball years at exactly the right time in exactly the right market in exactly the right era of basketball that maximizes his skillset. Some might remember Batum for his time in Portland, most recently his last year with the Blazers which did not end so well for him. Since then, however, the Charlotte Hornets traded for a one year rental on Batum and it paid off well for both sides. The Hornets were good enough to snag the 6th seed in the East and Batum had a bounce-back year, averaging a career high in points (14.9 ppg) and assist (5.8 apg). Batum also notched 6.1 rebounds, shot over 42% from the field goal and over 34% from three-point range — all improvements over the numbers he posted in his last year in Portland. He is an excellent wing defender who can do it all; rebound, pass, drive to the basket, shoot consistently from distance, and defend. All of this in addition to his impressive length and size, it’s easy to see why Batum will be a highly sought after free agent come July 1. Wing players have arguably never been more valuable to the NBA than they are today and Batum is a forward who can dish out a plate of every topping on the court. All that being said, let’s take a look at some of the best available landing spots for Nicolas. Charlotte Hornets A bit anti-climatic? Bummer. But, as previously stated, Batum had one of the best seasons of his career in Charlotte while the Hornets as a franchise had their most successful season in over two decades. The fit makes sense for both sides, basketball wise and financially. Batum will be a starter on the Hornets, where they can switch him between SG and SF, with both of those positions being in flux at the moment. Jeremy Lin recently declined his player option with Charlotte and will tread open waters in free agency and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who Charlotte is hoping will be their primary wing in the future, is coming off of two season-ending shoulder injuries. If the Hornets lose out on Batum then Steve Clifford and staff will have their work cut out for them if they are to repeat and build off of the successful season they just had. Moreover, Charlotte owns Batum’s Bird rights and with that, the ability to offer him more years and more money on his contract than any other team on the market. So Batum will have the roster spot, the familiarity with the franchise and coaching staff, the chemistry, and the money were he to stay in Charlotte. On the other hand, for the Hornets, it’s that last factor that is obviously the biggest obstacle to navigate through: the money. For the right price (think Kris Middleton’s five years, $70 million contract), Batum is worth the money and they will be getting an excellent player they desperately need to keep. At the same time, they need not play *too* desperate where they overpay for Batum. If history shows us anything, it’s that Michael Jordan isn’t afraid to gamble with his players. We’ll see how that works out for him this year. Golden State Warriors Now do I have your attention? Because the Warriors have a real shot to get better in this year’s free agency if they play their cards right. We know their front office has the green light, as Warriors owner Joe Lacob recently said regarding free agency, “all I can say is that I will be very aggressive,” according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. Golden State might lose Harrison Barnes this summer for one of two reasons. 1) Barnes is going to be offered an absurd amount of money that Golden State does not value and therefore will not match. 2) The front office and coaching staff have increasingly grown frustrated with Barnes’ inconsistent play and his lackluster performance in the NBA Finals finally tipped the boat over, so they will move on from Barnes and find his replacement. And that replacement, should they be willing to pay for his services or should they get him on a friendly deal, can be found in Batum. A perfect system fit for Golden State who have ushered in and shown the league the value in wing defenders who can stretch the floor and defend multiple positions; Batum can take over the Barnes role as a starter and be the filling piece for the Warriors Death Lineup. His experience and age matches him up well with the Warriors core players in Draymond Green (26), Steph Curry (28), and Klay Thompson (26). The 6’8’’ frenchman would thrive in the Warriors system where he would be the fourth option on the team behind Green, Curry, and Thompson. A rejuvenated Batum, coming off a excellent year in Charlotte, could build on his recent performance and play within his limits with a historic team that has expectations of making its way back to the NBA Finals. With rumors of Golden State eyeing Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki at the top of their free agent’s list, Batum’s possibility of heading to the Bay Area may be a matter of scheduling more than anything else. Will the Warriors get a pitch meeting with Batum? Is he a priority to them? Or will Batum be off the market by the time the Warriors have gone through their top free agent targets? Ah, yes, the frenzy of free agency. Washington Wizards Oh god, the agony of watching the Wizards struggle. The hopelessness of hoping Washington isn’t wasting John Wall’s prime years. The dismay in watching Bradley Beal lose large chunks of yet another NBA season due to injuries. Please, basketball gods, can you bring some luck to the Washington Wizards? To John Wall and his oh-so-saltiness of Reggie Jackson being in the same tax bracket as he (though I do agree, Wall is the superior guard and the CBA just screwed him over. Back to praying). Basketball gods, if you are not going to give Washington their native-born Kevin Durant, how about — Nicolas Batum? I don’t think Otto Porter Jr. is the long-term answer for the Wizards at the three spot. I think Porter can very much be a role player on a good team, but I think if the Wizards are serious about contending in the East then they should look to improve at the wing. Wall is an All-Star point guard who is actually underrated and Beal can be one of the best shooting guards in the league if his body would let him. A veteran like Batum would ease the workload off of the Wizards backcourt and provide the Wizards offense easier shots with his playmaking and passing abilities. Batum would give the Wizards another offensive threat and a long-range threat if Jared Dudley decides leave the team this offseason. I applaud the Wizards on making a blockbuster deal to acquire Markieff Morris late in the season to make a playoff run, but it was too little too late. However, now Washington does have the talent to try and convince a player like Batum into becoming a piece of a rising team. A starting lineup of Wall-Beal-Batum-Morris-??? sounds like a lot of fun. That lineup certainly would have the offensive firepower to compete in the East; the only concern would be signing Batum to a reasonable deal. Washington does have the money to move around and make some noise this free agency, but would they be willing to tie up so much of their money on Batum? The Wizards are in dire need of a roster shakeup. They have to improve on last year’s disappointing season if they want to keep their franchise player John Wall happy. Signing Batum this summer could kick start the ball the franchise needs to get rolling.