When Kawhi Leonard suffered a partially torn ACL in the playoffs last season, the Los Angeles Clippers saw their title hopes disappear in a flash. The injury not only killed their chances of defeating the Phoenix Suns, but also set them up for a long 2021-22 season. Fortunately for LA, the first 10 games without Kawhi have resulted in a solid 6-4 record. A big reason why is Paul George, the other All-Star on the team. But there’s another player — veteran forward Nicolas Batum — whose incredible stroke from beyond the arc has become a revelation.
Nicolas Batum has had a long, lucrative NBA career
It didn’t take long for Batum to carve out a role in the NBA. The 25th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Frenchman started 76 games for the Portland Trail Blazers as a rookie. While injuries cut his sophomore season short, Batum would play the heavy majority of each of the next five seasons in Portland. He would average 11.2 points with the Blazers on 44.6% shooting, while also hitting 36.3% of his threes.
In 2016, one year after the Blazers traded him to the Charlotte Hornets, the 6-foot-8 wing inked a massive deal worth $120 million over five years. While Batum proved to be a decent investment at first, averaging a career-high 15.1 points in 2016-17, he soon saw a major dip in production. By the fourth year of his deal, the veteran appeared in just 22 games and averaged a career-low 3.6 points.
Following his poor showing in 2019-20, Charlotte waived Batum with one year left on his deal, paying him $26.5 million across the next three seasons to play elsewhere. Three days later, the Clippers took a chance on the French forward with a one-year pact worth $2.56 million.
Batum has been a huge addition for the Clippers
The 32-year-old’s first season in LA was solid, albeit unspectacular. In 38 starts and 67 total games, Batum scored 8.1 points per game. However, his 40.4% clip from three was the second-best rate of his career. As a result, the Clippers re-signed him last offseason to a two-year, $6.5 million deal that carries a player option for the second season.
With a year in SoCal under his belt, Batum is not only showing signs of his old self. He’s also shooting better than ever before, including when he was earning an average of over $22 million a year.
Through 10 games, the Frenchman is connecting on 46.4% of his threes. He’s been especially lethal over the last five games, all wins, going 22-for-37 from three. The latest of which was a season-high 22-point showing against the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he went 6-for-8 from deep.
It’s not like Batum is just hitting threes, however. As a whole, Batum is shooting 53.3% from the field. That’s because his 73.7% rate from two is the best in the NBA.
The Los Angeles Clippers are hitting their stride
Life without Kawhi wasn’t all too enjoyable at first. After dropping four out of their first five contests, the Clippers appeared to be in for a long season. But thanks to their five-game winning streak, LA is back in the hunt.
Batum has been a major figure in LA’s rise up the standings. But the best player has been George, who paces the team with 26.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 2.5 steals. Reggie Jackson, who actually leads the team in average minutes, is also netting 17.6 points per game.
LA is thriving thanks to team defense, as well. Entering Wednesday, the Clippers are third in defensive rating, with Batum second on the team in defensive box plus-minus. They’ll have a chance to keep things rolling with their next four games coming at home.
Thanks to Nicolas Batum and company, the Clippers are surviving without Kawhi. When he eventually returns, LA could be a true threat to contend in the West once again.