When a team makes a youthful shift as the Hornets have, some players get left in the dust. Whether that’s due to performance, not fitting in with the team’s long-term plans or a combination of several factors. There are inevitable measures teams have to take. We have seen that with the Hornets this season, specifically with Nicolas Batum. 

Batum signed a five-year, $120 million contract back in the summer of 2016. You can’t blame the Hornets for the price they paid for Batum. There was a line of suitors waiting at the door who all would have paid a similar cost for the highly coveted Frenchman. He was paid market value.

Nic Batum has now taken the backseat to watch the Hornets’ young talent grow and develop as they close out the final third of their season. ‘Nico’ still has a designated role with this team. While he may not be contributing to wins on the court, he’s making an extraordinary impact off the floor in his own unique way. He does so behind the scenes, teaching the young Hornets the ropes of the NBA. Nic’s showing them how to be a true professional in this league and sustain an abundant career in the NBA. 

Nic Batum spoke with The Painted Lines this past week to discuss his experiences with Charlotte as an esteemed vet and how he’s handling his current situation with grace, continuing to make an impact on this youthful Hornets’ squad. 

Taking a back seat

The 31-year-old Nic Batum has not logged a single minute since the Hornets’ game in France on January 24th where he played 33 minutes. Batum has received over two dozen DNP-CD’s (did not play – coach’s decision) this season. Despite the lack of playing time and a legitimate role with the team, Nic has found a place to make an impact. He is putting all of the wisdom he’s obtained over his 12-year career to good use. 

The average length of an NBA career is 4.5 years. Nico has more than doubled that, playing professionally since he was 18. An NBA career of 10 plus years is no simple feat. 

“I’ve had a long career,” Batum told The Painted Lines. “I’ve been in the league since 2008 and every team I’ve been on I’ve had a certain role I have to play. And I wouldn’t have the relationships I have with my coaches and my teammates if it weren’t for that. So now I’m just making sure I’m there for the young guys we have now. Just making sure those guys know their roles and what they have to do. Because you know, it’s not easy to stay 10 plus years in this league.”

Whether that’s showing the guys how to take care of their bodies, taking time to invest in watching film, or getting up extra shots, Batum is sowing his seeds of wisdom into his teammates.

“Nic’s been one of the leaders stepping up,” James Borrego told The Painted Lines. “He’s stepping up, helping the young guys. I’m proud of him with how he’s handled this. Nic has acted and performed like a real pro…  He’s got a great spirit and grace about him right now. He’s really trying to help the young guys and understands where we’re at. Nic’s all in and fully bought in. He’s doing his best in this role we have asked him to play.”

Nico is still enjoying himself through tough times

When you watch the Hornets play you typically see Nic Batum up out of his seat cheering on his teammates from the bench with a smile on his face. Following an electrifying fast-break dunk, a clutch three-pointer, or an impressive help-side block, he is always the first guy up off the bench showing his genuine support as he joyfully supports his teammates.

It still seems like Nico is enjoying himself.

“I have to enjoy myself and have as much fun as I can with this,” Batum told TPL. “Sometimes things won’t go your way. That doesn’t mean you have to be a bad guy because you don’t have enough playing time. That’s what I have to do to be an example for those guys. So you always see me cheering for them, happy for them. That’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

Showing his teammates the ropes

Up until this season, Batum has played a significant role with every team he’s played on. He’s been through the fire, playing in game 7’s in the playoffs, taking big shots, and has been a starter and key contributor on contenders. That is not the case with all of his younger counterparts. 

Batum did not get to the point where he is now soley on his own accord. There’s a lot of wisdom and valuable insight he’s obtained over the years. To highlight the youth, the Hornets top four leading scorers (Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges, and P.J. Washington) have a combined 9 years in the NBA. Batum has 12 years alone – it’s his turn to return the favor.

“What those [young] guys are going through now, I went through when I was younger,” Batum told The Painted Lines. “I had a chance to really play my whole career since day one. I have started since my rookie year. It’s been a blessing and I’ve put in the work to be in my position. But right now it’s different and that’s cool because right now I have to be the one to give the advice to the young guys. Make sure they do the right things.

“I was talking to these guys and was saying that it won’t be easy this year but you will learn from this. And if you keep doing the right thing, playing the right way, and preparing things will turn your way eventually.”

“I tell them, ‘Take advantage of the time you have right now. You don’t always get this big of chance in this league.’”

The logic behind the Hornets’ current plan to invest in young guys is based around the sentiment that in order to develop you have to play significant minutes. Obviously coming at the expense of vets such as Batum. James Borrego always says the golden number is 30 minutes – that’s where true development takes place. Whether that’s in Greensboro with the Swarm or the Hornets. 

Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels put their time in with the Swarm and now they are getting consistent minutes with the Hornets. That’s a blessing and something both have continuously said. They aren’t taking it for granted along with the Hornets’ other youngsters. Nico has been continually driven that point home. 

“I keep saying to these guys, ‘You all have a chance to play. How many guys in the G-League would love to be in your spot?’ I got to play when I was 18,” Batum said. “Man, my first game I had to guard Kobe Bryant.

“I trusted in doing the little things to make sure I had a spot, that I was in the rotation. These guys are in the same spot. Jalen [McDaniels], Devonte’, the [Martin] twins, Miles, P.J., all of those guys. They are good and all of those guys have chances to get real playing time. Learning happens when you’re on the court, not on the bench. The goal is to be on the court.” 

We have seen over the past dozen or so games how much progress the Hornets young pieces have made since their roles have been elevated. Cody Martin is handling the ball in the pick-and-roll, dishing out dimes on a nightly basis. Miles Bridges continues to show that he’s not just an athlete, but a skilled scorer who can knock down shots from everywhere on the floor. 

There are so many other examples. What Nico is saying is absolutely valid. It’s obvious how grand of an opportunity these guys have in front of them. Now he’s serving as the middle man between Borrego to help them with the process.

The value of playing a contender-heavy stretch of games

The Hornets have quite the month of March. That comes following a difficult stretch of games in January where Charlotte had one of the five toughest schedules in the league. 

Nic’s seen the value over the years of what a difficult stretch of games can have on a young player. Your true colors shine when you face the league’s best competition. That’s when you know what you’re made of as a player. It’s crucial to see how you react to adversity as you typically fail and struggle against superior talent.

“The schedule we have for the next four weeks, they are going to learn a lot,” Nic said with a look of absolute certainty. “That’s good. The LA’s, Miami, Philly, Houston. That’ll be good. And at home too. That’s good for them. This is where these guys are going to grow.

“We had a tough stretch in January and teams can just fall down sometimes,” Batum told TPL. “But it’s been great because we have stuck together as a group. We just had a nice stretch winning three games in-a-row a few weeks back. This team will have tough nights like tonight because of all the young guys we have. We were down big and we could have given up and rolled over. We tried to make a good run and cut their lead. That’s a good sign. That’s progress and we will continue to grow.”

Losses are inevitable through this stretch but it is the job of vets like Nic Batum to keep this team afloat and show them what value you can gain from losing. Batum’s already revealed his true colors. The vet is showing how you can still be an exceptional teammate and locker room presence even when things aren’t going your way.