Offensive aid is on the way for the Charlotte Hornets.
Defensive help, too.
Nicolas Batum has yet to play this season while recovering from a torn ligament in his left elbow, and the Hornets have struggled without him. Jeremy Lamb has stepped up as a scorer, defender and even passer, but the team is still sitting below .500, just outside the Eastern Conference’s onset playoff picture.
It should come as a relief to Hornets fans, then, that head coach Steve Clifford says the 6’8″ wing will be returning to the lineup when Charlotte squares off against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
Here’s the lowdown, per the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell:
Barring a “drastic” and unexpected setback, Nic Batum will play — and start — Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Charlotte Hornets’ nationally-televised home game Wednesday.
That was coach Steve Clifford’s statement, after Batum practiced for a third consecutive day. He has missed the Hornets’ first 11 regular-season games and most of the preseason, after he tore a ligament in his left elbow Oct. 4. Playing Wednesday (8 p.m., ESPN) would mean Batum returns at the minimum of the projected six to eight weeks he’d miss with the injury. There was initial concern, after Batum injured his elbow in an exhibiton against the Detroit Pistons, that Batum might need season-ending surgery.
Clifford intends to start Batum, a 6-foot-8 shooting guard, which likely means moving Jeremy Lamb to a bench role. Clifford said it’s essential the Hornets get to the intended playing groups as soon as possible. The Hornets got back small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for Friday’s road loss to the Boston Celtics, after Kidd-Gilchrist missed three games with an excused personal absence.
Batum’s return is nothing short of huge for the Hornets. He is another person they can use to generate offense when Kemba Walker isn’t on the floor. They go from scoring like a top-two attack when he’s in the game, to running out a 30th-ranked brick-layer with him on the bench, according to NBA.com.
Neither Malik Monk nor Lamb has been able to fill that secondary playmaking role for more than very, very, very short spurts. And if you think Michael Carter-Williams is the answer, you’ve got another thing coming. Batum was always the best option to bridge the gap between Walker’s breathers.
That doesn’t change when noting he failed to thrive in this exact role last season. He turned the ball over a bunch in the pick-and-roll and didn’t shoot particularly well from the floor. Still, he’s by far and away the best of the Hornets’ alternatives—a difference-maker who should, if all goes according to plan, help them rebound in a big way from their 5-7 start to the season.