Our 2021-2022 Clippers player season preview series comes with fan favorite Nic Batum, who won the hearts and souls of Clippers’ fans last year with his consistent level of play on both ends of the court.
Weight: 230 pounds
Position: Power Forward/Center/Small Forward
Years in NBA: 13
Regular Season – 8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.0 steals in 27.4 minutes per game across 67 games played on 46.4/40.4/82.8 shooting splits (61.7 TS%).
Playoffs – 8.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.3 steals in 29.2 minutes per game across 19 games played on 48.6/38.9/82.6 shooting splits (64.2 TS%).
Contract Status: Signed to a two year, $6.5M deal this summer
After a thoroughly unexpected 2021 campaign that saw Batum reclaim his career after a lost 2020 season in Charlotte, expectations for Batum should be fairly straightforward – to more or less replicate his 2021 season. Aged 32, and with 13 years already under his belt, Batum is a candidate to regress at least a bit going forward, but nothing about his 2021 numbers seems particularly random or outside normal bounds. His shooting will probably tick down a bit, through probably not enough to make a dent in his overall contributions. As long as Batum will be a solid rotation player who makes positive plays on both sides of the ball, he will be meeting expectations.
After shooting 28.6% from three on just 2.2 attempts per game in his lost 2020 season, Nic bounced back with a 40.4% mark from deep on 4.1 attempts per contest last year. That percentage was the second highest of his career, and on a per minute rate was around his average. Even if he regresses some, Nic is a 36% shooter from deep on fairly substantial volume, making him an above-average shooter at worst. Considering his other contributions, that shooting is a huge bonus.
The area where Nic shone the most, however, last year, was on defense. Long an above-average defender, Nic turned in one of the best defensive seasons of his career at age 32, and was critical to the Clippers’ best defensive units in both the regular season and, especially, the playoffs. Nic is tall, long, smart, and strong, all of which enabled him to guard not just forwards, but even some centers and smaller guards. His switch-everything abilities were vastly important to the Clippers’ small-ball lineups, and he will remain such going forward. As with everything Nic related, he was solid all season, and was absolutely the Clippers’ best, most consistent, and important defender in 2021. With good health, he probably will be again in 2022 barring a step forward from one of the Clippers’ young guys like Terance Mann.
Nic’s versatility extends outside of defense too. He can shoot, as mentioned above, but he can also handle the ball at least a little bit, is a good passer, and is a strong rebounder. His ability to chip in multiple different areas allowed him to play with bunch of different Clippers’ lineups last year across three different positions. Really, Batum just doesn’t have many weaknesses, and that has immense value.
Maybe Nic’s biggest strength with the Clippers last year was consistency. The Clippers knew what they were getting from Nic just about every game, which is rare for players of any caliber, but particularly veteran minimum role players who don’t have a role as specific as “get buckets” or “set screens”. There were occasional off nights, of course, as there are with any player, but Nic didn’t have any prolonged down streaks or stretches where he languished out of the rotation. He showed up, played good defense, hit shots, and did the little things, and did so night-in, night-out.
The one real flaw in Nic’s game at this point in his career is shot creation. He’s not as quick as he used to be, and while his handles are fine for a player his size, they’re not good enough to use in one on one situations to self-create shots. And, while he has nice footwork and can certainly do some creation in a pinch, he will rarely look for his own offense. In a season when Kawhi Leonard will be missing most of the action, the Clippers will need more offensive shot creation, and Nic, unfortunately, is probably not a place they can consistently look for that type of play.
The only other real weakness with Nic is that he can be hesitant to shoot at times. He’s one of those players who’s so smart and has such good fundamental instincts that he’s always trying to make the right play – which sometimes means he passes up perfectly good looks for better ones that never end up materializing. He’d be that much better if he just shot the ball more when open or even semi-contested, as he’s a good enough shooter that those are nearly always positive looks.
Nic almost certainly won’t lead the Clippers in minutes played again. And it would be nearly impossible for him to exceed expectations in year two with the Clippers more than in year one. But even if he’s the same player – or even a bit worse – he will be a highly valuable member of the rotation who will help the Clippers win games on a consistent basis. If all goes well, even if the Clippers aren’t a championship level team, another strong season from Batum will cement him as one of the best Clippers’ role players of the modern era.