Our exit interview series at 213 Hoops continues with a look at the 2022 season of Clippers’ starting forward Nic Batum.
Weight: 230 pounds
Position: Small Forward/Power Forward/Center
Years in the NBA: 14
Key Stats: 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.0 steals in 24.8 minutes per game across 59 games played on 46.3% shooting from the field (60.7% on 2s), 40% on threes (4.6 attempts), and 65.8% from the free throw line (0.6 attempts) for a 60.8 TS%.
After a phenomenal first season with the Clippers in 2021, expectations for Nic Batum were correspondingly elevated in 2022. Maybe people didn’t think Nico could produce a similar campaign with another year on the treads, but most fans probably thought Nic would at least be a solid rotation player. I wrote that he’d help the Clippers win a lot of games in the regular season, and that a season like his 2021 year would cement him as one of the best Clippers’ role players ever.
With Kawhi Leonard out, maybe there was some thinking that Batum would take on more offensively, but with Paul George, Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, and even guys like Luke Kennard and Terance Mann, a similar role with maybe slightly higher shooting volume on offense seemed reasonable. Consistently positive defense, connective play on offense, and understated leadership were all presumed to be part of the package as well.
Nico thoroughly lived up to expectations, turning in a 2022 season nearly identical to that of his redemptive year in 2021. Per 100 possessions, his scoring went from 14.6 to 16.5, his rebounding stayed at 8.5, his assists fell from 4 to 3.4, his steals were identical at 1.9, and turnovers fell from 1.4 to 1.3. He took slightly more shots per game, but percentage-wise he was eerily similar at 46.3% compared to 46.4% last year, and 40% on threes to 40.4%. Weirdly, the only major difference was at the line, where Nico shot an abysmal 65.8%, the only mark in his career below 80%! Considering how great Nic was last year, a repeat of that season was a massive, massive win.
Really, there’s not a ton to say about Nic Batum. He was phenomenal all season. Sure, there were games where he didn’t score much or even play that much. But it’s clear that the coaching staff wants to keep his minutes low in the regular season to keep him healthy and fresh for the playoffs, and avoided overplaying him as much as possible. He’s not someone who will score even 20 points regularly now, but he’s a lights-out three point shooter on solid volume, a fringe All-Defense level defender, and a versatile player who can fit at three different positions depending on if the Clippers are playing big or small. Simply, Nic Batum unlocks the Clippers in a way no other player on the roster does outside of Kawhi Leonard and George, and I admire the coaching staff’s restraint in not playing him too much – I want him out there nearly every minute.
The one downside is that Nic only played 59 games, missing 23 due to COVID as well as various injuries and a couple rests down the stretch. Still, if that’s the price the Clippers have to pay to have him healthy for when the games really matter, it’s worth it.
Future with Clippers
Nic Batum has a player option of $3.3M for the 2022-2023 season, an option that truly seems up in the air. Nic has said he wants to return to the Clippers, and the Clips have said repeatedly how much they value him. The question is whether Nic will opt into that option (which is far below his value) because he’s still making $9M from the Hornets after they waived him, and because he’s close to $170M in earnings. He could also opt out and re-sign with the Clippers for a higher salary. Or he could opt out and test the free agency market, which would be extremely robust.
All indications are that Batum will return. He’s revived his career in LA, and is beloved by fans, teammates, and the entire organization. Batum is one of the most seasoned vets in the NBA, but has never won a championship or been to the Finals, an one has to think the Clippers provide a top option for him in that regard. Already one of the best Clippers’ role players ever, hopefully Nic will have a chance to cement himself as a true franchise legend by helping the Kawhi and PG Clippers go all the way.