P.J. Tucker and Nicolas Batum aren’t very much alike.
The Sixers signed Tucker because of his ruggedness and his ability to play alongside James Harden. They believed him to be a missing piece to a championship contender.
Batum has a laid-backness to him that would make The Dude seem high strung. He can also fit in with just about any basketball team or player. The Sixers purposefully acquired Batum, Robert Covington, Marcus Morris, Sr. and KJ Martin because of their expiring contracts, maintaining optimal flexibility this offseason.
Though Daryl Morey strategically only took back players on the final year of their deals, Batum has proven to be hell of a lot more than that. Though nothing in the box score will truly show it, his return to the court made everything easier for the Sixers in their win in Brooklyn Sunday.
“He’s just a real glue guy for us, as far as his versatility,” Nick Nurse told reporters pregame. “Obviously he can score the three. He’s a really good passer, a good defender at multiple positions, and just plays the game the right way.”
If Batum is a “glue guy” it’s super glue.
Since his debut with the Sixers, Batum has looked like an indispensable part of the Sixers’ rotation. He can start. He can come off the bench. He can, to an extent, play and defend all five positions on the floor. He can dribble, pass and shoot — a trio of skills that seemed to elude Sixers role players during the Joel Embiid era. He has great size and length.
And last but not least, he might be the smartest player the Sixers have rostered in a long time.
“Defensively, he’s just really good — really smart, right?” Nurse told reporters postgame. “He does all the schemes correctly; great communication on switching; he’s able to guard almost every position on the floor because of his unique size and quickness — and his length. ...
“And then on the offensive side, he’s a really good passer, knows how to move it to the next player. He cuts, re-spaces, helps with organization. Just an experienced guy that really understands how to play basketball.”
Since joining the Sixers, Batum is a +76. Though plus/minus can be a deceiving stat, Batum has been that good to back that outrageous number up. You can’t expect his preposterous shooting numbers to sustain (68.8/64.3/-), but he can make a meaningful impact on the offensive end of the floor.
It was really only when the 34-year-old Frenchman arrived in L.A. that he took on the role of “glue guy.” He’s enjoyed success at the NBA level and in international play as a scorer and on-ball player — something Nurse said the Sixers will look to tap into as the veteran becomes more comfortable. When Tyrese Maxey is off the floor, the Sixers have a clear issue with ball handling and playmaking that Batum could somewhat remedy.
And all of that speaks to what the Sixers missed when Batum was out the previous three games for personal reasons. Batum revealed to reporters in Brooklyn that his wife had been dealing with a medical issue and he needed to be present with his family. Batum said that his wife is going to be fine and he’s hoping this will be his last stint away from the team.
So, what was it like being out there for the first time in a week?
“Weird,” Batum told reporters. “The first five minutes, really weird. I was just trying to get my rhythm back. I didn’t try to do too much. I just tried to be in the flow of the game, the rhythm of the game, play with the team — do the simple stuff on offense and defense. And it worked out. It was a great team win.”
As mentioned, nothing about Batum’s counting stats will jump out. He made one field goal (a three) and had three assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes.
He was a +25.
The way Batum complements Embiid and Maxey is perfect. He gives the team whatever it needs and doesn’t ask for anything more.
“It’s been my role the last three years,” Batum told reporters. “When you play with a player like [Embiid], I just try to do all the little stuff. … I think I found this role two, three years ago and it’s been working out pretty well so far, so I’m going to try to do the same.
“This is my 16th year, so I have to find a way to stay in the game and keep playing. There’s a lot of young guys coming up in this league, so how can I stay at 34, almost 35, and be effective for a good team? And I like this role. I love it. We’re winning, guys are happy around me, so I love it.”
And so far, his teammates are loving Batum — including the reigning MVP, who shares Cameroonian roots with his new teammate.
“He’s the key. He’s special,” Embiid told reporters. “With the way we play, he just fits everything we need. Great shooter; good defender; great passer; great basketball IQ. He just fits everything we need.”
Tucker was supposed to be that final, connective piece. Morey paid a premium for him to be that,
Batum could wind up ticking all the boxes the Sixers need ... while on an expiring contract.