The Sixers suddenly (finally) making the James Harden trade late Monday night, after months of us wondering when it would happen and what it would look like, came as a bit of a shock. The same can be said for players involved in the trade itself.
Like most NBA fans, new Sixers forward Nicolas Batum only found out when he woke up on Tuesday morning.
“I found out about the trade when I woke up yesterday,” Batum told reporters on Wednesday. “My wife woke me up to get the kids ready for school and she showed me her phone and I got the news. So it’s been an insane 24 hours.”
As much of a whirlwind as this week has been for Batum, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to start fitting in with his new team. After having such little wing depth, the Sixers suddenly find themselves with a bunch of options after this trade. And Batum’s two-way skillset as one of their new role-playing forwards is ideal.
Batum was a quality defender during his time with the Clippers. Of course, he’s 34 years old now and not quite the athlete he once was. He won't be completely anchoring the paint at center of course, or chasing shifty point guards around full time. However, Batum showed he’s still agile enough to defend smaller opponents — he can hold his own switching across both guards and forwards.
At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Batum has good size and knows how to utilize it. Whether he’s pestering players on the perimeter, contesting drives, or providing sharp help rotations and a dose of extra rim protection. He also spent just under a third of his minutes at center last season. If Nurse wants to downsize with switch-everything small-ball lineups, he can do so with Batum at the 5. It’s a role and system that Batum had frequent success with in L.A. The French forward is smart positionally, shifts his feet quite well, and has the length and timing to help around the basket.
Offensively, the Sixers won’t need Batum to score at a high rate. They just need him to help connect the offense and be a trusty three-point shooter, which he’s fully capable of. He’s a 36.5 percent shooter from three for his career on 4.4 attempts per game (5.3 per 36 minutes), including a 39.8 percent clip over his last three seasons with the Clippers. Batum also upped his volume over the last three years, taking 4.2 threes in only 24.5 minutes per game, or 6.2 per 36 minutes.
He’s confident firing from all around the arc (rather than hesitantly shooting from just the corners, like P.J. Tucker), has a pretty fast and high release, a fairly quick trigger, and isn’t too fazed by closeouts. If need be, he can hit a few threes off pump fakes, too. And while he won’t be sprinting off screens, he knows how to relocate into space and can shoot off simple movement. He’s even shown the impressive ability of hitting the odd catch-and-shoot three without needing to lower the ball before releasing.
Batum’s IQ and the high-volume playmaking duties he carried in his younger years still help him today. He can be counted on to make timely extra passes to shooters and cutters to keep the offense clicking.
Simply put, he should be a smooth fit spotting up and making smart plays in the Sixers’ Joel Embiid/Tyrese Maxey-led offense.
“It’s team first,” Batum said when talking about how he’ll fit in with Nick Nurse’s team. “We know we have great individuals, but team first. He wants to move the ball, play as a team and, as a player, that’s what I like to play. I had that the last few years as well. But, you know, when you play around guys like Maxey and Embiid, it’s pretty easy to play around those guys.”
After the Sixers got used to having Tucker at the 4 — who was usually a complete zero on offense — Batum is going to be a far better fit.
There's obviously still the potential for the Sixers to make another move this season as well, and pursue a star-type player if one of interest is available. Someone like Zach LaVine perhaps, if the situation in Chicago doesn't improve. The Sixers adding more draft picks and a few expiring, medium-sized contracts that are easily tradable and help with matching salaries (like Batum's expiring $11.71 million salary) in the Harden deal makes it easier for them to be open to such moves this season if need be. It also makes it easier for them to free up a load of cap space next summer. Their flexibility has improved a great deal.
For now, though, we’ll focus on basketball. While Nurse is moving Kelly Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup for the time being, the Sixers suddenly have a mix of wing options at their disposal.
Batum makes a lot of sense as someone who can have a positive impact at both ends of the floor. He’s a great candidate to move into the starting five, and generally be a helpful two-way role player for as long as he’s in Philly.