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After great Sixers debut, Nic Batum happy to join forces with Joel Embiid, not ruin team’s winning streak

The 34-year-old Batum’s Sixers tenure got off to a rousing start on Monday against the Wizards.

Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Coming over in last week’s James Harden trade, 34-year-old Nic Batum was more than just a matching contract for the Philadelphia 76ers. The veteran had a bit of a late-career renaissance in Los Angeles as a floor spacer, shooting right around 40 percent from three in each of his three full seasons as a Clipper, with positive connective attributes on both sides of the floor. With his savvy off-ball movement and strong defensive principles and size for the position, Batum is a two-way player who should fit perfectly within the Sixers’ rotation, either as a valuable bench asset or possibly as the fifth starter.

His Sixers debut Monday night showcased that potential with his new club, as Batum scored 11 points in 17 minutes during Philadelphia’s 18-point victory over the Clippers, shooting 3-of-4 from behind the arc. After the game, Batum was asked if he could have drawn up a debut any better:

“It was fun. I had no idea what to do out there. (Laughs.) I had a quick 45 minutes yesterday. That was a day off, so I just came in and went through some plays with coaches for 45 minutes. I got a quick shootaround this morning. And I watched the last two games, tried to get to know (the team). But I just tried to go out there and play. When you play with guys like Joel or Tyrese, Tobias, Pat Bev — guys who are very good at basketball and also very high-IQ, it’s just easy to play the game. Just play the game and find the good spots. Just easy.”

After missing a few days due to a personal matter, Batum was ready to hit the ground running in Philadelphia:

“They asked me yesterday how many days I needed to get back on track and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m good.’ (Laughs) I played all summer, though. My training camp started July 20. I played FIBA World Cup and then I had training camp, so five, six days (away) won’t hurt me. So that was good.”

Following up on the question of fatigue, Batum seemed more worried he would disrupt the team’s momentum during what’s now a five-game winning streak:

“Always (fine for) the first game. The second game is the bad one, usually. The first one, you’re excited. You want to show the fans, get to know your teammates. The next game is going to be a tricky one for me. That was fun, though. That was a good team win. We’re on a winning streak, so I would’ve been kind of mad, for my first game, if we lost a game. So I’m happy. I was kind of nervous about it, actually. (Laughs.) I didn’t want to be the one where it’s like, damn it, we lose a game because of me. So I’m glad we won the game, happy for the team. We’ve got a big one in two days now.”

Speaking post-game, head coach Nick Nurse acknowledged much of Batum’s initial success was understandably more basketball instinct than a full knowledge of the playbook:

“Most of it was intuitive. I think we did call one or two plays for him after he hit a couple — I think the third one. So most of it was just him. He does things quickly. That’s one thing that stood out to me tonight. … He inbounds the ball quickly; he cuts quickly; he turns and gets his feet set quickly. He does things at a super quick rate but under control. That was good. He looked full of confidence. And I like some of the things I see defensively out there, too. He’s a good communicator out there.”

Throughout the game, Nurse was impressed by everything Nic brings to the table:

“Again, I think he’s a quality player. He does a lot of things at a high level. He thinks the game, he plays both ends, he stretches the floor, he can pass. So that kind of proved it. Geez, what was his plus-minus, 30 or something? He just does a lot of thing that impact the game winning-wise. And it doesn’t seem like it’s ever a selfish play or any of that stuff. He’s just a good basketball player — really good.”

Of course, Joel Embiid is the centerpiece of this team (as his 48 points against the Wizards would attest), so most roster moves are framed in the context of how does that player fit with Joel. Nurse spoke to the value of Batum being able to shoot off of movement, a valuable skill set for some former teammates alongside Embiid:

“It’s important because you’re being able to squeeze those off against teams that are chasing hard. Sometimes that’s your shot, and you’ve got to be able to get ‘em up. You can tell he’s put a lot of time into his craft to be able to fly off a screen, get turned around, get his feet set and shoot it so confidently. It’s nice. Somebody that can do that gives you a whole different section of a playbook that you can run for guys coming off shooting.”

During his post-game availability, Embiid appeared to appreciate have another valuable shooter in the rotation:

“It’s great. Any time you have quick-trigger shooters, it just makes it easier, especially for me. Every time wants to double, send two or three guys at me every time, and any time you have guys like that who can get it up quick and actually make ‘em, I think it’s great for us. That forces the other team to make a decision: Do you want to keep doubling or are you going to allow those shots? We’ll take whatever is available.”

Batum certainly seems happy to be on the same side as Embiid now when the big man has the type of performance we saw against Washington:

“Jo’s my guy. We’ve known each other for a while. We’ve got the same roots — from Cameroon — so we’ve been friends for a while. But I used to hate being on the other side. You’ve got some guys where you’re just happy to be on their side. And to be on this side tonight, yeah, it’s fun. I’ve been there for a game like this where he had 40-something and 15. It’s not fun, though. To be on this side during those kinds of nights, yeah, it’s cool.”

And having another teammate who speaks French in Embiid is always a plus for Nic:

“Yeah, it’s not the first time, but it’s always special. It’s always cool, especially when you get to a new team, to have someone who speaks your language. You can get to know the organization in a different way. And when it’s a franchise guy, it’s even better.”

Ultimately, the scoreboard matters more to Batum than what his specific role will be with his new club:

“You’re going to get to know me: I don’t care about that — starting, off the bench, five, 15, 20 minutes, As long as we’re winning games, I’m good. That’s (Nurse’s) job. That’s pretty tough, to deal with it, so I don’t want to add pressure. Anything he asks me to do, I’ll do it.”

While it’s early for both the Sixers as a whole this regular season and for incorporating Nic into the fold, things couldn’t be going much better thus far on both fronts. As Batum himself alluded to, Wednesday night’s game against Boston should provide a much more accurate litmus test, but I’m betting having Nic around will benefit the Sixers in that contest and moving forward.

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