A fresh start in a new city, at a new position, has clearly revitalized Nicolas Batum.
After playing through a wrist injury that drastically altered his effectiveness shooting the ball all of last season, the Trail Blazers began their massive rebuilding efforts last summer by sending Batum to Charlotte in exchange for Noah Vonleh — a seldom used rookie — and Gerald Henderson.
Just 24 games later, Portland may be experiencing some remorse for agreeing to the trade.
Batum has thrived since making the is putting up the best numbers of his career, averaging 16.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
His all-around versatility was on full display last Wednesday against Miami, as he posted his first triple-double in 138 regular season appearances, tallying 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in less than 28 minutes on the floor.
The presence of Batum has injected some much needed athleticism and scoring power into a perennially stagnant offense.
Batum ranks second on the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals per game, but leads the team in one critical category: 3-point shooting.
The 6-foot-8 guard has connected 56 times from beyond the arc, finally providing some much needed floor spacing in Charlotte.
Not only is he connecting often, the 27-year-old is effective, knocking down 39.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A year ago, the Hornets ranked 28th in the league in scoring, averaging 94.6 points per game as a result of their predictable offense.
Since the team was making just 31.8 percent of its attempts — worst in the league — defenses would routinely collapse the paint and clog the driving lanes to the rim.
This year, Charlotte is connecting on 36 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc, tied with the Cavaliers for the ninth best percentage in the NBA.
The 56 shots from 3-point range is already more than halfway to last year’s team leader in 3-point field goals (Marvin Williams with 96 conversions) as Batum is burying long range shots in rapid succession.
Batum has already submitted three games with at least five made 3-pointers this season, Williams has totaled just once over the past two years.
Along with his ability to score from anywhere on the court, Batum has become an intricate part of Charlotte’s offense because of his ability to handle the ball.
The team tried to mold Lance Stephenson into a point forward role last season, with disastrous results, as he failed to provide the long range shooting the team needed, connecting on just 17.1 percent of his long range attempts, the worst in the NBA of anyone to attempt at least 100 shots from 3-point range.
This year, Batum has excelled, dishing out five or more assists in 37.5 percent of his appearances with Charlotte.
More importantly, he has been able to take over the game and alleviate some of the pressure placed on point guard Kemba Walker.
The duo has become each other’s favorite person to pass the ball to, as Walker has assisted on 31 shots made by Batum, while the French forward has set up 21 of Walker’s made shots.
The combination of Batum and Walker in the back court has completely revitalized the Hornets offense, which ranks ninth in points per game this season with 102.5 per game.
The additional 7.9 points per game is the largest increase any team has experienced from a year ago and the their offensive rating of 106 is the highest over the past five years.
Extra points has translated into a dramatic increase in the standings. The Hornets have the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference at 14-10, while maintaining their stingy defense.
Charlotte ranked seventh in the league in points allowed per game last season, surrendering 97.3 points per game.
This year, even while playing at a more rapid pace, it is allowing 98.6 points per game, ninth best in the league, even after losing defensive ace Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the entire year with a dislocated shoulder.
The addition of Batum has drastically overhauled the offense in Charlotte and in turn, the team has emerged as a legitimate playoff team.