Nicolas Batum talks Charlotte’s playoff expectations, free agency and Jordan

Nicolas Batum and the Charlotte Hornets, owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan, have emerged as one of the stories of the season, clinching a spot in the 2016 NBA Playoffs for the second time in six NBA seasons.

We got the chance to speak to the versatile forward as part of a media call. Here’s what the pending free agent had to say.

Q: You’ve said this year that free agency is an interesting time because it provides you with an opportunity to evaluate yourself and where you stand among other players. So how would you evaluate your value right now?
Nicolas Batum: I really don’t know. I just tried to really to step up my game this year and to help my team to reach the playoffs. So now with a new team and new challenge after the bad season I had last year, I think I did pretty well so far. But now I’m going to try to step up for the playoffs. I think I did pretty well this year.

Q: How are you feeling as you approach the playoffs?
Nicolas Batum: We have had a decent season on the whole, a few ups and downs, but overall we are satisfied with how things have gone. We have built a good team with chemistry despite having several new players. We have won 47 games, perhaps 48 if we win tomorrow [Wednesday], so it’s been a good season. Now we have to go up a notch and perform in the playoffs. We are ambitious and we want to try to create a surprise in the East and write our own piece of history.

Q: Just a quick question about last night’s game against Boston. How’s your ankle after last night?
Nicolas Batum: I’m fine. It’s not a big injury. I don’t think I’m going to play the last game of the season. I’m just going to try to be ready 100 percent for the playoffs this weekend.

Q: How big of an impact have the Golden State Warriors had on the way the game is played in the NBA this season?
Nicolas Batum: To win the championship, normally you have to get big men and big guys, and they showed last year, like in The Finals, that you can win with no bigs and just shooting threes. So I think the league has adjusted a little bit. You have more and more power forwards, which used to be like small forwards. Guys who play the four can spread the floor and shoot threes and only one big inside. So I think it’s changed the league, and I think people have to adjust on that.

Q: I would just like to ask you how are you feeling about being in the playoffs with a new team, a different city, and how does it feel to play for Michael Jordan? Is he better as a player or a boss?
Nicolas Batum: I’m very excited to play in the playoffs with my new team. It’s my first year with this team and we make the playoffs right away. So that worked pretty well for both of us, for the team and myself, so I’m very happy about that. And MJ is a great guy. All of the players know he’s the best ever, the greatest of all time. As a boss, he’s great as well. He’s very close to us. He really wants us to be a great team and he’s doing whatever it takes to put us in a great situation. Every time he’s in the locker room with us after the game, before the game, in practice and on the phone, he’s with us every time, so he’s very into it.

Q: You’re having your best season statistically with Charlotte and you’ve been a great fit with the team. What do you put this down to?
Nicolas Batum: I don’t know. I was put in a good situation. I was the new guy and I didn’t have a great season last year, so guys like Kemba Walker, guys like that could say, ‘OK this is my team so just play defense and we’ll be all right.’ No, they give me the ball right away because they trust and believe in me, and maybe that’s why I got a good season.

Q: What are your expectations for the coming playoffs?
Nicolas Batum: Just to go out there and show that we have a good team. We know the Hornets didn’t win a game and got swept the last two times they were in the playoffs, so we don’t want that this year for this franchise.

Q: Do you find it odd that Portland has done so well and have pretty much an identical record to the Hornets this season?
Nicolas Batum: It shows the quality of Terry Stotts in terms of management and coaching and how big a star Damian Lillard is. They have a great crowd, but all the credit is down to Terry Stotts. They lost four starters and have a young team, but they are fifth in the West. It shows Terry Stotts has done a great job.

Q: Will you be joining the French National Team when they come to Manila for the Olympic qualifiers this summer?
Nicolas Batum: That’s a good question, and right now I don’t know yet. We’re still in the NBA season and there is free agency and stuff like that, so we are still talking about it. But I’m going to do everything I can to be there, for sure.

Q: We were happy to have you in Johannesburg for the Africa Game last year. It was really exciting. Do you feel African players and players of African descent will have a bigger impact in the NBA going forward? I look at players like yourself, Bismack Biyombo and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Nicolas Batum: I hope, because we have a lot of great, young players in Africa. There is potential in Africa, so I hope that there are more and more African people, African young players, men and women, who can come and be effective in the basketball world, in the NBA or WNBA or every major league in the world. There are more and more young kids coming and they have more talent, and I think it’s just the beginning.

Q: Locally, the Raptors have DeMarre Carroll coming back from injury, a guy who you’ve gone up against a lot. He’s a player similar to yourself, who gets it done on the defensive end, but also helps stretch the floor. How important is a role like that going into playoff basketball?
Nicolas Batum: I think with every good team you have more and more like these type of guys. I think it’s useful to have a guy who can affect the game on both ends of the floor, or don’t just have a lockdown defender who can’t do anything on offense. Guys like him, I know he’s been great the last two years for the Hawks and the Raptors. A guy like [Andre] Iguodala last year who did it in the NBA Finals. You’ve got Kawhi Leonard, who can affect the floor on both ends. You’ve got Paul George, you’ve got LeBron [James], you’ve got all those guys. I think you need these wings who can affect the game on both ends. That’s huge for being a good team.

Q: Did you see a new video for Kemba Walker for his case for the Most Improved Player? Could you describe what it’s like to play with him and how do you describe your relationship with him?
Nicolas Batum: I mean, it’s great to play with him. I knew him – I watched him play the first time in college with UConn when he won the championship. You could see already he was special and very good, and to play with him is great. He wants to win and he’s going to do whatever it takes to win a game. And I’ve got a good relationship being in the backcourt with him. He gives me the ball and doesn’t just take the ball to do his thing. Sometimes, ‘OK, Nico, take it and try to create for us.’ So we have this good relationship and find good balance in our games together.

Q: Your Hornets were considered a fringe playoff team when the season started. You now have a shot at [the fifth playoff seed]. How does that happen? What’s your secret?
Nicolas Batum: Since day one, the first day of training camp, the coach [Steve Clifford] said, ‘We can be a top five team in the East, now go out there and prove it.’ I think we believed in it because we have a good team, we have good players, we have a good roster, we have a good coaching staff. So we knew we could do it, but we just have to go out there, play hard and prove it, and we did it all year long.

Q: While Boris Diaw is busy trying to zoom himself out of the planet and Tony Parker opened up a local food truck in San Antonio, it seems French NBA players have a lot of hobbies. So, from a business perspective, how do you evaluate yourself as a businessman and in what area are you most interested in?
Nicolas Batum: I’m starting some projects. I haven’t done anything yet, but I’m working on it, for sure. I know some other players and some French athletes, we produced a movie that is going to come out in a couple of months, so I’m in the movie business now. Yes, I’m thinking about doing some stuff. We have a lot of time here and opportunities to do stuff like that, so for sure I’m going to do it.

Q: Since the end of January, you guys are at 25-9, the third-best record in the league behind the Warriors and the Spurs in that period. Is there anything that you can pinpoint, any adjustments that you guys made that sort of started this run heading into the playoffs? And also back of that, do you guys feel that the teams are really sleeping on you guys coming into the playoffs?
Nicolas Batum: You know in January we had a very, very bad month. We had injuries, a bad stretch, so that was tough for us. And we have a meeting like, in the last two weeks of January with the coach and MJ – Michael Jordan. We just talked. We figured out what was happening. I think Michael Jordan found the good words to put us back on track. He talked about his experience, what he’s been through, because he told us he had been through that himself. So we regrouped that day, we said, ‘OK, we had bad stretches, but we have to get back on track and win games,’ and we did it, and that is where we are.

Q: What are your thoughts on Kobe? Do you have any lasting memories?
Nicolas Batum: Everyone is talking about it here with only one game remaining in his career. He will leave an indelible mark on the league and the history of the NBA. He is one of the best players to ever play and has marked a whole generation of players. He has been at the top of his game for 20 years and it will be very strange to think that we will never see him again grace a court. I think we all need to cherish these final moments because players like him do not come along every 10 years.

Q: You are now considered as one of the best passers in the league, and you also have accomplished triple-doubles this season. What makes you just fit in the new team so well?
Nicolas Batum: When I got traded, I just watched video of my new teammates. I wanted to know how they play, where they want the ball, how they move, how they shoot. I also talked to them when I got there because I wanted to have this chemistry right away with them. I think I adjusted my game to everybody. That was a good connection. That’s why we find a good way, and those guys understand how to move when I got the ball, to cut harder when I got the ball, and that’s easy for me to find them.

Watch the 2015-16 NBA Playoffs live on BT Sport or via NBA LEAGUE PASS at www.nba.tv.

Source: Pitch London
Image: Getty/NBA