The Charlotte Hornets suffered yet another blow in their Game 2 loss against the Miami Heat, as swingman Nicolas Batum went down with an ankle sprain. According to Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Batum is expected to miss the remainder of the first-round series, which may not last much longer against the scorching Heat.
Hornets F Nicolas Batum expected to miss rest of 1st-round series vs Heat, league sources tell @clevelanddotcom. X-Ray revealed no fracture.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) April 21, 2016
The setback for Batum is merely the latest in what was an injury-ravaged season for the Buzz. The defensive-minded wing, who was acquired via trade from the Portland Trail Blazers prior to the season, struggled in January while missing eight games. Those inconsistencies carried over to February, but Batum really turned it on in March by posting an 18-6-6 stat line.
He figured to be a key cog for Charlotte in the postseason, but now the Hornets will be forced to go even deeper into their bench.
The first major absence head coach Steve Clifford had to work around came in the form of 22-year-old small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The former No. 2 overall pick was sidelined until late January due to offseason shoulder surgery.
When the youngster returned, he made a huge impact immediately as a rebounder, lockdown defender and, to a lesser extent, contributing scorer. In an admittedly limited seven-game sample size before MKG tore the labrum in the same surgically-repaired right shoulder while diving for a loose ball — forcing him out for the remainder of the 2015-16 campaign — Charlotte’s team defense was stifling.
Opponents scored nearly seven fewer points per 100 possessions when Kidd-Gilchrist was on the court defending this season. The effective field goal percentage, rebound percentage and assist percentage of opposing teams against the MKG-led Hornets were also vastly inferior by comparison.
Playing without Kidd-Gilchrist for 75 of a possible 82 games this season would seem like a death knell to Charlotte’s playoff hopes, but the team rallied to grab the No. 6 seed.
Unfortunately, the Eastern Conference upstart simply won’t be anywhere close to full strength for the rest of the opening round series against Miami. Already facing an 0-2 series deficit, it’s time for fans (and the higher-ups within the organization) to look forward to the offseason and the roster getting healthy.
That being said, free agency will bring about a fair amount of questions for Michael Jordan’s crew. Batum, former All-NBA Third Team center Al Jefferson (who missed 35 games of his own) and Marvin Williams — who experienced a resurgence with Charlotte as a stretch 4 who sunk 40.2 percent of his three-pointers this season — are all set to see their contracts expire.
The front office has some tough decisions to make with regard to who it brings back or lets walk. Big Al is still only 31 years old, but he suffered through arguably the worst season of his professional career while being relegated to 18 starts in 2015-16.
Batum played fantastically for stretches, but he could command a hefty payday as a coveted “three-and-D” wing player (think of guys like DeMarre Carroll last summer). Williams has likely earned a raise as well, but it’s unlikely the Hornets want to head into the 2016-17 without making some upgrades.
Kemba Walker blossomed to lead the charge in his fifth year as a pro, so he and MKG should be the primary pieces management builds around. Look for the Hornets to be aggressive on the market this summer, and perhaps pray to Lady Luck that they won’t be sapped by injuries again next season.