Author: Kurt Helin

Nicolas Batum

Hornets have big expectations for G Nicolas Batum

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Coach Steve Clifford is intrigued with what he’s seen in training camp from guard Nicolas Batum and expects the seven-year NBA veteran to play a major role with the Charlotte Hornets this season.

Clifford anticipates that Batum’s scoring output will increase noticeably, and expects him to be one of the team’s top three scorers along with center Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker.

“Why not? I know I can,” Batum said with a simple shrug of the shoulders.

Batum has often been the fourth option in Portland.

The Hornets acquired Batum in an offseason trade from the Trail Blazers for Gerald Henderson and 2014 first-round draft pick Noah Vonleh. He’s scheduled to open the season at the No. 2 spot for Charlotte because Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be starting at small forward.

Clifford has been looking for a consistent third scorer who can shoot from the outside. Batum is a 36.3 percent career 3-point shooter, although he had down season in 2014-15.

They swung and missed last season with free agent signee Lance Stephenson, a bad fit who was jettisoned after just one season.

Judging from practice, Clifford thinks Batum will fare better.

“For his career he has always been around 13 or 14 points per game, but I think he will get more play calls here,” Clifford said. “The big thing isn’t necessarily the number but how efficient he is – and I think he will play very efficiently.”

Batum played in 481 games in seven seasons with the Trail Blazers, averaging 11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists and shot 44.6 percent from the field.

He also brings added playoff experience having appeared in 34 postseason games for Portland and averaging 10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

Batum’s numbers fell off slightly last season while he battled through injuries, but the 6-foot-7 Frenchman still managed to play 71 games and average 9.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists.

“He’s a creator,” Clifford said. “To me he does all of the things you can’t teach. He knows where the ball should go. He’s a terrific passer who can play off the dribble. When you watch him play he already knows this guy can do this, this guy can do that. His feel for the game is just so good.”

That comes from a lot of film study.

On the first day of practice, Batum walked into Clifford’s office and asked him about a particular defensive concept. Clifford looked at him puzzled, knowing the team had yet to talk about it, let alone begin to install it in practice.

“I was like, `Where did you see that?” Clifford said. “And he said, `Oh, I was just going through the playbook.”‘

Batum said he likes to be prepared.

He’s spent two months watching tape of his teammates so he could get to know their tendencies.

And he likes what he’s seen.

The Hornets made the playoffs two seasons ago with a 43-39 record, but were left out of the postseason last season.

“I am so excited to play here,” Batum said. “I don’t think people realize how good we can be…. I’m not saying we’re going to win 55 games this year, but it’s going to be different.”

Minnesota forward Nemanja Bjelica’s nickname: “Professor Big Shots”

Nemanja Bjelica of the Minnesota Timberwolves Press Conference
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He’s no Robert Horry yet, but that’s a good goal to set.

If you watched a lot of EuroBasket like we did, you got a good look at rookie Minnesota forward Nemanja Bjelica. The 2010 draft pick was the EuroLeague MVP last season and at EuroBasket led Serbia to a top four finish averaging a team-high 13.9 points a game on 56 percent shooting, and he hit 37.5 percent from three. But maybe what people remember best is the game-winner over Germany.

That earned him a nickname, reports Jerry Zgoda at the Star-Tribune (hat tip Ball Don’t Lie):

When it rolls off his tongue, it sounds something like, “Nem-en-ya Bee-a-lihzt-ah.” When others say it, it sounds like everything from “Nah-man-jah” to “Bah-jell-ah-kah.”

By any pronunciation, they know him as the 2015 Euroleague MVP and a star at the recently completed Eurobasket championships whom many called just “Professor Big Shots” because of its simplicity.

That is awesome.

But it’s one thing to be professor big shots in Europe, it’s another thing entirely to do it in the NBA. If he can live up to that, Minnesota will have another young stud to go with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Russell Westbrook notices more space to operate in Donovan’s offense

Russell Westbrook

Billy Donovan was not brought in to replace Scott Brooks as coach because he has better hair.

It was all about the offense. The sense had long been that Brooks ran a too-conservative, old-school offense that could be defended. Sure, the Thunder have had a top 10 NBA offense since 2008-09 (and the top rated offense in the NBA in 2012-13), but that was because of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and in spite of the sets, according to critics. It’s part of what led to playoff downfalls.

Is Donovan’s offense that different? Westbrook says yes, he can feel the space, he told Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman.

The Thunder are betting on Donovan to be Steve Kerr 2.0, although clearly Westbrook and Durant (and Serge Ibaka) just staying healthy is a big part of that. Donovan was brought in to show Durant the organization wants the best and is serious about winning — so please don’t leave. They want a more modern offense while keeping a focus on defense, just like Kerr provided in the Bay Area.

Kerr coached brilliantly last season, but he also had a lot of things — including health — break his way. Donovan should be so fortunate.