A presumed Eastern Conference playoff team is already dealing with some adversity.
On Thursday, it was announced that Charlotte Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum will miss at least 6-to-8 weeks after an MRI revealed a torn ligament in his left (non-shooting) elbow.
Batum suffered the injury in the first minute of Wednesday’s preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. He is in the second year of a massive five-year, $120 million deal with the Hornets.
"He just got tangled up," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford told reporters Thursday, per the Associated Press. "It was one of those kind of contact/collision plays where his arm got stuck between two guys. He was in a lot of pain.”
Some NBA insiders reported that the timeline for his return might even approach 12 weeks, which would be a large chunk of the season.
Batum took to Twitter to explain that his injury shouldn’t make Hornets fans too worried because the team’s roster is deep.
Along with Kemba Walker, newcomer Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams, Batum was a part of one of the most talented starting fives in the Eastern Conference. Despite Batum’s words, the team has clear depth concerns and will now be tested immediately.
The two most likely candidates to replace Batum in the starting five are Jeremy Lamb and rookie Malik Monk, but it looks like Clifford has already made his choice.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing; Nic was having such a good offseason,” Clifford noted via the Charlotte Observer. “But that’s why you have a 14- or 15-man roster. Jeremy has had a good summer. Now is his opportunity to expand on that.”
The 25-year-old Lamb is entering his sixth season in the NBA. Last year, he averaged 9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 18.4 minutes over 62 regular-season games. His career-high in minutes came in his sophomore season back in 2013-2014 when he logged 19.7 minutes per game as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, when he received an opportunity to start last season for five games, he thrived, posting 15.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists over 30.2 minutes. He has also been on fire this preseason, posting 17 points, 8 rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes against the Boston Celtics and then 18 points, three rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes against the Pistons.
Therefore, he could very reasonably emerge as a viable replacement for Batum until he returns. The larger concern is what effect taking Lamb off the second unit will have on the team's ability to score when the starters are off the court.