Why Nic Batum would be great free agent fit for Bulls originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The 2022 NBA Draft is on Thursday. The free agent negotiating window opens one week later.
And the rumor mill is spinning in kind.
The latest entry for Chicago Bulls fans to monitor comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports, who reports that the Bulls — along with the Lakers, Celtics, Suns and Jazz — "will have strong interest" in Nicolas Batum, who is expected to decline his $3.3 million player option with the Clippers for the 2022-23 season and become a free agent.
While the Clippers remain in the "driver's seat" of negotiations, according to Haynes, let's take a moment to explore Batum's potential fit with the Bulls. Spoiler alert: There's a lot to like.
Batum came to prominence as a dynamic, playmaking wing during his time in Portland (2008-2015) and Charlotte (2015-2020). But during his two-season renaissance with the Clippers, he's molded himself into a prototypical modern power forward with the ability to even man small-ball center minutes in certain matchups.
Defensively, Batum has flashed a swiss army knife skill set while with the Clippers. Standing 6-foot-8 with a reported 7-1 wingspan, he has the ability to check prolific scoring wings one-on-one, play passing and driving lanes for deflections, and even protect the rim. He averaged 1 steal and 0.7 blocks in 59 games with Los Angeles last season.
It's no secret that adding frontcourt depth is high on the list of priorities for the Bulls this offseason. When Patrick Williams was healthy and starting at power forward last season, reserve frontcourt minutes were allotted mostly to Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr. and Tristan Thompson.
While the Bulls found moments of success with those players, and playing small with Alex Caruso or DeMar DeRozan acting as the functional power forward, Jones Jr. and Thompson's contracts are up, and Batum is steadier at both ends than any of the team's in-house options for frontcourt depth. He'd also allow for significantly more schematic flexibility than the Bulls had last season, even at their height.
The Bulls finished last season dead last in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game (28.8) and 29th in 3-pointers made per game (10.6). And although their 3-point percentage of 36.9 ranked fourth, even that dipped after Lonzo Ball (42.9 percent from 3 on 7.4 attempts per game) was lost to injury, especially down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs.
Batum is no gunner from long range. But he's been a reliable jump-shooter for the majority of his career, and has been a knockdown spot-up threat for the Clippers for the last two seasons. In 2021-22, he shot 40 percent from 3-point land on 4.6 attempts per game, the latter of which would have ranked fourth on the Bulls. That followed a 2020-21 campaign in which he drilled 40.4 percent from 3 on 4.1 attempts per contest.
Combine that outside shooting touch with a reputation of being a smart passer when called upon, and he projects to perfectly complement the Bulls' star scorers at both ends.
Batum, 34, is a 14-year NBA veteran with 58 games of playoff experience, including 19 in 2021 when he was an integral cog in the Clippers' improbable run to the Western Conference finals.
Yes, it can be argued that his age could foreshadow a looming physical drop-off. But if last season showed anything, it's that the Bulls could use more veteran minds around the team as they look to build on the franchise's first playoff berth in five years (which ended in a five-game first-round defeat). Outside of Caruso and DeRozan, the Bulls don't have a player under contract that has played beyond the second round of the playoffs.
Batum, meanwhile, has seen a lot in his playing days, and comes with a sterling locker-room reputation. On the court, he'd boost the Bulls' depth and two-way versatility. Off of it, he's the type of veteran that could help this group take the next mental step as well.