Many of Nicolas Batum’s new teammates gained a better sense of his game Monday night when he debuted for the Sixers and scored 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting in a win over the Wizards.
Patrick Beverley didn’t need to learn anything, though.
Beverley, who faced Batum at the 2007 FIBA U-19 World Cup and played with him on the 2020-21 Clippers, knows all about the veteran forward’s style of play.
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“High-IQ basketball player,” Beverley said. “Plays the game the right way. When you have a player like that who is very unselfish, it makes it easier for everybody else around him. Me, him and (Furkan) Korkmaz are out there together — very high-IQ basketball players who know how to play the game the right way. It’s been fun.”
Batum’s intelligence indeed shined Monday, including on his first made three-pointer.
Instead of cutting all the way through from the wing, Batum recognized Washington’s defensive confusion and concern about Joel Embiid, then relocated to the corner. Beverley fed him for an in-rhythm jumper.
Batum claimed to have little understanding of the Sixers’ schemes.
“It was fun. I had no idea what to do out there,” he said with a laugh. “I had a quick 45 minutes yesterday. That was a day off, so I just came in and went through some plays with coaches for 45 minutes. I got a quick shootaround this morning. And I watched the last two games, tried to get to know (the team).
“But I just tried to go out there and play. When you play with guys like Joel or Tyrese (Maxey), Tobias (Harris), Pat Bev, guys who are very good at basketball and also very high-IQ, it’s just easy to play the game. Just play the game and find the good spots. Just easy.”
The 34-year-old’s reads were largely on the money vs. the Wizards. He was savvy about sensing an opportunity to unearth a steal, slid into the right areas to accommodate Embiid, and adapted to teammates that have far more knowledge of head coach Nick Nurse’s principles.
Nurse called a play for Batum to begin the second quarter, asking him to sprint off down screens from Jaden Springer and Paul Reed, and the Sixers got three points out of it.
“Most of it was just him,” Nurse said. “He does things quickly. That’s one thing that stood out to me tonight. … He inbounds the ball quickly; he cuts quickly; he turns and gets his feet set quickly. He does things at a super quick rate but under control. That was good. He looked full of confidence. And I like some of the things I see defensively out there, too. He’s a good communicator out there.”
Beverley is appreciative of Batum being his teammate again.
“He’s the best,” Beverley said. “Nico, man … his son was his daughter’s (current) age when I left the Clippers, and his daughter wasn’t even born. She’s three years old now. Me and Nico have a very different relationship — like brothers — so I’m just happy he’s on our side. I’m very fortunate.”
Leadership far from a solo job
Batum, who captains the French men’s national team, has well-established leadership credentials.
Maxey is clearly at a different phase in his career.
Days after celebrating his 23rd birthday, Maxey had his postgame media scrum interrupted Monday because Embiid wanted to show him something on his phone. Maxey dutifully took a look before resuming with reporters.
Still, it’s increasingly apparent that Maxey’s voice matters on the Sixers. Nurse is encouraging the fourth-year guard to grow as both a lead ball handler and a leader.
“He’s done a good job. He never stops talking. Nah, I’m just playing,” Harris said Tuesday with a grin. “He’s growing into a vocal leader. Those things take time. It takes confidence as well. He’s somebody that has a lot of confidence. You can just see that in the way that he plays and his shotmaking ability, but everybody on the team trusts him to run the show.
“We trust him to have the rock in his hands to make the right decisions and so over time, with that being instilled in him … he’s going to get to that point where he is that point guard, that vocal leader and everything you look for. … The leadership starts with just coming in and doing the best you every day. He’s one of the first guys in the gym, last guy to leave, so everybody understands what he puts into the game and he’s not just talking the talk. He backs it up as well.”
Through six games, Maxey has averaged 25.5 points, 7.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and only 1.2 turnovers.
He dished out a career-high 11 assists against Washington. Each of the final seven went to Embiid as the Sixers scored over and over on the Maxey-Embiid side pick-and-roll.
That’s the action they ran to begin the second half, which wasn’t a coincidence. Embiid thought they should lean on that play and Nurse agreed.
“I think that when you’re out there in a game as a player, you can see and feel certain things,” Nurse said. “And if guys are seeing and feeling certain things, I certainly want them to communicate that to the coaching staff. As much as we are studying and watch all the tape, see all the things, know how to play certain coverages, there is always a feedback of what they can do.
“So yeah, he told me that at halftime. He said, ‘They can’t stop the side pick-and-roll.’ And I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ So we did it.”
The Sixers stuck with it and the Wizards never conjured any answers.
“I think that takes a little time to develop,” Nurse said of using players’ feedback. “But I will say this: Even back to the mid-90s, when I started coaching professional basketball, that’s what I enjoyed about it. ‘What do you see? What can we do better to help you?’ I really enjoy that part about it. Again, these guys are super high-level players, they put a lot into the game, they’re intelligent.
“I just want to be as good as we can be, and that takes everybody — everybody’s concentration, everybody’s ideas, everybody’s thoughts. So I’ve always tried to have those types of conversations.”