Philadelphia 76ers’ Nicolas Batum hails Victor Wembanyama as ROTY ahead of Paris 2024: “This might be his worst season; that’s scary” (Exclusive)

Well before Victor Wembanyama mesmerized NBA fans with his rim protection, passing and dunks, Sixers forward Nicolas Batum often projected the French phenom’s greatness to anyone who would listen.

Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers’ Nicolas Batum looks forward to captaining Victor Wembanyama at Paris 2024 Olympics

No surprise then that Batum considers it’s “pretty much set” that Wembanyama will win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award as the league’s rookie leader in points (20.7), rebounds (10.4) and blocks (3.4). Batum hardly cares that the Spurs (16-56) entered Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns (42-30) with the NBA’s third-worst record. Batum sensed, however, that Wembanyama has not even flashed his full potential just yet.

“This might be his worst season of his career,” Batum told Sportskeeda. “That’s scary.”

Nicolas Batum interview

Following the Sixers’ 121-107 win over the LA Clippers on Sunday, Batum spoke to Sportskeeda briefly about facing his former team, how the team has adjusted without Joel Embiid and his fit with the Sixers’ star big man.

Editor’s note: The following one-on-one conversation has been edited and condensed.

How do you put your return against the Clippers in perspective with seeing your former teammates, but having a healthy scratch?

Nicolas Batum:

“It’s a business. It’s cliché, but it is. You do whatever. You do your job. That’s what I do. So today I was rooting for my team to win no matter who we played against, and we had a good win.”

How do you think the team has managed everything for the last 7 weeks without Joel Embiid?

Nicolas Batum:

“It’s not easy. We didn’t give up. We’ve had bad games, for sure. But we keep playing. We try to get games like today [against the Clippers] as much as we can. But it’s not easy to be without your best player. But we still have guys that are good players and that are finding ways to win.”

What do you think all of this means in the big picture?

Nicolas Batum:

“That’s a good question. We’ll find out. We’re going to find a way to battle. We’re going to keep fighting. We’re not going to give up.”

How has Joel handled everything with being out for so long?

Nicolas Batum:

“He’s fine. He’s going to be okay. He’s a great player, so no one is worried about that. He’s talking to every guy. He’s texting us. He’s calling. He’s talking. He’s present in practice on the bench. He’s a good leader, and he’s doing his job.”

Before Joel’s injury, Nick [Nurse] observed how you complement him really well as a passer. How have you seen that chemistry forge?

Nicolas Batum:

“It’s easy to play with a guy like that. With the way he plays, it’s incredible. To play with him pretty much makes my job super easy. I just have to fit in and find him inside the paint. He’s that good. This is my job now. My job pretty much is to make sure that I’m a connector. With playing with the best player on my team, I just make sure that they can do their job and make their life easy. That extends to [Tyrese] Maxey, Tobias [Harris] and Kelly Oubre [Jr.]. That’s my job now. It’s pretty easy. I just cut and give them space. I know my role and my spot and my space to play around them.”

How about defensively? Nick remarked he’s always throwing you on the team’s best defensive player.

Nicolas Batum:

“That’s a good question. That’s been pretty much my job for the last 10 years now. I don’t have the same legs now, but I still try to do it. It really depends on matchups and depends on the game. With a small guy, I have to be smarter and not rush myself. With a big guy, I have to be quicker than them. It’s pretty much different with each position. But I have to find a way every time.

In what ways do you try to make things difficult for who you’re defending?

Nicolas Batum:

“You have to make them work. One thing that I learned in this league is that you can’t stop those guys. You won’t be able to stop them, anyway. They’re going to find their way to get 20-25 shots per game. You just have to make them work as possible.”

With how well Wemby has played this season, how do you think the Rookie of the Year race will shape out?

Nicolas Batum:

“I think the Rookie of the Year race is pretty much set. That’s what people say, and I think it is. I saw Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] say something one time, and I agree with him. He said, ‘Maybe this will be the worst season of Wemby.’ Can you imagine? This might be the worst season of his career. That’s scary.”

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