Kent Bazemore didn’t even get a DraftExpress blurb following his last year at Old Dominion. He got one after his Junior season, talking about his decent stroke and instincts around the hoop, including nods to his great physical tools. He also won the Left Driesell Award that year, given to the best defensive player in college basketball. It says that with a very good Senior campaign, he could generate some chatter in the draft. That didn’t happen. He shot 40.7% from the field scoring 15.4 points his final college season and went undrafted in 2012. He played with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Orlando Summer League, and the Golden State Warriors in Vegas. July of that year, he signed with the latter, a 23-win team with an injured point guard that had just drafted Festus Ezeli, Michigan State product Draymond Green, and another (significantly more hyped) wing player named Harrison Barnes.
Bazemore didn’t start a single game with the Warriors, bouncing between Oakland and their Santa Cruz D-League affiliate the entire first year. All told, he was a Warrior for 105 games from 2012-13. Shooting a dismal 37.1% in his two years. he witnessed the infancy of the Golden State monster from the bench, becoming famous among fans for his exuberant celebrations and smiling demeanor. He never saw them hit the peak, though, getting traded off to Los Angeles for Steve Blake during the 2013-14 campaign. There were a number of reasons he didn’t work in Golden State–a bit of a jam at his position, limited opportunity, and not being used right among them. In LA, his minutes leaped from 6.1 to 28.0 per game, and he got way better. In 23 games, he shot 45.1% from the field, averaging a respectable 3.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. He was always ready to be a solid defender, but he also turned into a usable offensive piece. From there, he found his way to Atlanta, and to more success.
In the Atlanta system, Bazemore found his place after a winding NBA path. Suddenly, an unusable towel-waver was handed the keys to his own destiny on a playoff team, and rightfully so. How?
We’ve already touched on how Bazemore didn’t shoot well or see the court much with Golden State. However, his profile talked a lot about upside that Warriors fans didn’t see much of. Mostly, we saw stuff like this from the bench:
And we loved him for it. When he went to the Lakers, it made a lot of fans sad, but the team needed a backup point guard, and there just weren’t minutes for Kent on the team. He’d have to flourish somewhere else. More specifically, he wasn’t used right on the Warriors.
By now, most NBA fans know that Mark Jackson ran an iso-heavy offense with the Warriors. Incidentally, this created the opposite of an ideal situation for a young Bazemore, given his skill set. It caused him to take a ton of long twos and threes, and generate his own offense, none of which are pronounced strengths. A staggering 34.5% of Bazemore’s shots his first year in Golden State were 2-pointers beyond 16 feet, and only 24.2% of his twos were assisted (50% of his threes). His average shot distance was 16.3 feet, per Basketball Reference. He played decent one on one wing defense, but he could easily get lost in the team scheme. Part of this is due to his splits on position. Jackson stuck him in exactly the wrong combination of roles, using him as a combo guard. Bazemore’s minutes were split 21%/75%/4% PG/SG/SF his first season. That’s not who he is. He doesn’t have the passing or dribbling skillset to be handed the reins to the offense like that, and definitely didn’t back then.
Moving to Mike D’Antoni’s more flowing offense helped Bazemore on the Lakers. He spent most of his time at the 3, with some time at the 2 mixed in. He got more efficient and played more to his strengths; defense, cuts, putbacks, and became the athletic, smart, energy player DraftExpress said he was back in 2011. All of that came to a head when he moved to Atlanta in 2014 on a 2yr/$4 million contract.
In his first season of 1000+ NBA minutes, Bazemore spent virtually all of his time as a swingman, his natural spot in the league. That year, he split 74%/25% SG/SF. He shot a decent 42.6%, and what’s more, he took his shots in a motion offense that catered well to the player he should be. He got better looks at the rim and cut his average shot duistance to 12.9 feet, and was completely unburdened of self-generated offense by sharing the floor off-ball with more polished playmakers. His first season with the Hawks, 62.4% of his 2-pointers were assisted (and 93.8% of his 3s). He also developed into a far better wing defender, learning to use his athleticism to lock up slashers and get his hands into passing lanes. After all, he’s got a 6’11 wingspan.
This year, Bazemore stepped into an even greater role with Atlanta. In 2015-16, he played 27.8 minutes per game over 75 games, for a total of 2083 on the year. His position time stayed about the same, inverted between SG/SF (25%/75%). He boosted his efficiency again, bumping it up to a 44.1% from the field, 37.5% from three, and 81.5% from the free-throw line. He also drove to the basket more than ever, and generated free throws at a career-high rate. He allowed most of his shots to be assisted again, sporting a 30.1% frequency rate of spot up attempts, with a 51.9% true-shooting percentage and .99 points per possession. He also executed well in transition, seeing 23.4% of his attempts come on the run, sporting a 1.07 PPP mark. For context, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, of the transition-savant 2015-16 Warriors, came in at 1.24 and1.22. Significantly better, but a hell of a lot closer than you would have guessed three years ago. Harrison Barnes, the Warriors’ other wing from the 2012 Draft and Dallas’ $94 million man, clocked in at 1.13. His defense got better again, amassing 3.8 defensive win shares. He also led the Hawks in deflected balls in the playoffs this year.
What all this amounts to is a player who, unheralded on his entry on the league, couldn’t find his spot on a team that contained the seeds of one of the best teams ever because of a positional logjam, a coach who didn’t use him right, and some pure bad luck. Through some hard work and untapped talent, he started to find himself on a terrible Lakers squad two years into his quiet NBA career. After that, he ended up on the right team, with the right needs, with the right coach, at the right time, and improved into a good player on a good team in the role he’s built to play. To cap it off, he did all this at a position that’s at a premium right when the cap leaped upwards. Now he’s sporting a shiny, new 4 yr/$70 million contract with Atlanta, after being a 5 minutes per game footnote his first two years. A lot of success, even in the NBA where everyone is gifted, comes from a combination of hard work and timing. Bazemore always had the former; he had the latter when he headed to Atlanta. He’s heavily involved in the community, he’s still excitable as a 3 year old on a sugar rush on the bench, and he smiles a whole lot. He’s still the man that Warriors fans loved him for being; now he’s the player we hoped he would be too.
This city, the people, the fans, the Hawks organization and my teammates have made this HOME for me.
4 years ago, Kent Bazemore was worth one sentence on his draft profile. In 2016, he’s found home, and he’s worth a hell of a lot more.