There are some old-school observers of the game who believe that a player’s ultimate destiny in the league is clearly visible after their first three seasons. However, if you tried to apply this line of thinking to Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, the assessment wouldn’t be accurate.
As a rookie during the 2012-13 campaign, Bazemore logged just 267 total minutes in 61 appearances for the Golden State Warriors. After his rookie campaign, Bazemore was more known for his end of the bench celebrations than his contributions on the floor, which culminated in the forward being motion captured for the NBA 2K14 video game.
During his second season, Bazemore saw even less run with the Warriors and was subsequently shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline in exchange for Steve Blake and MarShon Brooks. In 23 games with the Lakers, the signs of potential started to emerge as he averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists. In free agency that summer, Bazemore inked a modest two-year, $4 million deal to join the Atlanta Hawks.
What’s transpired since July 2014 has undoubtedly surprised many.
After thriving in a supporting role during the Hawks’ 60-win 2014-15 campaign, Bazemore became a full-time starter last season and responded with a career-year. He averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 36 percent from three-point range (on 109 makes).
Bazemore’s breakthrough campaign pushed the former Old Dominion standout to the front of the line as a highly sought after free agent this past summer. But after entertaining and weighing overtures from multiple other suitors around the league, Bazemore elected to re-sign with the Hawks on a four-year deal worth $70 million.
For a guy once known more for his towel-waving, the financial commitment Atlanta invested in him seemingly put a definitive stamp on his hard work and personal sacrifice.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” Bazemore told Basketball Insiders on securing his new deal. “Working hard your entire life to stick around in the league. It’s hard to get here, but it’s even harder to stay around. For me, it was huge – to be able to cement yourself and know you’re going to be in one place for a real chunk of time.”
Bazemore was surrounded by friends when his deal became official, but the first call he placed was back home to his mother to inform her of the life-changing news.
“My mom [was my first call],” Bazemore said. “I was with everyone else, I was actually at a wedding in Chicago when it happened. I called my mom and she was going crazy [along] with my little brother.
“It’s a great moment in our culture when things like that happen, it’s a huge moment for everyone. Everyone that grew up with me, everyone that has been there, it’s always a huge moment. It was just a time to rejoice and put a smile on someone’s face.”
Bazemore’s points, rebounds and assists stats this season, on the surface, are in line with last season’s production. However, there has been noticeable deterioration in his field goal percentage (44 to 36 percent) and three-point marksmanship (36 to 29 percent).
The fifth-year veteran maintains he isn’t pressing and trying to do too much after inking the new contract this past summer and believes that his shooting stroke will return once the team gets into a more consistent rhythm.
“The synergy hasn’t been as good as we like it,” Bazemore said. “Basketball has a very distinct synergy and when the ball’s moving, guys are moving, bodies are moving, it shocks our rhythm. A lot of us find ourselves taking not so good shots, maybe a shot we could have passed, or whatever. It’s just a combination of a lot of things, but we’re still working. I’m still in the gym, still in the weight room, doing everything I can to help my team get some wins.”
The 2016-17 Hawks have been one of the league’s toughest riddles to solve during the early going. The team roared to a 9-2 start to begin the campaign, but have since dropped 10 of their past 11 contests – including seven straight defeats.
Are the Hawks closer to their hot start or has reality set in, putting their streak of nine consecutive playoff appearances in jeopardy?
“We’re trying to figure that out,” Bazemore said. “We’ve been really good and really bad – we know we’re capable of both. We’ve taken the right measures to try and turn it around, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
“I think each game we played a lot better for a longer period of time, it’s just about putting it together for 48 minutes. Watching film, meetings and working, just getting back in the gym. We’ve been on the road for a while, so it’s good to be home and get back into your own practice gym, feel that hunger, that grit, and get ready to play again.”
The Hawks will attempt to end their current seven-game losing streak at home on Wednesday versus the injury-ravaged Miami HEAT.
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