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NBA PM: Bazemore Playing Best Basketball of Career

Kent Bazemore has stepped up since taking on a bigger role with the Atlanta Hawks this season.

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Kent Bazemore is Playing the Best Basketball of his Career

Each year, a number of NBA players take that next step in their development to elevate their game to the next level. These players typically see a spike in playing time, which helps produce bigger numbers.

Injuries sometimes play a factor in earning a bigger role, while other times that “next man up” mantra sets in after the departure of a key player. Regardless of the situation, there always seems to be a guy that plays his way into a meaningful role with a team.

For the Atlanta Hawks this season, that player seems to be fourth-year forward Kent Bazemore. It seems the departure of DeMarre Carroll has opened up a hole in the lineup for Bazemore. He’s in his second season in a Hawks uniform, and he has taken his increased role and made the most out of it.

He’s a similar player to Carroll. They are similar in size and both have developed into excellent defenders. They both like being tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player and making life difficult for them on the court.

Carroll was the starter last season for the Hawks, which didn’t leave much playing time for Bazemore. He appeared in 75 games last season, but averaged just under 18 minutes per game. He chipped in 5.2 points, three rebounds and one assist per game, but clearly didn’t have a huge role with the team. It seems as though Bazemore stood to benefit the most with Carroll opting to sign with the Toronto Raptors over the offseason.

Many wondered how the loss of Carroll would impact the Hawks. After all, this was a team that won 60 games last season and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. They became such a successful team by having a stout defense that ranked inside the top 10 in efficiency.

So far, Bazemore has stepped up and helped ease the transition for the Hawks this season. He’s improved in every statistical category and is posting career-high numbers across the board. His points have increased from 5.2 to 12.8 per game, his rebounds have increased from three to 4.4 per game, his assists are up to 2.2 per game and his steals have doubled from 0.7 to 1.4 per game.

But the biggest improvement has come in his shooting. His 48 percent shooting from the field is up from 42.6 percent last season, and his 41 percent shooting from three-point range is also an improvement from 36.4 percent. He made 48 three-pointers during all of last season in 75 games, while he’s already knocked down 34 three-pointers in just 24 games this season.

“I’m just getting comfortable,” Bazemore told Basketball Insiders. “This is my fourth year in the league and I’ve been around a lot. I kind of know the grind of an 82-game season; I know I got to take care of my body. I know how to efficiently work out now. I don’t go into the gym and just go balls to the wall a lot of the time. I know how to reserve a little bit of gas in the tank.”

While he wants to be known as a great defender, Bazemore also wants to become a better all-around player. He has always been a player that has brought a ton of energy and effort on the defensive end, but he wants that to also translate to the other side of the ball as well. He worked over the summer to better his game offensively, and that work seems to be paying off as his shooting numbers indicate.

“I came here for my defense and that’s what I’m still going to hang my hat on,” Bazemore said. “[But] I worked on my game a lot. I worked on making shots. My overall confidence is just night and day from last season. It’s my second year here so I’ve been around and the guys know me and I know the guys. I can go out and make the play now within myself; they also encourage that. You gotta pay your dues first and everything else will happen for you.”

However, it hasn’t been all on Bazemore this season. He was quick to credit his teammates for giving him the chance to be as good as he’s been. Atlanta has several veteran players who have all been around for at least eight seasons, including Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha. The veterans on the team have been a big part of the learning process for Bazemore. They’re also players that demand so much attention that Bazemore often benefits from the easy looks he’s able to get.

“I tell people all of the time – it’s me and four All-Stars,” Bazemore said. “I’m the last guy [teams] are probably worried about; they take so much of the attention. I have the easy job most of the time – just rise up and knock a shot down here and there. They do a good job of keeping me up to speed. Any timeout, they will pull me aside and tell me to do this and do that. They’re very vocal. All of those guys are leaders and they’ve embraced me into the starting role and made it so much easier.”

Last season, the Hawks finished seventh in defensive efficiency after giving up 100.7 points per 100 possessions. This season, much hasn’t changed defensively as the team is giving up 100.9 points per 100 possessions, but are ranked 13th. For the time being, it looks as though the Hawks found their replacement for Carroll in Bazemore.

While Bazemore has improved across the board this season, it doesn’t seem like he’s receiving much hype in the Most Improved Player race. Although it’s still early in the season to be discussing the awards races, players like Paul George, C.J. McCollum, Kawhi Leonard and Reggie Jackson have dominated the early conversations, with no talk surrounding Bazemore. Despite getting no love thus far, it doesn’t seem to be hurting Bazemore that much. He’s squarely focused on improving as much as he can and helping the team win.

His success this season has come at perhaps the best time of his career as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Bazemore currently ranks inside the top 30 in the league in field-goal percentage (30th), three-point percentage (19th) and steals (30th). With the salary cap expected to jump to the $90 million range, it’s a good time to be a free agent in the NBA.

Among small forwards, he ranks seventh in field-goal percentage, eighth in three-point shooting and ninth in steals. Considering that Carroll earned himself a four-year deal worth $60 million from the Raptors for posting similar numbers last year, it’s safe to say that Bazemore is outplaying the two-year, $4 million deal he signed back in 2014.

“We had a very good run last year,” Bazemore said. “My focus is getting there and I think everything else will take care of itself. It’s the guys that try to look ahead that just stumble on their way there. I’m going to just show up everyday and do what I do and everything else will take care of itself.”

Paul Millsap was Impressed by Orlando’s Free Agent Pitch

Over the offseason, Paul Millsap was at the top of the Orlando Magic’s free agent wishlist. He was the first player the team met with once the free agency period opened at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.

The Magic ultimately offered Millsap a maximum contract, worth $80 million over four years. At the time, it was thought to be impressive that the Magic even got a meeting with Millsap considering he was one of the top names available during free agency and the Magic were coming off of a 25-win season.

Sunday was the first time the two teams played since that meeting in Atlanta occurred, and it was a meeting that left Millsap impressed.

“I was their first priority, and everything about their team was looking good at the time,” Millsap said. “It intrigued me. The presentation was great.”

Of course, Millsap eventually would re-sign with the Hawks, where he said he was most comfortable playing.

“I kind of knew where I wanted to be,” Millsap said. “I’d grown really fond of Atlanta and the teammates and the coaching staff. I felt like we’ve built something special thus far, and I felt like we can continue to grow.

“Weighing my options and seeing what’s out there — you have to do that. As a player, you have to see what’s out there. But, at the end of the day, I knew Atlanta was my home and it’s where I wanted to be.”

Millsap proved why he was so valuable on Sunday, as he recorded 13 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in 35 minutes for the Hawks.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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