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Q&A: Kent Bazemore on Hawks, Contract, Top Scorers

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Kent Bazemore of the Atlanta Hawks was recently a guest on the Basketball Insiders Podcast. Alex Kennedy and Michael Scotto interviewed Kent and the Q&A can be found below. To the listen to the podcast in its entirety, click the play button above.

Question: Kent, first off, thanks for joining us. It’s always good to talk with you. I just want to start by talking about this Atlanta Hawks team. Right now, you’re in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. When you look at the conference from top to bottom, there’s such a jumble that the number four and the 12 seed are only separated by three to four games at this point. What’s your take, so far, on the Eastern Conference as a whole and where you guys fit in right now?

Bazemore: “First of all, thanks for having me. The Eastern Conference is tough. It’s early on in the year and there are a lot of teams without an injury, a lot of teams have a new look and are still trying to figure it out. Positioning is still prime, if you can steal games here and there you still give yourself a good chance of being in the thick of things. We did our work early in the season, getting off to a 9-2 start, then we hit a little rough patch there. But we’re coming off winning three straight, [including] a big home win against San Antonio a few nights ago. Things are starting to pick back up for us. We’re a very, very, very talented group, there’s a high ceiling for us. That’s the beauty of the season, there’s so much that happens within a season, not only within the season but within the first few months. You’ve got to stay the course, keep your head down and keep working.”

Question: You mentioned the overtime win over San Antonio. You guys have had some quality wins lately, beating the Spurs, the Pistons, the Knicks, the Thunder, the Raptors, the Bucks. How much does that help your confidence and do you guys feel like you’re starting to gain some momentum?

Bazemore: “Yeah, we know we’re a good team. It’s just doing it consistently, doing it on a consistent basis. That’s what the great teams in the NBA do, they go in every night and they’re all about their business. We’ve had some setbacks and had some tough losses – we got swept by the Timberwolves, we got swept by the Lakers. It hasn’t been all of those good games we want, we’ve slipped up. That’s just facts, that’s everything thrown in your face. We can be a really, really good team or we can be just a middle-of-the-pack team, it’s totally up to us. Coach [Mike Budenholzer] has done a great job of helping us weather the storm. He’s been uber positive, he’s been super supportive of certain guys and whatever they’ve been going through on the court. Hindsight being 20/20, starting the way we did and to go through that little rough patch, it’s been great for us. We’ve seen the best and the worst, and now we’re starting to really figure it out again. It’s kind of rewarding, to go through that stuff and refocus and start winning some games.”

Question: To reach that ceiling of what you guys could ultimately be, who or what is the ‘x-factor’ for the Atlanta Hawks to make that happen and for you guys to click on all cylinders?

Bazemore: “Honestly, I don’t think it’s one person, it’s the collective group. Obviously, having Dwight Howard has been amazing for us. It’s giving us a chance every night. The fact that he can rebound and really change the game really impacts the game a certain way. I think Paul Millsap is starting to pick up steam. I think Dennis Schroder is starting to really find his groove. Kyle [Korver] is starting to make shots. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been playing well. We’ve got [talented] guys, Mike Muscala, Kris Humphries, I can go all the way down the roster, but we’ve got a ton of guys that can really bring it and that’s what makes our team unique. You never know who it’s going to be [that steps up]. You can’t really go into a game, game planning around one person. The ball’s starting to move, a few nights ago we had like 29 assists, and that’s really, really good. There’s only a few teams in the league that pass the ball that well and win games. You see the Warriors, they have so many games over 30 assists, they’re very successful that way and that’s the way we want to play. It’s not really one person you can pin it on because no one has had a ‘great’ year to date on our team – everyone’s been up and down. Whatever we’ve done, it’s been done collectively. It’s not really a person, it’s a team thing.”

Question: Any time you have new starters, there’s always an adjustment period. When Michael interviewed you earlier in the season, he talked about the chemistry and adjustment. Obviously, with Dennis stepping into the starting lineup and Dwight joining the team and getting acclimated, you guys had to learn how to play with each other. Now, 30 games into the season, how comfortable are you guys together and where is the chemistry level at?

Bazmore: “I think we’re getting comfortable, the chemistry is starting to get there. Earlier in the year, we turned the ball over too much and that was from having the right intentions but not quite knowing, not quite getting it, not quite having that chemistry and synergy. Now, you see Dennis and Dwight connect on lobs. You see Dennis finding Thabo Sefolosha on slashes. Tim Hardaway Jr. running the floor, him and Malcolm Delaney have a good connection on the second unit, and Kyle Korver as well. There are certain plays that you see that we’re making now that we weren’t three or four weeks ago. It’s all starting to come together for us and, defensively, we’re getting our confidence back on that end of the floor, really making it tough for opposing teams and making it hard for them. Our defense has always been our staple; we put so much pressure on ourselves, struggling to score offensively or taking bad shots or whatever. Now we’re ironing things out. The pie is starting to bake, and that good old smell of sweet potato pie is in the air. (Laughs)”

Question: When you talk about you guys having a little bit of pressure, how about you individual pressure? You’re now a $70 million man. With that type of money comes different responsibilities, different pressure, different perception around the league about you. Have you felt, at all, since putting pen to paper on that contract, any added pressure for yourself and a different perception of yourself around the league from other players to this point?

Bazmore: “I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself, unknowingly. Going into my fifth year, I’ve been around a little bit, I wanted to take the leap as a player. Regardless of what I got paid, I want to be great. Having a deep playoff run and playing in the playoffs the last three seasons, I feel like it’s time for me to take the leap. This year, these first 30 games, I’ve been pressing a ton and it’s all coming from a good place, but that’s the growth, for me as a player. I’m really taking my time and continuing to be who I am.

“I’ve said this when I went back and got my jersey retired at Old Dominion. I didn’t have the best career in Old Dominion history. I didn’t average 25 and wasn’t an All-American in college. I was a great teammate, I was a great student, I was just a great, well-rounded person. And that, I think, plays a lot into why I was paid so much. I’m a great teammate, I work hard, I play the game the right way. It’s just getting back to who I am and not trying to be something I’m not, and it’s coming. As a competitor, you want to prove the naysayers wrong and shut people up, but there’s a way of going about it and it’s not going out and trying to score every basket or get every assist. It’s just being who you are, staying true to who you are, especially when things get rough. [That’s when] your character really starts to show and if you can stay close to your roots and get through the storm, you really start to shine.”

Question: Now you mentioned ODU and getting your jersey retired. If I were to tell that Kent Bazemore, who was a senior back at the time, a guy that, you and I will laugh about this, but that was a guy who couldn’t shoot the rust off of a gym and now you can shoot a little bit better and you really found a niche. Being a $70 million player, would you have foreseen that for yourself at that time?

Bazmore: “No. I honestly didn’t know what the future held. I always knew I wanted to play basketball, and everyone wants to go to the NBA. The percentages are minimal, it’s such a finite, small window for guys that really get the opportunity. I think it’s been 4,100 guys that have ever worn NBA jerseys or something like that. It’s crazy. It’s small and I was never on any draft boards. I had a great, great profile pic on MaxPreps in high school (laughs), but I was never a guy that was jumping off people’s radar. I always knew it was a long shot, but I can honestly say that my agent, the people around me, really helped me gain a belief, and my head coach at the time, Blaine Taylor, from Old Dominion, always preached about my length and athleticism and always said I had NBA athleticism. My agent, Austin Walton, is a beast at getting me opportunities. They helped me get my foot in the door and I just kept climbing. The first Summer League I played in, I got the record for blocks in a game or something like that. It’s, like I said, just being who I am, being the long length kid that couldn’t shoot the rust off the gym, but just continuing to work. I can honestly say, even with all the faith and believing in myself 110 percent, this is far and beyond anything I could ever have imagined, for sure.”

Question: Kent, one thing I’ve noticed when talking to guys who are fringe NBA players, whether it’s at Summer League or around the draft when guys go undrafted, a lot of guys point to you and say, ‘Look what Kent Bazemore did, he was undrafted, now he’s got a big contract. I can do the same thing.’ What does it mean to you to be an inspiration to so many of those guys? I think before, those guys would point to Wes Matthews or Jeremy Lin or guys like that, but now you’re the guy everyone points to and says, ‘If he can do it, I can follow in his footsteps.’ How cool is it to be an inspiration for so many players?

Bazmore: “It means a lot. One of my greatest goals I could achieve in life, one of the things I want to do in life, is to inspire. Being undrafted, being a fringe guy, it’s a different motivation. And even before that, if you come from a mid-major school, you probably weren’t that highly touted. We all have something to climb to, we all have that fire that’s burning and, not to take anything away from the McDonald’s All-Americans or the Jordan Brand All-Americans, not to take anything away from those guys because they’re special athletes too. But, when you aren’t [one of those guys], when you’re always looking at them, always looking up at them, looking at where they are on the boards or how people look at them, you get this fire inside of you. Once you step foot in the NBA, all that stuff goes out the window. Everything you’ve gotten, [you battled for]. Is he going to dive for this loose ball because he’s a first-rounder and he got guaranteed money for the next three or four years? For me, my rookie year, I had a $90,000 guaranteed contract to the Ukraine, which I knew nothing about, so there’s this discrepancy and want and desire and I think those guys, if they can really tap into that, they can blow the doors off anything. You really don’t have any expectations as a fringe guy, you may be the 15th man. They may bring you in and see what you can do, but if you go in and really, really work and try to bug your coaches and learn and work and train, just do all the right things, be a great teammate, then the sky’s the limit. I was blessed to have some of the best veterans ever my rookie year: Richard Jefferson, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, David Lee, Steph Curry and all of those guys. They really got behind me and helped me navigate and I listened, I was coachable. I love the fact that I can inspire and I really hope that I’m opening doors for a lot of people.”

Question: You mentioned that there were no expectations, initially. What’s it like going from being a guy that people don’t really expect a lot from and you can sneak up on people, to now being someone that teams game-plan for because of your production? How different is that, now that everyone knows what you can do?

Bazemore: “It’s tough, it’s hard. That’s why you applaud guys like the Kobes, Durants, Stephs, LeBrons. You applaud those guys because every night, for 82 games, Kobe Bryant for 20 seasons, they knew he was coming and they designed defenses for him, but he still overcame it. It’s tough. It’s gratifying that you go from being the 15th man to being on someone’s scouting report, but, at the same time, teams guard you different. It’s a challenge. You figure it out slowly, you bring your game every night and you see if you can find that crease. You’re patient, you’re just like that panther that’s waiting to pounce on your opportunity. It teaches you a lot of patience because, once you get this deep into the season, you may make changes at the All-Star break to the playbook but, right now you’re pretty much running the same things and teams have such advanced scouting, they know every play that comes up. They probably know what you’re going to run after a timeout and your rotation, so you really have to play a game within a game and keep teams honest and really evolve your mind. Basketball is becoming a game of chess, for me, it’s setting up a move two moves from now. That’s the long story, but it’s fun. It’s real fun.”

Question: Kent, one of the ways you had to make a niche for yourself in a way to get time off the bench from when you first started your career was with defense. Going back to college, you were a two-time CAA Defensive Player of the Year, you won a Lefty Driesell Award. Now that you’ve been in the league for awhile, from your perspective, who have been some of the toughest guys that you’ve had to guard?

Bazemore: “Manu Ginobili is tough. There’s constant movement, he never stops moving, and he’s left-handed. Night in and night out, I guard a ton of right-handed people. There’s two times a year where you’ve got a guy who rips the opposite direction and you think it would be easier, for me, guarding lefties, but he’s just so cerebral on the court and he passes it so well. He can shoot it, his pump fake [is great] and he has his game down pat and he plays it well to a T. Another guy would be DeMar DeRozan, who has excelled this year. He had a hot start and he’s been winning games for Toronto. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, those offensive juggernauts, the guys who are in the top 10 to 15 in scoring. They’re special. They’ve got guys that want to get them open, they’ve got coaches that run plays for them, and you’ve got to guard him and help your teammates, so it’s a tough task. Those are the guys that come to mind right now. Obviously, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, the list goes on. But it’s fun, it’s a challenge. I go to sleep every night with a smile on my face knowing I get to guard some of the best players in the world. It’s gratifying.”

Question: Are you ever a trash talker?

Bazemore:  “Not really. Talk’s cheap, especially in this game. These guys are so savvy at using your aggression against you, so you’ve got to talk to yourself. These guys get to the free throw line at such a crazy clip, you out there trash talking, he’s talking to you, he pump fakes, you jump, gets you in the air, he’s shooting free throws and you’ve got two fouls in the first five minutes and you sit on the bench. I learned that the hard way, so, not really. I’m just more about empowering my teammates and channeling the trash talking into positivity for my team.”

Question: So, Kent, now that you’ve done the ‘Bazemoring’ off the bench, you’ve done the ‘Bazegaze,’ what’s next after that?

Bazemore: “(Laughs) I don’t know. All of this stuff, it’s just natural, it just happens. ‘Bazemoring’ was something, actually, Charles Jenkins had a hand in it. We were sitting at the end of the bench in Detroit my rookie year and Steph and Klay were just making it rain from three and we had a front row seat to see it and I just started doing all of this crazy stuff. It’s nothing that I planned to do, it just happens. The ‘Bazegaze’ was originated from my college best friend. We’d be talking and if he thought you were lying, he’d give you that look like, ‘Come on bro.’ So, that’s where that came from. So, who knows what’s next, the people love it in Atlanta, so I’ll just keep trying to think of something else.”

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Point-Counter Point: Biggest Surprise In The NBA So Far?

While there have been a number of surprising developments in the NBA, like say James Harden landing in Brooklyn, but the way Julius Randle has emerged in New York has been impressive, the question is will it last?

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From time to time there are things that surface in the NBA landscape that requires a little debate, we call that Point – Counter Point. We have asked two our of writers to dive into the biggest surprises in the NBA so far this season.

While there have been a number of surprising developments in the NBA, like say James Harden landing in Brooklyn, but the way Julius Randle has emerged in New York has been impressive, the question is will it last?

Ariel Pacheo and Chad Smith look at both sides of the equation.


No one could have predicted Julius Randle’s hot start after coming off a rough 2019-20 season. However, now that it’s here, there’s reason to believe it’s built to last. He’s averaging a career-highs across the board and almost none of it is unsustainable.

While his production is up, the way he is playing is what is more significant than the numbers.

Randle has always had the ability to set teammates up, but he is now making a concerted effort to get teammates involved. He’s finding shooters in the corner and setting up his frontcourt counterparts for dunks. His usage percentage is currently at 27.2, just 0.1 higher than last season, but his assist percentage is at 38.2%, which is 17.3% higher than last season. This shows that Randle has the ball in his hands the same amount as last season, but is creating for others at a much higher rate.

His playmaking has been his best skill and there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue. Randle’s decision-making is much-improved. It seems as if he has a better understanding of how defenses want to play against him and he’s using it to his advantage to pick apart defenses.

Randle’s scoring may take a small hit, as his mid-range shooting numbers are unsustainable. He’s shooting 57.4% from mid-range, so that should drop some. However, if the Knicks were to play Randle in more lineups with shooting in them, he could turn those mid-range jumpers into drives to the basket. He is attempting the most free-throws per game of his career at 6.8 a game. He’s also converting them at a career-high 78.1%. There’s reason to believe he can sustain this, as he has been aggressive driving to the rim and drawing fouls all season.

Randle is having the best rebounding year of his career, as he’s been attacking the defensive glass. The added benefit of Randle’s defensive rebounding is he’s able to bring the ball up and immediately attack. He’s also been a lot more active on the defensive end this season. He’s had good one-on-one moments on the defensive end against guys like Domantas Sabonis and Kevin Durant.

Another reason to expect Randle’s play to continue is that the Knicks need him to be this good to have a chance to win games. They will continue to look to Randle to be the focus of their offense every single night. Randle is not only the team’s best playmaker, he’s one of the only few reliable ones on the roster. The ball will continue to be in his hands and he has consistently made good decisions up until this point.

Randle’s always had the talent to be a nightly triple-double threat, but it’s starting to come together for him. He’s giving full effort on both ends, all while being third in the league in minutes. Other than his rookie year when he broke his leg, Randle has proven to be durable. Even if his production drops off some, his effort and newfound style of play are what’s making Randle have this hot start. He’s playing at an All-Star level, and that should continue.

-Ariel Pacheo


There is a new sheriff in town, and his name is Tom Thibodeau. After a long stint in Chicago where he earned Coach of the Year honors and guiding the lifeless Minnesota Timberwolves to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, Thibodeau has made his way to the Big Apple. Skeptics were not sold on the hire when it happened, but perhaps he is making believers out of them with the help of Julius Randle.

It is no secret that Thibodeau’s calling card has always been defense. He has the Knicks playing aggressive on that end of the floor. Another skill that he possesses is the ability to put his players in a position that will maximize their talents. To that end, Thibodeau has made a world of difference. However, another common theme in his coaching style is eventually wearing his players out. While that is not his intention, he has done it with his best players at every stop along the way.

This is where some of these improved numbers come into play for Randle. Entering this season Julius was averaging 29.4 minutes per game. So far this season, he is playing 38 minutes per game. That is the 2nd highest in the entire league – trailing only his teammate RJ Barrett.

All of that being said, the individual numbers are very impressive. Averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists is nothing to sneeze at, even in this small sample size. The assist numbers, in particular, are quite astounding when you consider he has never had a season in which he averaged more than 3.6 per game. Part of the reason for this is that he is passing out of double teams, instead of trying to force up a shot.

Randle was the only bright spot in the Battle in the Big Apple on Wednesday night. Still, it felt like an empty calories game for the big man as he repeatedly fired away mid-range jumpers. It was New York’s fourth consecutive loss as they fell to the undermanned Nets, who were without several bodies due to the James Harden trade just hours before tipoff.

Unfortunately for Knicks fans, this same story has been played out before with Thibodeau and Joakim Noah in Chicago. His two All-Star seasons were filled with career-high numbers, but it didn’t necessarily translate to success in the playoffs. Right now Randle leads his team in points, rebounds, and assists. The only other players that are currently doing that are Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic.

Finding open shooters on the perimeter has worked early on, but New York’s shooting has come back down to earth in the past week. They now rank in the bottom half of the league in terms of three-point shooting, and Randle himself figures to follow suit. After shooting 28 percent from beyond the arc last year, Randle was shooting at a 38 percent clip to open the season. A ten percent jump just doesn’t happen overnight. The seven-year pro is a career 29 percent shooter from distance. He is taking the same amount of shots as last season and averaging nearly four more points per game.

Even if the shooting numbers come down a bit, it doesn’t put New York back in the basement. The ball movement and effort on defense are the catalysts for the Knicks, not their scoring – in which they rank 29th at the time of this writing. Looking at Randle specifically, he is actually averaging more passes per minute than Steph Curry.

Randle is the main reason why this team has displayed a pulse for the first time in two decades. He was the 7th overall pick for good reason but the Knicks don’t necessarily need the talented lefty to be the star of the show. They need him to share the stage and allow the spotlight to showcase others.

Should he stay the course, Randle will undoubtedly be in line for the Most Improved Player of the Year Award. If he regresses like I believe he will, he can still play a vital role in changing the culture and the perception of one of the league’s most popular franchises. The 26-year old has been a pleasant surprise this season, in what will surely be another roller coaster ride for Knicks fans.

– Chad Smith

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NBA Daily: Are The Knicks For Real?

Ariel Pacheco breaks down the New York Knicks and their start to the season. Might they be able to push for a spot in the postseason?

Ariel Pacheco

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The New York Knicks are on a four-game losing streak after their hot 5-3 start to the season. Yes, their play has been inconsistent, but their effort has yet to wane. And, while they are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference, the team has some solid wins under their belt and has seen, arguably, their best start in years.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s fingerprints are all over this team. Combined with the positive start, it begs the question: do the Knicks have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the East? 

The Knicks have been competitive mainly due to Julius Randle; he’s played like an All-Star to start the season to the tune of 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. Randle’s drastic improvement from a season ago has been a major boon to New York, as he’s kept them in close games and, at times, been their lone source of offense. His stat line would put him in elite company, as one of only four to average at least 20, 10 and 5 this season.

The other three? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis. 

Behind him, Mitchell Robinson has been the Knicks’ second-best player so far. He’s third in the NBA in offensive rebounds and 10th in blocks. Beyond that, it’s hard to overstate how impactful he’s been on the defensive end — when he’s off the court, the Knicks’ defense completely craters. And, while his offensive game is limited to mostly dunks and layups, Robinson provides the team a vertical threat in the paint with his elite lob-catching skills. 

Kevin Knox II has also shown signs of becoming a rotation-level NBA player. He’s shot 41.7% from three and, while he still needs work on defense, he hasn’t been nearly as detrimental the team’s efforts on that end as as he has in years past.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. First and foremost, they lack the shooting to consistently put teams away and win games. And, of course, teams have taken advantage of that, as the Knicks have faced a zone defense — an effective defense, but one that can easily be shut down by a consistent presence beyond the three-point line —  in every single game they’ve played this season. Of every Knick that has shot over 20 threes this season, Austin Rivers and Kevin Knox II are the only two that have shot above 35%, while no starter has shot above league average from deep on the season. During their latest four-game losing streak, they’ve shot just 31% from deep as a team.

RJ Barrett, who has really struggled to shoot the ball from all over the floor to start the year, is arguably New York’s biggest culprit here. Currently, Barrett has shot a bad 37.2% from the field, an even worse 18.5% from three and a better but still below average 70.2% from the free throw line. He’s also struggled to finish near the basket. Of course, more spacing in lineups that feature Barrett, as opposed to the clogged lanes he stares down alongside guys like Randle and Robinson, could go a long way in improving those numbers.

But, unfortunately, the Knicks just don’t have the personnel, or depth, for that matter, that they can afford to take those guys off the floor for extended minutes and expect to succeed. There’s hope that Alec Burks’ return could provide some much-needed range and scoring punch from the bench, but Burks alone might not be enough to turn things around here.

The Knicks have also been lucky when it comes to their opponent’s shooting. Opponents have shot just 32.8% from three against the Knicks, well below league average. On three-point attempts that are wide-open, which the NBA defines as a shot in which no defender is within six feet of the shooter, opponents have shot just 33.9%. If that number sees some positive regression — and it likely will as the season goes on — New York may struggle to stay in games. 

There are a litany of other issues as well. The point guard position is certainly an area of concern; Elfrid Payton’s range barely extends beyond the free throw line, while Dennis Smith Jr. just hasn’t looked like the same, explosive player we saw with the Dallas Mavericks and Frank Ntilikina has struggled with injuries to start the year. Immanuel Quickley has looked solid with limited minutes, but Thibodeau has been reluctant to start him or even expand his role. And, as there is with every Thibodeau team, there could be legitimate concern over the workload of his top players: Barrett is first in the NBA in minutes played, Randle is third.

Right now, there would seem to be a lot more questions than answers for the Knicks. As currently constructed, they certainly can’t be penciled in as a playoff team. There’s too much evidence that suggests they won’t be able to consistently win games. 

That said, New York should be somewhat satisfied with their start to the season. And, if they continue to compete hard, tighten up the defense and if their younger players can take a step forward (especially from beyond the arc), they might just be able to squeeze into the play-in game in the softer Eastern Conference.

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NBA Daily: Raul Neto Seizing His Opportunity in Washington

Tristan Tucker examines Raul Neto who, in the midst of a career resurgence, has provided the Washington Wizards with some much-needed stability at the point guard position in the absence of Russell Westbrook.

Tristan Tucker

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Washington Wizards guard Raul Neto is coming off one of the more disappointing seasons of his career. Waived by the Utah Jazz, Neto joined a Philadelphia 76ers’ roster in 2019 that had some serious championship aspirations. Unfortunately, like the 76ers, Neto’s season fell flat.

For many former second round picks, a rough season could signal the conclusion of a career. But not for Neto, who has persevered and turned his career around to start the 2020-21 season.

Neto exploded onto the scene for the Wizards and has really shown an ability to hold it down on the court, especially in the wake of Russell Westbrook’s injury. He’s averaged career-highs almost across the board so far, recording 8.9 points and 1 steal per contest on outstanding percentages; Neto’s shot 52.7 from the field and 42.4 percent from three, both by far the highest of his career and, among Wizards with at least 10 games played, rank fifth and sixth on the team, respectively.

“I think I have been around different teams and I try and do whatever the team needs on the court,” Neto said. “If it needs to play with more pace or if it needs more scoring, I will try and do whatever I can to help. I think that’s how I fit so quickly on the team.”

Neto began his professional career in Brazil when he was just 16 years old, playing for the World Team in 2010 at the Nike Hoop Summit and then heading to Spain for the 2011-12 season. After two impressive seasons, the 28-year-old point guard was selected with the 47th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta then traded Neto to the Jazz where he eventually signed on for the 2015-16 NBA season.

Immediately, Neto was cast into a big role with the Jazz, starting in the season opener and starting in 53 of his 81 appearances that season. His efforts earned him a spot as a member of the World Team in the 2016 Rising Stars Challenge.

Neto would go on to play a majority of his next three seasons in the G-League, finding a hard time sticking to a role that suited him in Utah. When Philadelphia tried to remake its roster in the 2019 offseason, Neto was called in to give the team an able-shooting ball-handler, one that they desperately needed. However, Neto was, again, miscast and, while he was getting good minutes, the team as a whole struggled to find their identity and, as a result, everyone’s play suffered.

In the 2020 offseason, Neto was able to find a roster spot on the Wizards, who saw him as a potential diamond-in-the-rough type and a player that they should take a chance on. And their gamble has paid huge dividends as, at the moment, Neto has given Washington a reliable piece to play next to All-Star Bradley Beal.

“[Neto] does a tremendous job of running the team, running the offense,” Beal said after a Wizards’ preseason game. “He gets after it, he’s a real pest. I always make fun of him because he has a strong build…he’s very strong.”

Traits that likely stood out to Washington were Neto’s calm demeanor and his ability to run the offense, something that a few of his younger teammates could learn from and, hopefully, pick up themselves. Players like Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura have shown much promise as scorers and playmakers and should continue to benefit from players like Neto that are able to get them the ball accurately and consistently.

“Deni [Avdija]’s very talented, he’s very very talented,” Neto said. “He’s young so he’s got a lot to learn and get better. He’s a very good player, he’s been playing professionally overseas for a while…Rui [Hachimura] is also a very good player. Strong, plays hard and very good defense. Probably going to be our guy, like today he was guarding [Kevin Durant], he can go against guys in this league that are tall and can score.”

While the Wizards are in the midst of a disappointing season, something that may prove worthwhile in the long run may be to give Neto, who’s averaged just under 17 minutes per game, a larger role, perhaps as the team’s sixth man. When Neto is on the floor, Washington’s already potent offense gets even better — multiple lineups that feature Neto have posted an offensive rating of at least 130 points per 100 possessions — and, while it isn’t that cut-and-dry, it would behoove the Wizards to experiment and see what he can do in a larger role.

“I just try to play my game,” Neto said. “With my new team, I’m trying to understand my teammates and play the game the way Scott [Brooks] wants us to play and just move the ball and be a player out there that tries to help the team and do whatever I have to do. If I have to shoot, if I have to score depending on who I am on the court…”

“I think, number-wise, I did great,” Neto said after the Wizards’ preseason opener. “I think there’s always room for improvement and I think I’m going to work on that and take advantage of my opportunities.”

“[Neto] has heart, he has grit, he has everything we need,” Beal said. “He can shoot the leather off the ball which is what I love about him too.”

Neto isn’t the solution to all of Washington’s problems — of which, there are many — but there’s no denying the impact he’s had, even in his short time with the team. With the turnaround he’s seen, Neto has not only proven that he belongs in the NBA, but that he can serve as a solid veteran spot-starter or bench piece. Not just for a Washington team that can use just about anyone right now, either, but for any team looking for a consistent shooter and leader on the court.

“It’s easy when you have teammates like we do,” Neto said following a preseason game. “I’m just trying to work hard and play the right way. I think we have improved…we’re still going to get better.”

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