Every NBA player can be useful with the right coaching staff, system, or organization. Defense can be taught to just about any player. I’ve held these beliefs ever since I started to get deeply into the NBA and I truly believe it.
So when the Hawks signed Kent Bazemore to a new contract, I got excited. Bazemore was a young player that never really got a chance in Golden State, and was allowed to run free in Los Angeles. Despite the solid numbers he put up in Los Angeles, Bazemore was seen as nothing more than end of the rotation roster filler. He might be able to make a few three pointers every once in awhile, but for the most part, he’s just kind of there.
It’s unlikely that Bazemore is going to be turned into an all star player in Atlanta; or even a starting caliber player for that matter. He’s 25 and players with high level talent rarely go unnoticed by coaches. If he was really something special, he would have played in Golden State. But there’s no reason to think that he can’t be a highly useful rotation weapon in the Atlanta system.
Last year, the Hawks ran a lot of four or five out sets. They maximized floor spacing and shot a lot of threes. Unfortunately, they had to do this without Al Horford, who spent much of the year injured after the team had found it’s groove and identity. The easy conclusion to make is that the team will use all that spacing to allow Horford to work down low, but that’s no guarantee.
What is a guarantee, however, is that the team is going to run lots of screens and spot up shooting sets. This is where Bazemore comes in. Last year with the Lakers, the two types of plays Bazemore ran the most were the pick and roll as a ball handler, and spot up shooting. In Golden State, while mainly playing in garbage time, Bazemore ran isolation the most.
With Los Angeles, Bazemore averaged .87 points per possession (PPP) on 44.8% shooting as a pick and roll ball handler. Bazemore also shot 42% from three in these situations, but he only took 14 attempts, so the sample size is a little too small to consider it a trend. But that’s something that shouldn’t be ignored; in a system like the Hawks with more talent and better pick and roll partners, Bazemore could use those weapons around him to his advantage.
The sample size in these situations gets even smaller when looking at his time in Golden State. He again, shot 42% from three as the pick-and-roll ball handler, but he only attempted seven shots from deep. There’s consistency, but not enough to put weight into.
The interesting stat about Bazemore, and the one that the Hawks should be most interested in, are his spot up shooting numbers. With the Lakers, Bazemore averaged 1.16 PPP in spot up situations, and shot 48.5% from three point range. While the sample size is still small with only 33 attempts from three, this is large enough to give the Hawks something to work with. Their guards, especially their two guards, don’t have the ball in their hands very much. Their main priority is to spot up for three point shots and that has been a staple in Budenholzer’s system since day one.
In contrast, unlike the ball handler numbers, Bazemore’s spot up numbers are nowhere near as good in Golden State. 2-for-9 and shooting only 33% from three, his numbers are very poor.
However, what is interesting about Bazemore’s Golden State numbers are how often he was in isolation. 25% of the plays Bazemore was involved in were isolation sets. That’s very high for a player that isn’t very skillful in that area. While Golden State ran an isolation heavy offense, I’m not sure this is the reasoning for why Bazemore was so heavily involved in isolation during his time with the Warriors. It’s more likely that because Bazemore spent most of his minutes during garbage time, a time when a lot of teams don’t run very many plays. As a result, when Bazemore did get the ball, he was forced to work in isolation rather than running plays and using his ability as a shooter. Compare this to a system like Atlanta’s, where even in garbage time, they’re playing to the system. Because of this, one has to think Bazemore has a better chance to succeed.
The biggest question mark about Bazemore’s time in Atlanta will be his defense. He’s energetic and active on that end of the floor, but he struggles. Atlanta isn’t a defensive powerhouse, but I’m a firm believer you can turn anybody into a decent defender if they put forth the effort. So the question with Bazemore is not if the Hawks defensive system suits him, but if he’s willing put in the effort on that end of the floor to help the Hawks. If he does do that, he will be a decent replacement on the floor at times when DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha need rest or are in foul trouble.
While the Kent Bazemore signing seemed like something minuscule, I think it can really pay off big for the Hawks. He’s shown in small sample sizes that he’s a solid spot up three point shooter and possibly a good pick and roll ball handler. In Atlanta he’ll be playing with better talent around him and in a better system for his skill set. If he puts in the work, he could really have a breakout season and become a useful rotation player. It’s a great chance and he needs to make the most of it.