Atlanta Hawks' Kent Bazemore during the first half of the NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Photo: Seth Wenig/AP
Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

Hawks: Bazemore bounces back 

The Hawks signed Kent Bazemore to a four-year, $70 million free-agent contract in the summer of 2016. As you may recall, that was during the half-measure phase of their team building. 

A few days later the Hawks made the fateful decision to sign Dwight Howard. Soon Al Horford was off to Boston, with the Hawks getting nothing in return. An NBA season later, new Hawks GM Travis Schlenk salvaged a first-round pick in a three-way trade for Paul Millsap, who was set to join Horford in walking away for nothing. Eventually Schlenk sent Howard away, too. 

The roster tear down left Bazemore’s contract sticking out in bold numbers on the team’s payroll, especially because he regressed in the first year of the deal. The Hawks had signed Dennis Schroder to a four-year, $70 million extension in October 2016 but he was 23-years old and theoretically still could be part of a rebuilt Hawks team. That wasn’t the case for Bazemore, who was almost 27 when he signed his deal and will be 30 when it ends (assuming he picks up the final option year). 

But now Bazemore’s contract looks a bit different because he’s having a very good season while handling a bigger offensive load than ever. 

Bazemore has played 1,757 minutes this season with a career-high usage rate (23.3) and yet his scoring efficiency this season is equal to his best previous year, 2015-16. Bazemore’s 55.1 true shooting percentage this season is identical to his 2015-16 mark. Bazemore is shooting a career-high 39.6 percent on 3-pointers and, after a dip last season, has made 79.6 of his free-throw attempts. 

Bazemore’s usage rate in 2017-18 ranks in the 85th percentile among wings, according to Cleaning the Glass, and his points per shot attempt ranks in the 63rd percentile. In 2015-16 his usage rate was in the 71st percentile and his points per shot attempt was also in the 63rd percentile. 

Bazemore also has emerged as an elite play-making wing. His assist percentage and his assist rate vs. usage rate both rank in the 90th percentile for his position, according to CTG. The negative is Bazemore’s 17.2 turnover rate -- according to Basketball Reference, that’s fourth-worst among 59 players with at least 1,500 minutes played and a usage rate of 20 or higher. 

In addition to the turnovers, Bazemore’s inefficient scoring from inside the three-point line is what’s holding him back from being an even better offensive player. Bazemore ranks in the 32nd percentile among wings on shooting accuracy at the rim and is in the 33rd percentile in mid-range accuracy, according to Cleaning the Glass. He makes up for that with the three-point shooting and a high rate of shooting fouls drawn (85th percentile) but Bazemore probably would benefit from shooting more threes—his frequency ranks in the 34th percentile among wings. 

Bazemore’s improvement as an offensive threat has not diminished his defensive impact. The Hawks have allowed 3.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with Bazemore on the court this season, according to CTG. That’s the top mark by far among Hawks starters. 

Bazemore ranks in the 95th percentile among wings for steals percentage and the 93rd percentile for blocks, according to CTG. After his defensive rebounding production cratered last season, Bazemore ranks in the 81st percentile for rebounding missed opponent field goals. And Bazemore’s 3.6 deflections per 36 minutes are eighth-most among the 127 players who have logged at least 1,500 minutes. 

No doubt Bazemore would be a better fit on a team that’s aiming for the playoffs. But Schlenk has said he sees value in having a player like Bazemore on the roster during the team’s rebuild. And though Bazemore’s salary will continue to increase, his bounce-back season makes it more likely that Schlenk can find more value in a trade should that time come.

About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.