Last season, as the Atlanta Hawks won 48 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, many wondered what kind of contract Kent Bazemore would get over the summer. As Hawks fans now know, Bazemore re-signed with Atlanta for four years and $70 million. After a season where he established himself as a solid NBA starter — shooting over 35% on threes and playing strong defense — the contract made sense in the light of the salary cap spike.
So far this year, though, Bazemore has struggled. A quick statistical glance shows why, per NBA Stats his shooting has dropped to 35.8% (29% on three-pointers). It is important not to overreact to his early-season numbers, though. As much as Bazemore has struggled to this point, much of this is largely inseparable from the team as a whole.
As a team, the Atlanta Hawks are still trying to find themselves after a disastrous 1-10 streak that brought their record down to 10-12. Now, at 12-12, Atlanta has the fourth ranked defense by defensive rating, but still has a negative net rating (-0.7 points per 100 possessions).
When a team with a top-five offense struggles to win games, it’s normally because they can’t score. This is a profile that the Hawks fit perfectly (currently ranked 26th in points per 100 possessions). Bazemore’s poor shooting numbers make perfect sense in this light, as he has been largely unable to create offense. Other metrics back this assessment up, as the Hawks have a better net rating (4.1) when Bazemore has been off the court than when he has played (-5.1).
All of these numbers show Bazemore’s struggles this season in different ways, but it’s important not to overreact to them. The starting lineup still has a negative +/- rating, which points to how the entire team has played poorly recently.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s difficult to separate how Bazemore has played from the rest of the team. Dennis Schröder has been wildly inconsistent, for example, while Kyle Korver’s three-point percentage (38.4) is well below his career average. Bazemore’s shooting may not be helping the offense, but it’s hard to say that most of the team’s scoring issues fall on his shoulders alone.
Bazemore sat out the last two games, both of which Atlanta won. As exciting as these wins were, they don’t prove anything about how much Kent contributes to the starting lineup. His energy and athleticism alone make him valuable, and (for the most part) he can still be a solid defender when his shots aren’t falling.
Given his new contract, and the way he has played, it may be tempting to blame Bazemore for some of the Hawks early-season struggles. However, under the new salary cap, his contract is hardly a bad one. Beyond that, it is difficult to separate his performance from the rest of the team and there is still plenty of season for the forward to improve his statistics.