It hasn't been an amazing series for Kent Bazemore.
On the whole, Bazemore has been passable, but unspectacular. He is making only 27.3% of his 6.6 three-point attempts per game over the five-game sample against the Boston Celtics, and in totality, Bazemore is converting only 35.7% of his shots for a woeful 42.1 % eFG. Defensively, he has been active and important, but Bazemore has not emerged as anything approaching a "stopper" against Isaiah Thomas (contrary to the belief of some who would like to see this match-up more) and some detractors have begun to whisper that Bazemore just isn't the player that Hawks fans may believe.
Then, Game 5 happened and Kent Bazemore reminded everyone that he is going to become a (very) rich man in less than three months.
The 26-year-old swingman wasn't the best player on the court on Tuesday night, but he didn't have to be. What Bazemore did, however, was greatly aid in swinging the momentum of the game, and he did so with an unwavering confidence.
"We just said, 'Let it fly'. I think we loosened up a little bit in the second quarter. Guys were just more aggressive shooting shots. I think in the huddle, we understand, we've been there so many times, where defense has been stellar but we haven't been able to make shots. We got to the point tonight, where it's just like 'man, just go out and let it go.'"
Bazemore wasn't the only member of the Hawks that "let it fly" with regularity in Game 5, but his explosion in the second quarter got the ball rolling downhill. Over an 87-second span late in the aforementioned second quarter, Bazemore connected on three consecutive threes, but what was most interesting about that barrage was that he had previously missed three attempts from long-range in the period.
Kent Bazemore is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an "elite" shooter or even a grossly above-average one. When he arrived in Atlanta, shooting from long distance was one of the main "holes" in his game, but the highly-praised player development staff when to work on his mechanics and Bazemore put in the time necessary to improve. The results speak for themselves.
In his first season with the Hawks, Bazemore converted 36.4% of his threes, but attempted fewer than two per game and generally only launched when given a wide-open opportunity. In year two, the left-handed swingman became a more legitimate and consistent threat, taking more than four threes per game and making 35.7% of those attempts. Shooting, of course, is not everything when it comes to an NBA wing, but in today's "pace and space" era, players who can convert from long distance while simultaneously defending at a high level on the other end are obscenely value.
Translation? Kent Bazemore is about to get paid.
The Hawks may not open the check book for Bazemore, at least to the point that the free market commands, and that needs to be said. Atlanta has a bigger monetary decision to make when it comes to Al Horford, and the team also must choose a direction at the point guard position sooner rather than later. However, Bazemore emerged as a legitimate starting-caliber wing during this season, to the point where most NBA types expect him to command an 8-figure annual salary moving forward in the unique salary cap environment that will exist this summer.
In terms of the playoffs, many fans have no interest in looking ahead, rather choosing to live and die with every missed shot or botched defensive possession. For those that think through that prism, Kent Bazemore was one of the bigger parts of a Game 5 win that was much needed for the Hawks. For the big picture types, though, it was certainly a reminder that Bazemore is another example of a player that transformed his value while on a bargain-basement contract with the franchise, and a potentially difficult decision lies ahead.