The Atlanta Hawks needed Kent Bazemore to take a huge step forward in 2016 and he delivered with a career best season. He is the latest success story of Atlanta's player development program and could parlay that into a big free agent contract this offseason.
Bazemore emerged as the team's starting small forward despite being undersized for the position and filled the hole left by DeMarre Carroll's departure in free agency last summer. Bazemore averaged a career-best 11.6 per game while shooting 44 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range. He also turned himself into a reliable free throw shooter where he converted at an 81 percent rate.
As you can see from his shotchart, Bazemore transformed himself from an end of the bench/energy guy to a serviceable league average player. He would probably be better suited for more minutes at shooting guard or as a sixth man off the bench but showed that he is capable of playing big minutes and delivering when called upon.
As is the case with a lot of the Hawks' players, Bazemore's value goes a bit beyond the numbers. He is a good teammate and a shining example that hard work does payoff. Like Carroll before him, he plays with a bit of an edge which is something this Atlanta team could use more of.
Defensively he is fearless and the Hawks utilized his ability to guard everyone from point guards to small forwards. He has a high basketball IQ and a good understanding of the Hawks' system. He is not the type of one on one player that you can create his own shot and go get you a basket but he is adept enough to find the creases in opposing defenses and is athletic enough to finish at the basket.
Bazemore took a huge leap in all facets of the game in 2016 and that is perfect timing for him given his free agency status this summer. The Hawks don't hold his full bird rights and could face a Carroll like problem in holding to him. Quality wing players in the NBA have become a highly sought after commodity. Carroll landed a four-year deal worth $60 million last offseason and Bazemore could be looking at something similar this summer.
There is reported mutual interest between Bazemore and the Hawks to keep him in Atlanta. The Hawks have another big free agent question in center Al Horford but will view Bazemore as a priority as well. The challenge will be retaining the two while also improving the roster. If the bidding for Bazemore gets too high, then Atlanta may be forced to look elsewhere.