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Will Kent Bazemore return to form in the second half?

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Kent Bazemore has struggled but there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Almost immediately after the NBA free agency moratorium was lifted in July, it was announced that the Atlanta Hawks and Kent Bazemore had agreed to a 4-year contract worth $70 million. There was little controversy at the time, as at least three other teams were reported to have lined up to offer him a similar, if not more lucrative, contract. Bazemore was coming off of his first professional season in which he started more than 15 games (68 starts) and played more than 2000 minutes. He was valued as a defensive-oriented wing with enough of an offensive skill set to be a complementary player on the offensive end of the court.

With the contract came a potential increase in expectations, even if the expectations were primarily a result of his own thinking. Turnover in Atlanta’s starting line-up entering the 2016-17 season also introduced some ambiguity regarding the overall distribution of offensive responsibility for the Hawks. From very early in the season, Bazemore visibly stepped up as a willing competitor ready to help by carrying an increased workload in the Hawks’ offense. Unfortunately, the results were a significant regression in his offensive game across the board, but especially as a shooter.

Last season, Bazemore shot 44.1 percent on 9.7 field goal attempts per game and 35.7 percent on 4.1 three-point attempts per game. At the outset of the campaign, Bazemore attempted ten field goals or more in 15 of Atlanta’s first 21 games, and the results were not good. During this stretch, Bazemore shot 35.8 percent on 11 field goal attempts per game and 29.2 percent on 4.0 three-point attempts per game.

Bazemore would leave Atlanta’s 21st game (102-99 loss at home to Oklahoma City) after 17 minutes of play and 0 of 7 shooting from the floor. He then missed the next two games with knee soreness and some observers seemed to hope that the break might be an opportunity for Bazemore to reset and reduce the pressure he seemed to be putting upon himself.

The Hawks have played 18 games since Bazemore’s brief break, going 12-6 as a team during that stretch, and Bazemore did seem to make an adjustment. In his first 14 games following the hiatus, Bazemore would attempt double-digit field goal attempts just three times. During this run, his field goal attempts were reduced to 8.4 per game with a very slight improvement to 38.1 percent shooting. Bazemore’s three-point attempts were also reduced to 2.4 per game, with an even slighter improvement to 30.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Over the last four games, Bazemore has returned to attempting at least ten field goal attempts in each contest, but he has converted a collective 21 for 47 on field goal attempts (44.6 percent) and 9 of 24 on three-point attempts (37.5 percent). Each of these marks is finally reflective of Bazemore’s shooting effectiveness from last season.

It might be of note that the Hawks claimed seven consecutive wins prior to this four-game sample size of a return to increased shot volume and overall improved shooting from Bazemore. Could it be that the brief break that he had with the minor injury, combined with roughly a four-week stretch in which he was clearly being more selective with his shot attempts and the team ultimately finding its way back to an extended successful stretch has resulted in a more relaxed approach for Bazemore? Only time will tell.

My view is that it will be key for the other players in the starting unit to be fairly consistent with their offensive production as to allow Bazemore to comfortably play with confidence within the boundaries of his skill set. He has a reputation of being a highly competitive player and, when things are not going well for the Hawks, he is one of the first players to visibly step up and try to make things happen.

Of course, the responsibility is on him to stay within himself on the offensive end of the court. Still, the more consistent and collective success the Hawks are able to have as a team (note the aforementioned seven-game winning streak), the more optimism Hawks fans can probably have that Kent Bazemore will be a more consistently productive contributor across the second half of the season.