Kent Bazemore’s season got off to a rocky start but since the calendar flipped to 2017, he is looking more and more like the player the Atlanta Hawks imagined when signing him to a 4-year, $70 million contract last summer.
That contract was met with some skepticism despite Atlanta doubling down on Bazemore as a member of its core going forward. Bazemore earned the contract thanks to a breakout season in 2016 in which he replaced DeMarre Carroll as the team’s starter at small forward and primary wing defender.
Bazemore averaged 11.6 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range. However, he slumped after the All-Star break shooting just 29 percent from deep and those struggles carried over into the postseason where he shot just 36 percent from the field overall.
That sluggish end to the 2016 season didn’t sway the Hawks who convinced him to return despite receiving more lucrative offers elsewhere.
Bazemore’s shooting struggles continued to start the 2017 season as he was under 40 percent through the first two months of the season. He seemed to flatline in December where he shot just 34 percent overall and made just 5 of 32 (15.6 percent) three-point attempts.
As the calendar flipped to 2017, so did Bazemore’s game. The Hawks went 11-4 in January and Bazemore was a big reason why as his shooting rebounded to his 2016 levels. He shot 45 percent from the field in January and he was able to maintain that throughout February. Since January 1, Bazemore is averaging 11.9 points while shooting 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range.
Perhaps most importantly for Atlanta, Bazemore is looking more comfortable at both ends of the floor. He carries a heavy burden on the defensive end as Mike Budenholzer often calls on him to defend everyone from point guards to small forwards. His individual defensive rating like everything else flatlined in December but has improved substantially each month sense.
Obviously Atlanta hopes that this improvement isn’t just a prolonged hot streak. As the team has gotten more comfortable, Bazemore has started to settle into his role. Early on he admittedly put a lot of pressure on himself due to the contract and the early struggles of the Hawks. Now he looks much more relaxed and more like the player that broke out last season.
It can’t come at any better time for Atlanta who doubled down on this season at the trade deadline. Bazemore is instrumental to their success and any success they might have in the postseason. Finally he is once again trending upward.