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Atlanta Hawks 2017-2018 player preview: Kent Bazemore

Bazemore has a key season ahead of him.

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Kent Bazemore took a decent amount of criticism for his 2016-2017 season. It was the first in his four-year deal worth $70 million in total, and his performance wasn’t what most Hawks fans expected. It is difficult to completely determine how much of his presumed drop in production was due to the Atlanta Hawks getting weaker as a team. Assuming that the weakening of the Hawks was at least part of the problem, this year will be vital in Bazemore’s arc as a player.

What is most promising about Bazemore’s tough 2016-2017 season is that he did improve somewhat in the second half of the season, sans April where he returned to shooting beneath 40 percent from the field. Bazemore’s growth as a key player in the Hawks rotation is entering a critical phase in the 2017-2018 season. Without Paul Millsap, and even Dwight Howard, scoring pressure will continue to be on Bazemore’s shoulders.

Much of the difference in Bazemore’s play from last season, and the 2014-2015 season, can be attributes to Al Horford’s absence, and his being replaced with Dwight Howard. While Howard was a decent scorer of the ball, he wasn’t nearly the passer that Horford was for the Hawks. When the Hawks offense peaked in the 2014-2015 season, their ball movement flowed through Horford, not something that could be said for Howard in the 2016-2017 season.

This year, without both Horford and Millsap, Bazmore’s production will rely heavily on other Hawks being able to be offensively threatening enough to actually draw defenders. Otherwise the numbers may be different, but the same Bazemore will be present. Bazemore is a fascinating experiment into how teammates can change and alter another player’s production.

The loss of Tim Hardaway Jr., Millsap, Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha create a huge loss of production from the three-point line. Bazemore is a career 35 percent shooter from beyond the arc, a somewhat average three-point shooter. Assuming he becomes a more significant force for the Hawks from the three-point line, it’ll be vital that Bazemore improves his three-point effectiveness depending on the type of shots he gets.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The most difficult part of Bazemore’s upcoming season is the pressure that his contract puts on him from the public perspective. Bazemore is making $16,910,113 this upcoming season, and the amount continues to go up the final two years of his contract. The expectations that the contract puts on his shoulders will make it difficult to accurately assess his value and how his performances measure up.

Purely looking at Bazemore’s productivity in a statistics based vacuum will always be difficult. He played in one of the more efficient offensive machines in 2014-2015 and as his career moves forward it’ll be difficult to expect the same level of productivity unless he develops as a facilitator and scorer. Purely because his involvement in the team was so much less in 2014-2015 then it was last two years, and certainly will be this year.

Luckily, one of the brightest aspects of Bazemore’s skill set is his competitive spirit. As the Hawks enter into a different phase of their development as a team, players the likes of Bazemore will be challenged in their ability to become consistent producers night after night. Being someone that is competitive and fiery will endear him to the Hawks faithful, and surely help to foster the himself as a core member of the Hawks moving forward.

While it’s still unclear what to expect from Bazemore on a night to night basis, it’s not clear how much of Bazemore’s overall production is due to his value in a vacuum versus the team’s overall efficient play. This season will be an interesting metric to how he can adapt while continuing to be one of the main pieces of the Hawks rotation.