Kent Bazemore got paid in the summer of 2016. Oh to have been an NBA player getting paid in the summer of 2016. Oh to not have been an NBA team with cap space in the summer of 2016.
Bazemore arrived in Atlanta in Sept. 2014 looking for a chance to earn some playing time on a Hawks’ team reforming itself with a new vision for how to play NBA basketball. He was an important bench piece during the Hawks magical 60-win season. He took on an increased workload as wing players went down in succession to injuries.
First, it was Thabo Sefolosha in an unfortunate event in Brooklyn. DeMarre Carroll struggled to stay on the floor, especially at his normal level, as the Hawks headed toward a heavily anticipated post season. Then, Kyle Korver was lost in the Eastern Conference finals before the Hawks would even host a game at home.
In Bazemore’s second season, he would help fill the role of the departed Carroll. He started 68 games and showed flashes of being able to be an impact wing on both ends of the court.
And then, a new TV deal carried new revenue into the league and teams across the league were understanding the value of having players that could play on the wing and make an impact on both ends of the court.
Kent Bazemore got paid. But he wasn’t the only player that got paid.
The Hawks paid Kent Bazemore. But had they not, more than one other team had already made equal if not greater offers. It is well accepted that a highly regarded front office in Houston made a very serious offer and they weren’t alone.
Let’s take a look at the wings that got paid handsomely in the summer of 2016.
Notice that Kent Bazemore is not at the top of that list.
Now let’s look at what has happened to this group of players since then. But first a bit of context.
No NBA player wants to make an injury an excuse for a decrease in on-court performance. Additionally, they don’t want others making that excuse for them.
But it is also widely accepted that Bazemore’s 2016-17 season was not the season during which he was at his preferred level of health. A lot of observers were talking about the pressure of the contract. What’s probably most fair, though, is to not pass judgement after the first year of play during the course of a 4-year contract.
Also, when a player has a goal of satisfying the expectations of a new, lucrative contract. One could chase box score statistics. Especially in the second season of that contract when the roster is full of young players and expectations have been lowered.
But let’s avoid doing that and evaluate Bazemore with something other than volume statistics in the group of wing players that got paid in the summer of 2016.
Real Plus-Minus is not a perfect stat but it does try to account for valued delivered on both ends of the court. In the second season of his contract, Bazemore is outperforming his peer group by a sizable margin.
As trade rumors took life in the weeks ahead of the deadline, one player in this group was talked about as a player that, despite the market correction that has taken place since the summer of 2016, might be worth pursuing and his name was Kent Bazemore.
PER is not a perfect stat either. But it does try to reflect a player’s ability to act as an offensive creator and to reflect the amount of efficiency that exists within his offensive creation skills.
Kent Bazmore currently sits 20th among shooting guards in PER. Five of the players ahead of him are headed to Los Angeles for the All-Star game. One is a former MVP. Two are former sixth man of the year award winners.
And he is doing quite well when compared with his peer group of wings that got paid in the summer of 2016.
The only player measuring better than Bazemore in this group is one of the players in this group that is on a max contract. And that player has played in 29 fewer games and has taken 403 fewer field goal attempts.
Nicolas Batum has been one of the best secondary creators in the NBA for the better part of six seasons. He has averaged 4.6 assists per 36 minutes in every season since the 2012-13 season. There is a point guard starting the All-Star game this season that is averaging fewer assists per 36 minutes than Batum has averaged in two of his last three seasons.
So we can take a moment and appreciate what is unique about the game of Mr. Batum.
We can also appreciate that Bazemore has worked to make himself a better offensive creator.
When Al Horford signed a max contract with the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2017, observers across the league talked about how bad the third and fourth years of that contract would be. And we are in the same calendar year as when the third year of that contract will begin and I’ve not heard much about that recently at all.
When he signed that contract, I also heard no one talking about what a positive impact he could have on all of the would-be young players drafted with all of those Celtics draft assets. The players that were viewed as the heart and soul of that Celtics team that Horford agreed to join have largely if not fully moved on to other teams... a few of them have been moved more than once.
But whether the Celtics achieve their ultimate dream while Horford is on that roster, the likes of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and the host of other young players on that roster (and the host of young players that could be added to that roster in the next two seasons) will be better ten years from now from having been exposed to the professionalism, work ethic and team mindset of one Al Horford.
I don’t know if Bazemore is going to ever make an All-Star team, it might be important to him. But he has gone on record as having said that he wants to lead this young team.
There is no indication that he is working less hard than he has at any point of his career. But when the Hawks put together what others consider to be their next relevant season. I’m OK with placing a bet that whenever that happens that the story of that season could not be told without including the story of Kent Bazemore.
Try to measure that.
Note: statistics presented reflect numbers prior to NBA play on Friday night, per ESPN.com.