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Kent Bazemore set to impact young Hawks team in more ways than one

Bazemore may be on a losing team, but don’t tell him that.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, it is hard to believe that just four seasons ago the Atlanta Hawks were playing for a chance to reach their first NBA Finals since moving to Atlanta. Now, in 2018, only one member of that great 60-win squad remains with the Hawks. Kent Bazemore couldn’t have expected everything to fall apart as quickly as it did after he re-upped with the Hawks on a four year contract back in 2016, yet here we are with Atlanta coming off it’s worst season since the 2004-2005 season.

However, as everything has fallen down around him, Bazemore just continues to grind through it all. This includes the 2017-18 season, when it would’ve been very easy to just give up and look for a way out of a tough situation for any veteran. Instead, he went out and put together the best season of his career on both sides of the court and the numbers back that up.

Bazemore averaged nearly 13 points per game, well above his career average of 8.2 per game, and did so efficiently. Bazemore was so efficient that he ranked ahead of NBA superstars like Blake Griffin and CJ McCollum in True Shooting Percentage at 54.7 percent and was only a few thousandths of a point behind guys like DeMar DeRozan and Draymond Green as well. When Bazemore was healthy for November, December, and January, his true shooting percentage jumped to an even higher 56.0 percent, which would’ve ranked within the top 100 qualified players in the entire NBA if maintained over the course of a full season.

Where Bazemore really impressed last season was from beyond the arc, where he’s been a career 36 percent shooter. The former Old Dominion standout really put work into his jumper and finished last season shooting almost 40 percent from distance.

That includes some elite marks from the corners where he shot 44.6 percent, elite shooting on shot short distance three pointers (22-24 feet) at a 43.2 percent clip and elite shooting on long distance three pointers (25-29 feet) at a 35.7 percent mark. Basically, Bazemore was a near-elite three point shooter last season by all measures on a squad where solid shooting from distance was hard to come by aside from teammate Taurean Prince.

The solid play didn’t stop there for Bazemore either as he also put out the best assist numbers of his career, averaging 3.5 per game after never having posted a season average over 2.4. This wasn’t only Bazemore picking up bogus assists via his teammates making a tough shot either, as his teammates averaged a 44.8 percent shooting percentage inside the arc and a 37.3 percent clip from three point range off of passes from Bazemore. This shows that the 29-year-old was indeed making his teammates better by getting them open looks more times than not and being a creator when the team sorely needed one.

He also played as hard as he ever has on defense last season in a year where the Hawks played exactly none as a team. Bazemore owned 2 defensive win shares averaging 2 steals and a block per game while guarding mostly point guards due to former guard Dennis Schroder’s inability to do so.

All of this is to show just how good Kent Bazemore was last season in an injury-shortened year along with what he means to the Hawks going forward, and it isn’t just statistical value.

Not once did Bazemore ever publicly complain about the direction the Hawks were taking to rebuild, and not once did Bazemore show up to a game not ready to play.

The veteran wing showed his valuable flexibility last season to become whatever the team needed him to be on any given night in order to win. If the team needed him to create as a point guard, he did it. If the team needed him to lock down the opposing team’s best player, he did it. If the team needed him to lift them with shots from beyond the arc, he just did it.

That is the type of example you want to have around a young and impressionable team.

Bazemore is in the prime of his career, on a team that is bound for the basement of the Eastern Conference, but he’s not going to give up, and that leadership is better for this team right now than any statistic he can post.

It’s going to be a big year for Kent Bazemore, so stay tuned.