Kent Bazemore: DeMarre Who?


Kent Bazemore became the new starter at small forward for the Atlanta Hawks in October. His strong play proves that Atlanta is fine without DeMarre Carroll.

Heading into the 2015-16 NBA Season, many knew that the Atlanta Hawks were not going to win 60 games again. The basketball club wasn’t going to sneak up on anybody like they did before, despite being a playoff team the seven years prior.

Losing SF DeMarre Carroll to the Toronto Raptors in free agency was a foolish maneuver, as the Atlanta Hawks would have no perimeter defense and would finish ten games worse solely based on that notion. There was no way the Atlanta Hawks were going to replace a player’s production coming from someone nobody had even hear about outside of Atlanta not even a year ago.

-= Related: Atlanta Hawks Win 7th Straight Game, Beat Wizards 114-99 =-

Did NBA fans forget that re-signing PF Paul Millsap was the most important move the Atlanta Hawks had to make this offseason? It would have been even more foolish to let one of the best power forwards in the NBA sign with, I don’t know, the Orlando Magic.

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Letting Carroll walk wasn’t easy. He was the vocal leader of the Atlanta Hawks the last two years. His all-around improved game made him one of the better 3 and D guys in the league. I’ll still miss the Junkyard Dog’s tenacity and his ability to exploit mismatches and cut to the basket. However, he essentially outplayed his value in Atlanta. The Hawks organization have a major potential free agent of their own to worry about next year: C Al Horford. Expect The Boss to get the max wherever he ends up.

While I would have loved for Carroll to stay, his departure is more proof that the NBA is an entertainment business. Carroll earned every penny of his life-changing contract with the Toronto Raptors. Best of luck to him expect for when both teams meet later this season.

What I don’t think the NBA world understood is that Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer planned to account for Carroll’s loss by recreating him in the aggregate. Thabo Sefolosha‘s return from his NYPD injury would give the Hawks flight on the defensive end. Trading for Tiago Splitter from the San Antonio Spurs was an upgrade over Pero Antic,who is now back playing ball in Europe. Acquiring Justin Holiday and Tim Hardaway Jr. would add some interesting work-in-progress type of players out on the wing. “Calling up” Lamar Patterson and Walter Tavares seemed logical in the player development program.

However the biggest criticism to this rationality behind recreating Carroll was “who is going to start at the three?”. Starting Millsap at the three, Horford at the four, and Splitter at the five seemed like a spacing nightmare. Bud does use that big experimental lineup just about every game, just not out of the gate. Sefolosha started at the two when he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but has not shown the offensive prowess to start in Bud’s system. He still doesn’t like to take wide-open jump shots for some reason.

During the NBA preseason it became clear that Kent Bazemore would become the starter at the three. Not only has he done a great job of replacing DeMarre Carroll’s production, he might actually be the better of the two, as his ceiling seems a little higher.

Kent Bazemore went off last night by putting up a career-high 25 points against the Washington Wizards. His smooth shot from the outside and his raw athleticism that is slowly being refined helped turn what was a close game after three quarters (78-75 Wizards) to a blowout win for the Hawks at the end of regulation (114-99 Hawks).

Though it is early, Bazemore is shooting out of his skin in the Hawks’ first eight games. He’s shooting 50% from the field, 55.6% from three and is exponentially better from the free throw line, sinking 87.5% of his attempts from the charity stripe. Kent Bazemore is averaging 12.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, and forces 2.3 combined turnovers a game (steals and blocks). His offensive rating of 117 is through the roof and his defensive rating is at a strong 99.

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The Atlanta Hawks are a better offensive and defensive team when he is on the court. On the team’s seven game winning streak, the Hawks have elevated to the 5th best offensive team in the NBA (106.6 ORTG) and 11th best defensively (100.8 DRTG). Pace remains middle of the pack at 15th (97.5 possessions per game). While the defensive metrics are just outside of the desired Top 10, it should get there shortly, as the Hawks still view themselves as a defense-first type of basketball team.

Atlanta may have lost a great player in DeMarre Carroll, but have seemed to have found a more fruitful replacement in Kent Bazemore. Bazemore always had the better handle and more athleticism than Carroll. The poor free throw shooting was sabotaging Kent Bazemore’s growth, as he couldn’t play in extended crunch time minutes. Hack-a-Baze seemed exploitable for opponents.

Next: Justin Holiday Now a Part of Hawks' Rotation

Now that he has put in many hours of hard work in the offseason working on his shooting stroke, he now has a vice-like grip on the starting small forward position with the Atlanta Hawks. It’s only been eight games. Who knows how good this team can get in 2015-16? Maybe 60 wins isn’t all that farfetched as we once thought. Let’s Go Hawks!