Kent Bazemore’s ascendance key to Hawks’ success

Kent Bazemore has not only succeeded in 2015-16 in the starting lineup as the Atlanta Hawks’ small forward, he’s become a top three player on the team.

Many believed that the 2015-16 Atlanta Hawks would lose at least ten more games than last year’s 60-22 team that had the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs and played in the club’s first Eastern Conference Finals to date. It was widely speculated that the departure of small forward DeMarre Carroll would have an adverse impact on the Hawks’ bottom line as a team.

While Atlanta is not going to win 60 games again in 2015-16, this team is still poised to make a deep playoff run, as Carroll’s replacement in the starting lineup, fourth-year player Kent Bazemore has not only thrived at small forward, but has become the Atlanta Hawks’ third best player behind only Paul Millsap and Al Horford.

It didn’t seem like it then, but I could tell that because of Kent Bazemore’s raw, untapped athleticism that he would end up having a higher ceiling as a player for the Atlanta Hawks than DeMarre Carroll. We saw the highlight reel dunks and the improbable blocks on a fast breaks in transition defense in 2014-15. Eventually we did see him become a strong shooter from three as last season drew to a close.

What we didn’t expect was that Bazemore would command the starting small forward role with the Atlanta Hawks due to the undeniable improvements he made in the offseason shooting the basketball. Kent Bazemore leads the Atlanta Hawks in three-point shooting (.424), free-throw shooting among regular players (.873), and true shooting percentage (.601).

Kent Bazemore is one of four Atlanta Hawks in the top five in both offensive and defensive ratings. He has a tie with wing Thabo Sefolosha for fifth on the offensive end at 110. Bazemore is fourth defensively with a 103 defensive rating.

In the advanced metrics, Kent Bazemore is third on the team in offensive win shares (1.4), defensive win shares (1.2), total win shares (2.6), offensive box plus/minus (1.2), total box plus/minus (1.8), and value over replacement player (0.9). Only Paul Millsap and Al Horford are better than Bazemore in most of those individual advanced metrics.

What this means is that the daunting task of replacing DeMarre Carroll was not as arduous as initially thought. Credit goes out to both Kent Bazemore for elevating his play, as well as head coach Mike Budenholzer’s player development program. Coach Bud obviously knew that Bazemore could and would have to become a key piece to the Atlanta Hawks’ 2015-16 puzzle should this team want to contend again.

Overall, it has not been the frontcourt that has held the team back. Diminished play from the backcourt of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and Dennis Schroder among others that has kept the Atlanta Hawks from becoming the preeminent challenger to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. Should the backcourt rise to the level of the Atlanta frontcourt, then the Hawks will emerge as the Cavs’ biggest threat in the Conference again in 2016.

As long as both Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha stay healthy, the Atlanta Hawks should stand to have one of the better teams three through five in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta just needs the backcourt to play better and this team will finally start to take off. The No. 2 seed in the East is wide open. It is Atlanta’s for the taking should they want it. Let’s Go Hawks!