Photograph from Lunaé Parracho via Flickr
The NBA is a league defined by constant change. Thanks to the analytics movement, aspects of the game like offensive efficiency and spacing that were only just materializing a few years ago are now a main focus of attention for teams. A successfully mutated Morey Project and a Steph Curry-led playoff run later, it’s clear that we’re now observing the NBA as a shooter’s league.
For players struggling to find roster spots, the analytics revolution has caused a substantial paradigm shift. Essentially, if you can shoot, you’ll find your way on to a roster at some point in the season. Conversely, for those who don’t possess an outside stroke… well, let’s just say they better be a specialist in another field. 3-and-D guys have stockpiled across the league and consequently, players cut from that unshakable-on-defense-but-forgettable-on-offense, Tony-Allen-esque cloth, have been driven to oblivion.
Despite all of his cheerleading capabilities, Old Dominion product Kent Bazemore still falls under the latter category. Bazemore, who was present at Summer League last year, quickly became a celebratory tale for D-League prospects when he scrapped and hustled for his way onto the Golden State Warriors’ roster after going undrafted in 2012.
Of course, Bazemore didn’t get where he is right now by some stroke of imaginary luck. In his four years at OD, he picked up an NCAA Defensive Player of the Year award, as well as two CAA DPOY’s, establishing that he could in fact dominate at one end of the floor enough to make up for his shortcomings on the other. I had a chance to sit down with Bazemore for a few minutes and he reaffirmed the idea that the NBA’s newfound emphasis on three-pointers deterred his chances of producing at the next level. “Once you’ve been in the league for a year, I understood. I looked back at my college career, I really didn’t show that I had a chance to be a pro.”
This is what he said when I asked him if he’s made improving his shot a point of emphasis:
“Absolutely, you gotta keep guys honest…if I can’t hit the three, the guy who closes out on me is gonna stay short and it’s gonna make it easier for his team to rotate. I think my biggest thing is that once I prove I can hit that three consistently, it’ll open up a lot more things. The game will be a lot easier.”
For the record, Bazemore attempted four treys on Tuesday and connected on two of them. After spending four years in college, Bazemore says a lot of his newly-acquired techniques are indebted to the shot the Warriors gave him. “Once I got my foot in the door and I was able to learn the NBA game, I just took off from there. I’ve had an opportunity to watch Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes. So I’ll pull them to the side in practice or even during the game just to see (what happened), and have them explain (the play) so next time I’m in, I’m looking for the same thing.”
This shouldn’t be taken as a surprise when you consider the extent to which the now-sophomore prides himself on being a sponge. ”One thing I’ve always hung my head on is being coachable you know, just listening. If it’s a rookie, you listen to them. It doesn’t matter, you can learn from everybody. If a kid comes up and tells me something I’m gonna take it with a grain of salt but I’m gonna listen,” he laughed. “That’s the easiest way to get better at this game.” Words like coachability aren’t thrown around lightly in NBA circles, and Bazemore’s desire to learn appears more comparable to an addiction than to a tiresome responsibility. This, as much as anything else, gives him a leg up on his uber-competitive peers.
The 25-year old is more than just a swab that soaks up and stores all the information that comes his way, though. Rather, he has a sort of contagious demeanour that spreads to the rest of his team. Essentially, there’s both a sense of absorption and diffusion. Bazemore doesn’t create chaos and thrive in its dissociated creativity like Kenneth Faried or Eric Bledsoe. Instead, his mark on the game is more cerebral: it can be found in carefully but tenaciously defended 21-second possessions that end in contested mid-range jumpers for his opponent as an alternative to chase-down blocks and interceptions. Of course, it’s not as if the 6’5″ swingman with a ridiculous 6’11″ wingspan is afraid of using his gangly arms to accumulate a few opportune steals, from time to time. Still, his is a more fundamentally safe brand of chaos, a kind of suppressed radiance that blossoms from his analytic, calculative nature.
“It’s just being cerebral, being in the right spot. (If) the ball is away from you, pull in. If it comes to you, inch out. If you’re the low man on the backside, tag your roll man and close out good to your shooters. It’s just things like that constantly play in your mind. You always have to be thinking, you have to always be locked down and if you’re not, man, you’re gonna pay.
“It’s just a game within a game within a game,” he added. “Sometimes you’re playing 2-on-2, sometimes 3-on-2. You just have to keep your brain turned on.”
There’s a definite sense of dissonance between the Bazemore we see on the court and the ecstatic bundle of unabridged energy we see on the bench. Bazemore’s claim to fame, aside from almost sealing a Game 1 victory for the Warriors against the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs, is his fervency for amazing bench celebrations.
On the sidelines, Bazemore is an heir apparent to Brian Scalabrine. So much so that his trademark three-point bowling strike is featured in the forthcoming NBA 2K14.
A year ago, Bazemore was here in Vegas, playing the role of a hopeful suitor for a team that needed a Jimmy Butler-esque stopper without having to go through the twists and toils of finding and paying for a first-round pick like Butler. This time around, he’s shored up his skills on both sides of the ball and Summer League provides him with the perfect stage to hone his skills. “It’s something I look to come out and do,” he told me. “Show my playmaking skills and have control with the ball in my hands.”
The decisive qualities with which Bazemore has earned esteem with the Warriors are, first, his calculative, analytic, coachable nature — you get the sense that he isn’t anywhere close to rounding out just yet; second, a palpable energy that somehow stays true to his careful, plotting nature; and lastly, what feels like a higher level of admiration for the game than displayed by most.
It’s widely accepted that Summer League is more a haven for ill-conceived mid-range shots and risky, not-often-rewarding passes than it is a representation of NBA-level basketball. Here’s the thing, though: the rewarding aspect of Summer League lies not in the games, but in the fact that it gives players in Bazemore’s situation the chance to show that what’s bubbling under a raw, unrefined exterior has at least a fragment of translatable potential.
The blur of six games in one day, the fear of being crushed by overly aggressive players rushing into the stands, the sense that all the days are just being puréed together into one conglomerate of basketball mush… it’s all worth it. Even if you do have to witness a Bazemore-Draymond Green pick-and-roll.