Kent Bazemore Takes His Game to Another Level

bazemoreKent Bazemore did everything he set out to do during NBA Summer League.

He showed strides in his offensive game and improved his grasp of team defense concepts. He all but locked up a roster spot on Golden State, emerging as a dominant player in Las Vegas. He led the Warriors’ summer league squad to the inauguaral championship, averaging 18.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 30 minutes.

Ian Clark, who dropped 33 on Phoenix on Monday, won the championship game MVP. And Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas won MVP of the Summer League. But Bazemore leaves Las Vegas with the respect he no doubt earned.

Now, he said, it’s time to get back to work.

“I’m not satisfied at all,” Bazemore said in a phone interview. “It would be easy to relax and feel like I’ve accomplished something – I’ve proven people wrong about me. But I’ve got to keep working. I really feel like I can be a good player in this league and have a great career.”

But before he embarks on more hard work, Bazemore gets to enjoy the benefits of the hard work he already put it.

Last year at this time, he was ranked by ESPN as No. 499 out of the top 500 NBA players. Now he’s the MVP of Summer League in Las Vegas. He gained his Bay Area fame by cheering enthusiastically for his teammates while glued to the end of the bench. Lately, he’s had people cheering his name.

“I’m impressed,” Warriors assistant general manager Kirk Lacob said. “He’s done enough to justify us keeping him on the roster, rspecially how hard he’s worked to get to this point. He really was turnover prone and couldn’t really shoot when we got him last year, and he was a little wild all over the floor. But you could see that length, that athleticism, and that fire.”

Even with the signing of veteran guard Toney Douglas and the drafting of Serbian guard Nemanja Nedovic, Bazemore would really have to blow it at this point to not be on Golden State’s roster. His contract is non-guaranteed, but the Warriors have hung on to him despite several opportunities to cut him, seduced by his 6-foot-11 wingspan and stand-out athleticism. Bazemore vindicated that decision with his play in summer league.

Already a special man-to-man defender, he showed significant strides in his once-non-existent offensive. After countless hours in the gym with now assistant coach Jim Boylan, Bazemore now has some weapons to work with on offense. He’s still not a shooter, but he’s gotten good at knocking down pull-up jumpers from specific spots on the floor (especially the elbow of the free throw line). His ball-handling has gotten secure enough to be effective in pick-and-roll situations. He can go right or left and make it to the rim and he is surprisingly good at setting up others. His interior passing and sense of when to deliver the ball was really good.

Bazemore’s handle is not yet crisp enough to take on NBA point guards, and he still turns it over too much for his own liking. But the Warriors don’t need him to be Stephen Curry. With his defensive ability and athleticism, the Warriors can use him in spots. And if he can give them something on offense, that makes it so much easier for coach Mark Jackson to put Bazemore on the court. His summer league performance shows they can probably stand to put him on the ball to make a play for a few minutes while unleashing him on defense.

“I don’t care if it’s two minutes, six minutes, 10 minutes,” Bazemore said, “I just want to be ready. I’m so happy I’m just still a Golden State Warrior.”

While Bazemore has been the talk of summer league, Jackson has stayed on him throughout. Even though he was out there dropping 25 points, providing highlight dunks and prompting Twitter fans to speculate on his minutes next season, Bazemore was being reminded by Jackson about the holes in his game.

“He keeps saying stuff like, ‘You need to cut down on turnovers,’ ” Bazemore said, repeating his coach. “And, ‘You’re still getting beat off the dribble.’ … He sees what I can be and he’s still pushing me.”

Pleasing Jackson is just one of many motivators Bazemore uses to keep working. Perhaps nothing drives him more than being counted out.

He went undrafted out of Old Dominion despite being a mid-major star and after what he thought was a good showing at NBA combine. Entering summer league, he said he remembers reading an article saying “remember these names because you won’t see them in the NBA” and Bazemore was on the list. Then, this summer, the Warriors added two guards who will no doubt stand in the way of his minutes.

On top of that, Bazemore said he still doesn’t feel like he’s completely back from breaking his foot in college. He said he is heading home to Virginia to work with a coach to help him get his elite athleticism back. The former high jumper and sprinter said he’s hoping to come back to Oakland for training camp even more speedy and explosive. That’s a scary thought for a guy with a 6-11 wing span and a 37.5 inch vertical leap.

And he can make a play. And he can hit a midrange jumper, or get to the rim and finish strong. And he’s gotten better at playing defense with his head and not just with his athleticism. And he’s a great locker room guy known for his relentless support of his teammates.

It seems Bazemore is now ready to take it to another level.

“Now he has to perform with expectations,” Kirk Lacob said. “He’s going to have to cope with that for the first time. That’s the next step for him. He’s put in the work. We wanted him to go out there and dominate the summer league, like he should if he is a legit NBA player. And he’s done that.”

Marcus Thompson