ATLANTA (AP) Kent Bazemore was passed over in the NBA draft. He did extensive time in the D-League.
Now, he’s starting for a team that won 60 games a season ago.
Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer confirmed what everyone expected: Bazemore will be in the lineup when the Hawks host the Detroit Pistons to open the regular season Tuesday night.
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”I guess I need to call him on his way home,” Budenholzer quipped after practice Monday.
Bazemore, a 6-foot-5 swingman, started throughout the preseason at the small forward spot that belonged to DeMarre Carroll the last two years. When Carroll signed a $60 million free-agent deal with Toronto, Bazemore seized his chance to join a lineup that includes four All-Stars – Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.
”Obviously, I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Bazemore said.
Indeed, Carroll was the emotional leader of the Hawks, a stifling defensive player who made impressive strides offensively. But his contributions to the team went beyond what showed up on the stat sheet.
”He was somebody that everybody enjoyed being around,” Budenholzer said. ”He had a real caring way about him. And that’s how he played. He cared about those around him. He gave us a heck of a two years.”
Bazemore was something of an understudy to Carroll, who bounced around the league before finally getting his big break in Atlanta. They’re both high-energy players known for their defensive prowess, though Bazemore is 3 inches shorter and may have trouble matching up with some of the small forwards he’ll be facing in what is essentially a three-guard lineup.
At the offensive end, Bazemore’s game is still a work in progress. He’s put in extensive time to improve his jump shot and learned to play with a bit more control, hoping to make some of the same strides that helped Carroll’s career blossom.
Considering where he started from, Bazemore has already shown tremendous progress.
He wasn’t drafted in 2012 after his college career at Old Dominion. He played in two summer leagues before earning a shot with Golden State. He spent almost two years with the Warriors, playing sparingly between stints in the minor leagues. Finally, late in the 2013-14 season, he was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers, a team going nowhere.
Bazemore started 15 games and began to earn some notice around the league. He signed a modest two-year deal with the Hawks, settling into a backup role that grew throughout his first season with the team. He wound up starting a couple of games during Atlanta’s run to the Eastern Conference final.
With Thabo Sefolosha still getting back to full speed after sustaining a broken leg in an incident with New York City police, Bazemore was the logical choice to take Carroll’s spot.
”It’s been a lot of work, a lot of sweat, a lot of blood,” he said. ”I can’t take it for granted.”
Outside of losing Carroll, the Hawks return much of the same team that stunned the NBA by taking the top seed in the East with a franchise-best 60-22 mark. For the first time since moving to Atlanta in 1968, they won a pair of playoff series before getting swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference final.
With much higher expectations, the Hawks will open against a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2008 and is coming off a 32-50 season. The Pistons did show some progress under coach Stan Van Gundy, however, going .500 after a 5-23 start.
Detroit lost center Greg Monroe in free agency but used its lottery pick on forward Stanley Johnson, who will begin the season in a backup role.
After for Budenholzer, he’s getting used to a new role as not only the coach but the Hawks’ de facto general manager, taking over the extra duties after the team parted with Danny Ferry.
”I’m sure there’s a lot to be proven,” Budenholzer said. ”I’ve got to carry on the leadership, carry on the vision. A lot of good things happened the last two years. It’s a great challenge.”
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