The Sacramento Kings are 13-8 since January 22nd after starting the season 15-29. Uncoincidentally, that is also the day that Kent Bazemore made his Kings debut.
After spending the last five seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, Bazemore was traded to a Portland Trail Blazers team that was coming off an (albeit brief) appearance in the Western Conference Finals a year ago. For a multitude of reasons, Bazemore’s brief tenure in Portland didn’t exactly live up to expectations.
Sliding Into His Natural Position
While on the Blazers roster, Bazemore played 86 percent of his minutes as a small forward, often spotting up behind the three-point line around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. With the offense running through those two guards, he took more than half of his shots from three, and he rarely got the opportunity to cook with the ball in his hands.
At only 6-foot-5 and 195 lbs, Bazemore was tasked with guarding many of the bigger NBA small forwards who could outmatch him physically.
This was a misuse and an underutilization of Bazemore and his abilities on offense and defense.
Part of what made Bazemore such a key contributor during his peak years with the Hawks was his ability to play make, both on the break and in the half-court. He is pretty adept at running pick and roll as well as attacking the rim on drives from the perimeter.
Bazemore possesses a 7-foot wingspan and runs like a gazelle in the open court, so having him run the break with Fox and shooters flanking him has been a recipe for success. It seems like in every game he has played in a Kings jersey, he has flashed at least one impressive drive in transition where he either finishes or finds an open man.
This play in the Kings’ Feb. 22 victory over the Clippers in LA spotlights Bazemore’s fluidity in the open floor. (play @ :22)
In his 21 games in Sacramento, Bazemore has played 88 percent of his minutes at his natural position of shooting guard. That change in position has been a boon for Bazemore’s success.
Since the trade, Bazemore has averaged career highs across the board, and the Kings have been 6.7 points better offensively with him on the court according to Basketball-Reference. The team itself has improved, going 13-8 since his migration down the I-5 from Portland to Sacramento.
Bazemore also seems to bring a certain energy every time he’s on the court that seems to infect both his teammates and the Golden 1 Center crowd. This is the type of energy that the Kings lacked during their early-season malaise.
Replacing Trevor Ariza’s uninspiring 25 or so minutes a game with Bazemore has been a massive upgrade for the Kings.
Bazemore’s Future With Kings
Having a wing who can create offense with the ball in his hands and also provides solid defense at the wing is a pretty nice luxury for a team to have. Bazemore’s athleticism and positional versatility is an ideal fit for a Kings team that is attempting to build around De’Aaron Fox.
The Kings’ first priority this offseason will likely be retaining Bogdan Bogdanovic, so it remains to be seen how the Kings will prioritize bringing back Bazemore. If I were Vlade Divac, I’d do my best to retain him.
At age 30, Bazemore should still have several solid seasons ahead of him and the Kings should do everything in their power to keep him this offseason.