Now healthy, Hawks’ Bazemore ‘in love with the grind again’

Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

ATHENS—The usual prescription for a player coming off a disappointing season is to spend the summer working on his game. Kent Bazemore’s frustrations last season were directly related to his health, so he spent the offseason working on his body.

After a bothersome right knee and associated ailments dogged Bazemore throughout the 2016-17 season, he and the Hawks came up with a plan to mend his body. Bazemore says strategies worked.

“Now that it’s behind me, I’ve fell back in love with the grind again,” he said. “I can actually really over-exert myself and get away with it.”

Bazemore sat out nine games last season because of the knee, and he said compensating for that injury led to problems with his hips and lower back. Bazemore ended up playing nearly the same number of minutes (1,963) he did during his breakout season of 2015-16 (2,083) but he wasn’t as effective.

Bazemore’s spot-up shooting fell off but so did his effectiveness when attacking the basket. Defense has been Bazemore’s calling card but he slipped in that area, too.

“My athleticism is 75, 80 percent of my game,” Bazemore said. “If I can’t get by guys or stay in front of them on defense, it’s frustrating.”

Bazemore said the knee bothered during the 2016-17 preseason and never stopped nagging him. He played through the pain and did what he could to manage it but the NBA schedule isn’t conducive to mending nagging injuries.

“You wake up and you’ve got an ailment and you’ve got a certain amount of hours before a game to kind of erase it and feel good,” Bazemore said. “You do all of this (therapeutic) stuff all day, come in super early, go out for the jump ball and it’s still there and it just wears on you.”

To avoid a repeat of last season, Bazemore said that this summer he and the team’s training staff had a “constant conversation about what I was doing, what I should do, what I should stay away from.” Bazemore said he also spent a lot of time learning about his body, and that process has him considering returning to school to study exercise science or physical therapy.

“I really turned my focus to my body and started reading a lot of stuff,” Bazemore said. “I have a unique body. I’m 6-5, super long, very, very rigid. It’s just different than a lot of guys. Understanding how I feel, what hurts where and why it is hurting and how it works is kind of what I spent my summer working on.”

In my player preview on Bazemore I noted that, considering his athleticism and wing span, he wasn’t as effective as you’d expect on pick-and-rolls or in transition. Bazemore said he expects to be better at getting to the basket now that he’s in better health.

“It’s a tough task to stay in front of me,” he said. “I think I will use that to my advantage this year. Get some easy shots for my teammates. That’s kind of been my focus these first few days of training camp is making plays. I haven’t quite focused on scoring yet. I know I am going to have to do that. But right now it’s just making plays, reading defenses and focusing on that kind of stuff.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he plans to be mindful of Bazemore’s health as the season begins.

“’Baze’ being healthy is really critical,” Budenholzer said. “Going into last season . . . he wasn’t completely healthy and throughout the season he battled staying healthy. I think us staying on top of his health, us staying on top of where he is with his minutes (is key). But he’s worked hard on his shot, he’s worked hard on his decision-making. We expect him to have a great year.”

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