Hawks: Mixed results for Bazemore with increased offensive role

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Kent Bazemore’s role in the Hawks’ offense inevitably would increase once the team departed with three of their top four offensive players from last season and didn’t add comparable replacements. It became more prominent once the Hawks decided to run more of the offense through their guards, with the hope of creating more driving lanes.

Sure enough, Bazemore’s usage rate has ticked up as the secondary ballhandler alongside Dennis Schroder. Bazemore’s production as a play-maker has spiked significantly: 18.8 assist percentage and 4.5 assists per 36 minutes, which are very good numbers for off guards.

“Dennis is the guy that has the ball in his hands a lot, he’s a special talent scoring the ball and he’s starting to make plays for us,” Bazemore said. “But I like to get my other guys going. When the ball is moving like that, and all the focus is on Dennis—everyone is focused on Dennis–I just like to make plays and make everybody else better.”

That part is going well for Bazemore. But, so far, the results have not been good for Bazemore in terms of scoring as the ball-handler.  Continuing a trend from last season, Bazemore has been even more aggressive trying to score on pick-and-rolls. The outcome of that evolution wasn’t good last season, and it’s been worse early in this one.

Kent Bazemore play type: pick-and-roll ballhandler (via Synergy Sports)

Bazemore has used 61 pick-and-roll ballhandler possessions used through 11 games, a pace that would surpass the 207 possessions he used of that play type over 73 games last season. Bazemore has scored 0.66 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ballhandler this season, placing him in the 27th percentile among all players. Bazemore’s 30.2 shooting percentage as the pick-and-roll ballhandler is second-worst among players with at least 60 possessions

Bazemore has been good scoring in transition and when receiving the ball coming off screens. He’s been OK as a spot-up shooter. But so far Bazemore isn’t converting many of his chances as the screen-roll ball-handler even as he creates chances for others. That’s dragging down his overall points per possession to 0.80, placing him in the 22nd percentile according to Synergy.

“It’s something that is still growing,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “There are sometimes when he maybe is a little anxious trying to get to the basket or trying to make a play for a teammate. I think it’s going to continue to slow down for him and he’s going to continue to see the whole court and get better and better. I think it’s important that we have a second guy to take a little bit of the pressure off Dennis when he’s on the court.”

The one positive for Bazemore on pick-and-roll plays is that he’s drawing a lot of fouls: sixth-highest rate among players with 60 or more possessions. Bazemore’s free-throw rate is 18th-highest in the league among players with at least 200 minutes played and he’s making 77.8 of his free-throw attempts after dipping to 70.8 percent last season following a career-high 81.5 percent in 2015-16.

“I’m feeling a lot better physically,” he said. “Last year I battled a lot of injuries. This year I’m feeling great. I’ve got my explosiveness back. I’m able to get by guys (and) put the referees in a tough situation whether to call it or not. That’s the name of the game. I’ve gotten a lot smarter on the floor, picking my angles and when guys are out of position making them pay for it.”

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