In trying to rebuild a team Mitch Kupchak rarely does things on a whim. He doesn’t take chances unless there is a pay off. Steve Blake is an example of this. He had been the Lakers most important player all year, the only one who could adequately run Mike D’antoni’s offense. But once it was clear to Kupchak the season was over then it was time for Plan B: auditioning players. Steve Blake became a commodity, a piece to move to get to something else. That something else was Kent Bazemore.
Kent Bazemore had a 23 game tryout. Players develop by playing. With the Lakers, Bazemore got plenty of opportunity to do more than lead the cheers off the bench. He had a scintillating debut showing off his vast array of offensive and defensive skills and then he was inserted into the starting lineup. Bazemore’s talent was unearthed. The moment he became a Laker he instantly became their second most talented perimeter player.
He has great speed. He can beat almost anyone off the dribble one on one. He can finish right or he can finish left. He can elevate over the rim. However his speed is his flaw. Velocity needs pace. Bazemore often doesn’t control his third gear. Often on the fast break he is too fast. Tempo is everything. He sometimes finds himself hurtling out of bounds before he can finish at the rim. Then he appears out of control. But to his credit he is a physical player who is also a finisher. His concentration needs work especially when he is in situations facing a defender in the paint. He misses more layups than someone with his athleticism should miss. He has the ability to get three point plays on a consistent basis but when he gets into the lane for his shot he doesn’t draw the defender into his space and into contact. Instead he makes contact with the defender and sometimes gets called with an offensive foul or no call at all.
He is a combo guard and if Kupchak really wants to think outside the box he could start Bazemore and Kobe in the backcourt together. Both can isolate. Bazemore has a nice mid range shot and a hunger for getting to the rim. Defenders would have to play him. He is an effective dribbler in traffic and makes quick decisions with the ball on the perimeter. Think about this: he averaged 3 assists in 28 minutes. He averaged 3 rebounds. Unlike the majority of Lakers players in 2013-14, Bazemore was comfortable getting in the paint and operating from there. His weakness was when he beat his man off the dribble, established position in the paint. He was not sure what to do next, pass or score. He then created a turnover because he was thinking the game and not reacting on instinct. He averaged 2 turnovers a game which is standard for someone who has the ball in their hands.
This summer he needs to take 500 free throws a day. 64% free throw shooting is terrible for a guard. He is going to be at the line a lot, especially at end of game situations. His teammates have to trust that he can deliver. But Bazemore is a clutch shooter who accepts pressure. He doesn’t shy away from the moment. The game slows down for him in these situations. But he does have a bad habit of letting his body language dictate what is going on in the game. So if he misses a big shot or he turns the ball over he is down on himself.
He is the Lakers best perimeter defender. He can guard three positions. He is good at guarding the pick and roll. He has quick hands and can get steals. He is physical and he is competent moving through screens. He is a good help defender, in rotations. He just does not have enough experience guarding the most explosive players in the league so there are still questions about his effectiveness.
Bazemore shot 45% for the Lakers and 37% from three which are James Harden numbers. He averaged 13 points in 28 minutes. He got a taste of what it is like to be a starter in the NBA (15 games). But he needs a summer of work getting his body in the condition it needs to be in to handle the physicality of a 82 game season. Bazemore is competitive. But he did not play in enough games to determine whether he is tough enough. Can he take the mental beating that comes with being Kobe’s teammate? Can he fight in games and not get discouraged? Is he driven to be great and use the off season, after he recovers from foot surgery, to add something to his game? Which brings up another issue, a more important one. If D’antoni is not his coach what is Bazemore’s fate? D’antoni’s offense lacks structure. It is the reason players love it so much. But D’antoni doesn’t hold players accountable for their mistakes. Almost every other coach does. How will Bazemore respond to that? Will he be able to overcome criticism? Can he play in a disciplined structure? Basically Bazemore has had half a rookie year, that’s all. His potential makes him worth whatever Kupchak would offer to keep him. His talent is unquestionable. If he plays for the Lakers next year or for someone else he is on track to have an exceptional second year.