'21 Season Review: Kent Bazemore, agent of chaos
He's all gas, no brakes. And I want him to come back!
If Kent Bazemore is a glue guy, then it’s a messy sort of glue.
Like when I tried to help my big brother build those model airplane sets as kids. His lines were always nice, none of the excess squirting messily out the side. Mine were… glued, at least? I never had the knack for squeezing just the right amount, not too much or too little, and then merging the pieces smoothly without leaving those weird glue strings poking out of the seam. We both built something, mine just had messier edges.
The Warriors have clearly missed stable vets like David West, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, and though Bazemore’s hand may be a bit shakier, he was a steadying force for Golden State last year. Perhaps a bit too eager, he racked up 158 fouls while playing about 20 minutes per game, and turned the ball over too often.
His role with the team is murky. Bazemore signed a one-year deal last offseason, taking a hefty pay cut in order to play alongside Stephen Curry and return to a Warriors franchise that first gave him a shot in the NBA after plucking the undrafted rookie off their Summer League roster back in 2012.
Golden State would certainly welcome his services back next season, if the two sides can come to a reasonable agreement on a contract. The Warriors are cash-strapped but hungry for value veterans like Bazemore.
The guard, for his part, indicated that the one-year deal with the Warriors was a trial run, and that he’s going to be looking for a stable home with his next contract, if at all possible.
"I want some stability, man," Bazemore said to the Mercury News' Wes Goldberg. "Tired of bouncing around. Wife is definitely sick of it. She's human, man. Every time she gets goin', it's time to go again. She's been great. Obviously it's been hard for her -- she let me off the hook a couple time. I'm really thinking hard about that, what she wants.
The messiest glue guy you’ve ever seen
Basketball is a complicated sport. That’s why defensive metrics are so hard. There are so many synergies and conflicts that singling out one player’s impact is often like discussing individual strands of a braided rope - you can easily see where failures are occurring, but if everything is working right, it just looks like a rope.
Bazemore was frequently the target of fan’s ire. And as much fun as I have rolling my eyes and going “oh man, did you see what they said on Twitter?” there are some legitimate gripes with Bazemore.
He fouls a lot. And the list of players that fouled at a higher rate than he did last season isn’t especially encouraging:
According to Cleaning the Glass, he fouled on around 5% of every possession. The worst mark since the rookie year of his career, and worse than 97% of guards. Though he did clean it up for a few games here and there, this high foul rate is a pattern - he’s never been above average in fouling frequency.
He also turns the ball over quite a bit.
That Cleaning the Glass link above shows him turning the ball over 16% of the time when he used a possession. That’s the 4th percentile (worse than 96% of the league’s wings).
But both of those statistics are not as bad as they may seem on the face. You know who leads the team in fouls? Draymond Green. He totaled 194 fouls on the season. Followed by Andrew Wiggins (159) and then Bazemore (158). Next on the list is Kevon Looney, followed by Kelly Oubre. In other words, the team’s best and most called upon defenders are the ones that racked up the most fouls. Bazemore might foul at a faster rate, but at least it seems like he could get into that foul trouble because of defensive intensity rather than poor habits - a view supported by his ability to clean up the fouling when it became an area of emphasis.
Bazemore isn’t a natural scorer, either. He averaged just 7.2 points per game with the team last season - his lowest since the 2014-15 season; and he’s never averaged more than around 13 points per game.
So I understand why some folks would have short patience with his mistakes.
But here’s the ugly truth: Bazemore was pretty darn good last season. Not just within the context of what the Warriors needed, either; just straight up good. Remember that he was the player leaned on to cover the roster gap when Oubre and Damion Lee and Jordan Poole were all out for various reasons. Just look at the graphic showing his minutes played (based on 10-game rolling averages), via CtG:
It’s no small coincidence that Bazemore’s increased workload happens alongside the Warriors’ strong finish over the last 20 games of the season.
Bazemore also had one of the best on/off impacts this season. Again looking at CtG, Bazemore’s net +22 point differential was the third-best on the squad, behind only Curry (+13.4) and Green (+15.1).
The coaching staff clearly grew to trust him. The Warriors most-used lineup this season was a Curry and Bazemore backcourt, with Wiggins, Looney, and Green. Playing 268 minutes, that lineup outscored opponents by about 9 points per 100 possessions.
So much of life is about timing, and this may be the perfect time for Bazemore and the Warriors to come back together. Oubre is probably priced out, Klay Thompson won’t be back right away, and when he does it will likely be on a minutes limitation. Even assuming we add another viable wing via free agency, there will be a need for veteran minutes on the wing - a job Bazemore is well suited (and available) for.
It wasn’t just his career-best 40.1% shooting from beyond the arc, Bazemore does a lot of little things, from his energy and hustle, to his defensive chops. We mentioned above that defense is tough to quantify, but the two box score stats of blocks and steals weigh heavily in his favor. Though he only averaged a half a block, and one steal per game, those values are in the 90th- and 97th-percentile when it comes to percent of plays.
A “3 and D” wing with strong defense and a hefty dose of veteran savvy and cool locker room guy… what’s that going to cost?
Here’s the real question for Golden State. They would clearly like to have him back, as the market for 3 and D wings - especially those that clearly work as well within the team’s ecosystem - are priced at a premium. It’s no secret that the Warriors don’t have much to spend, but the team does have a higher-than-minimum deal they could offer, that isn’t quite the MLE (which will likely be used to chase someone new).
To me, bringing Bazemore back at that Non-Bird level sounds ideal. The expectation is that Klay Thompson won’t be available yet early in the season, and with Kelly Oubre likely priced out, the demand for a minutes-eating wing player that can be trusted by the coaching staff will be high - even assuming Damion Lee and Jordan Poole continue their upward trajectory.
Bazemore is exactly the sort of available, low-cost veteran that this team needs in spades, he did well enough in his one-year audition last season to warrant a longer return - or at least in my opinion, he did.
So, Dub Nation, what say you? Do we need this glue or not?
Hmmmm? Close friend or brother-in-law? Let's just ask Curry who he wants to part ways with?! That wrinkle aside, given Klay is rehabbing, carrying both Baze and Lee isn't going to hurt you. As players, they a little duplicative. Lee, a more efficient scorer, better shot selection, Baze, the edge defensively, goof ball, wrecking ball, solid vet. Both can give you starter minutes at the 2 or 3 if needed, both know the system inside out, both great locker room guys. If making improvements to the roster, the 2 guard is the last position you would look at. The key is whether or not Warriors pencil Poole in as their back-up point guard. If he is slotted there, then there is room on the roster for Baze and Lee. If we add some vet point guard (repeating the Wanamaker failed experiment), then Poole will need to get his minutes at the 2. If you keep Baze, it will be as a small forward where he would pull minutes when Wiggs not on the floor. The Poole-Baze second unit lineups at the 1-2 were very successful and this pairing makes Lee the 5th Guard on your depth chart which makes a little more sense. Not to mention, if Poole-Baze at the 1-2, then JTA slots in at the small forward which is a better position for him as well.
Poole Baze JTA playing the 1-2-3 (better size, all better players at these positions) sounds a lot better than them playing the 2-3-4 alongside some aging veteran point guard.
Since the Warriors are 'cap-minded', I would choose JTA over Bazemore. More upside, better athleticism. If we only go by the stretch run at the end of this season with Baze playing for Oubre, we don't get a complete picture. Baze has to play at full force every moment to achieve any kind of respectability. Fouls and TO's accumulate. We will add two draft additions, probably. One will be a SF, Kispert or Wagner, I believe. Jessup is very likely to be on the roster. Only in a pinch would I add Baze, a good guy, as well as DLee and Chriss. A guy like Chriss would be more necessary than Baze or DLee, IMO.