POSTED: Oct 31, 2015 12:24 AM ET
Kent Bazemore gets the steal and finds Jeff Teague who flies in for the two-hand finish.
ATLANTA — There were two questions confronting the Hawks this season: Can they effectively replace DeMarre Carroll? And: Will it matter anyway in the big picture?
It will take time to reveal the answer to the second one, the common perception being the Hawks were bound to slip from their benchmark 60-win season of a year ago, and they couldn't beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers even with Carroll. He was their defensive ace, especially on the perimeter, and guarded the other team's big weapon, and also supplied an unexpected source of three-point buckets when left open.
And here they are, a week into 2015-16 and the first question isn't so crystal clear, either. The Hawks really didn't conduct an all-out search for a successor, thinking they could fill his spot in-house, perhaps by committee if necessary. Or maybe they could discover an unpolished gem much in the same manner they molded Carroll from a role player into a free agent who cashed in to the tune of $16 million a season in Toronto.
If it happened to Carroll, then why not Kent Bazemore?
He's the next man up, ready or not, and he brings some of the same ingredients as Carroll, who worked in the shadows in Utah and initially in Atlanta before blending into coach Mike Budenholzer's share-all system and the hitting jackpot. As for Bazemore, he was an end-of-the-rotation player in Golden State before arriving in Atlanta via the Lakers over a year ago and filled out the rotation. When Carroll signed last summer in Toronto, Bazemore was the logical plug-in, ready or not.
Friday night, he was ready. In the third game of the season, Bazemore went for 19 points and nine rebounds against the Charlotte Hornets, did a credible defensive job on Nic Batum and then supplied the basket that proved the difference in the Hawks' 97-94 victory. It's the small steps that will ultimately determine whether Bazemore is following in the footsteps of Carroll and if he can be nearly as good, or someday, maybe equal.
Budenholzer was impressed with the latest result, especially the way Bazemore aggressively worked the offensive end against the Hornets. That was a minor surprise; Bazemore scored a total of five points in the first two games of the season and lacks the three-point resume of Carroll and others who play the position. Also, his career high is only 23 points. He's more of a slasher and a player who scores in transition and picks up loose points whenever he can. A scavenger.
"You could just feel his confidence," Budenholzer said, "from the very beginning of the game. I thought he did a lot of good things."
The bonus was 4-of-5 shooting from deep, which made Bazemore wisecrack: "I borrowed Kyle's jumper. He wasn't using it."
Bazemore's buckets were helpful because the Hawks played without Kyle Korver, who was resting the ankle he had surgically repaired last summer. Atlanta started Dennis Schroder next to Jeff Teague, a pair of point guards who could provide headaches in the open floor, but surrender size in the process. In all, the interchangeable Hawks once again needed their flexibility to do the job and cause matchup problems, which they did for much of the night against the Hornets.
"I just let the game come to me and I was a little more aggressive running the floor and getting to open spots for my teammates," he said. "They did a great job of finding me."
Whether the Hawks can survive while giving Bazemore a meaty role — he played 30 minutes Friday — will say plenty for their ability to develop players, and also for him. He's only 6-5 and doesn't have any extra weight to give away. That puts him at a physical disadvantage against small forwards, such as the other night against Carmelo Anthony, although Bazemore compensates by being aggressive defensively.
"I'm 2-3 inches shorter than most of them," he said. "But I like that I've got to work harder. Playing small forward is a different beast."
The Hawks opened the season with Bazemore, along with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Lamar Patterson, a second round pick two summers ago who played overseas, as potential swingmen to replace Carroll. Patterson has been the roster surprise and has averaged 20 minutes a night. Hardaway is on the bench, for now anyway, which is an eye-opener because the Hawks swapped a first-round pick for him with the Knicks. But Hardaway's defense, the weak part of his game, will keep him on the bench in Budenholzer's system until it improves.
Meanwhile, Bazemore is seizing the opportunity. He swears he didn't do cartwheels when Carroll signed with the Raptors, and approached last off-season the same as the others.
"I didn't want to get caught up in that," he said. "I just want to win, do everything I can to help the team."
The Hawks value his high energy and willingness to do whatever. They also like that he doesn't shiver in big moments. Like against the Hornets. When Charlotte crept to within a basket in the final minute, Bazemore broke open and when he received the pass, didn't treat the ball like a grenade. He drove the lane, missed the layup but tapped in the miss for the breathing room the Hawks needed, and capped a big night, one of the better ones of his career.
He said he learned plenty from Carroll, but one thing in particular stood out.
"The way he conducted his business last year," said Bazemore. "He just did his job. He and I came from the same type of background. Here's a guy who never got the chance and then in two years, boom. It just goes to show that no matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard enough, the sky's the limit."
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