Bazemore and Bembry: A Defensive State of Mind
Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images
Author: Kevin L. Chouniard (@KLChouinard)
The Hawks have been, for lack of a better phrase, ballhawking this season.
Even in a season where the losses have outnumbered the wins, Coach Lloyd Pierce perked up when he heard that the Hawks had recovered more loose balls than any other NBA team (10.9 per game through games played December 9).
"Really?" he asked.
When assured that the statistic was correct, Pierce motioned to his players out on the practice floor.
"I can't tell those guys that," he quipped. "I want more."
Pierce said that the loose balls recovered were a measure of the amount of energy his team is exerting.
"That's a good stat to use because it talks about effort," he said. "We talk about effort, and we try and reward effort plays. Some things – like what Dewayne did in the Golden State game defensively – can't be measured. Deflections, positioning, things of that nature, those are some things that can be measured."
The Hawks have risen to the top of the leaderboard in some other similar categories. They rank fourth in steals per game (9.2) and third in deflections per game (15.6).
"For where we are, those are the things we are looking for," Pierce said.
Two players are leading the surge for the Hawks: DeAndre' Bembry and Kent Bazemore. Bazemore ranks 8th in the NBA with 42 steals and Bembry sits in 25th place with 35 steals.
For the Hawks, a team still feeling out its way in terms of offense, those defensive efforts provide a huge boost. They often get easier offense on the possessions that follow live-ball turnovers like steals. Take Wednesday's game against the Washington Wizards, for example. The Hawks set a season-high for points in a quarter with 45 points in the third quarter. It was Atlanta’s first 45-point third quarter since 2004.
Guess what else happened in that quarter? Bazemore picked off three steals and Bembry took home two of his own.
Bazemore set the tempo for Hawks' defense in the second half when it showed signs of going listless. Here on this play, Bazemore smothered a potential dribble handoff between two Wizards. When the ballhandler had to carry his dribble further than he originally anticipated, he ended up bouncing the ball off his foot and into the welcoming arms of Bazemore.
Bazemore also helped set up a Bembry steal at the end of the quarter when he took a deliberate foul at the end of the third quarter when the Hawks one to give. On the ensuing inbounds pass, Bembry swooped in, gathered the ball and dunked it home in the blink of an eye.
In addition to steals, Bazemore and Bembry rank near the top of some other categories. With 2.4 loose balls recovered per 36 minutes, Bazemore ranks 2nd in the NBA. Bembry isn't far behind in 4th place with 2.2. Bembry ranks 3rd in the NBA with 4.2 deflections per 36 minutes; Bazemore sits in 9th place with 3.6 deflections per 36 minutes.
Bazemore says that he uses more than one indicator in deciding when and how to go for the ball.
"It's just feel," he said. "If the ball is there and you're in a good position, you kind of just sneak up on them. If a guy knows you're going try to reach, then he'll be a little bit more protective. You just kind of lull them to sleep. A lot of guys dribble with a rhythm. If the ball is down, you take a poke at it. If they try to change directions, you can stab it on the crossover. There are so many ways you can do it."
For Bembry, it's often a matter of keeping his eyes in two places at once: on the passer and on the target.
"I'm watching the guy with the ball, watching his eyes," Bembry said. "A lot of people show and look at what they're about to do. Just having your head up and being aware plays a huge factor in getting steals – just having your head on a swivel and seeing the ball, seeing your man."
Bazemore added that he copied his techniques from a number of players that he observed over the years.
"Avery Bradley, Thabo (Sefolosha) when he was here, Andre Iguodala, Gary Payton," he said. "(I learned) just watching those guys, watching how they use their chest to get in a guy's space and use their length to pick around at the ball."
As the season chugs along, the Hawks will certainly want their young players to do the same. If they copy Bazemore and Bembry and zero in on the ball at the right times, they'll be able to force even more turnovers with their swarming defense.