Kent Bazemore: "I'll Come Back Ready"

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Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

Don't ever count out Kent Bazemore

In April, the Hawks traveled to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and pulled out an improbable victory without five of their regular rotation players. Two days later, with the Hawks' playoff position in doubt, the two teams played again in the second half of a home-and-home series. The Cavaliers came to Philips Arena and played a statement-worthy game. Cleveland led 93-67 at the end of three quarters.

Remember: don't ever count out Kent Bazemore.

To start the fourth quarter, he drove baseline and threaded an assist through multiple defenders to Mike Muscala at the rim.  Moments later, he forced a steal that led to an Ersan Ilyasova layup. In a balanced fourth-quarter effort, the Hawks pared down Cleveland's lead. Muscala shot 4-for-4 from the field and dished out 3 assists. Paul Millsap went 5-for-5 at the free throw line, then won a jump ball that led to an improbable buzzer-beating, game-tying layup.

But the comeback started with Bazemore and it ended there too. With 25 seconds left in overtime and the Hawks up by 1, he cut in front of a Cleveland inbounds pass and raced in for a layup. Philips erupted into an unprecedented hysteria. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Bazemore amassed 5 points, 4 assists and absurdly crucial 4 steals. 

The win over Cleveland highlighted a 2016-17 season that wasn't perfect for Bazemore. He started off the season managing soreness in his right knee. The Hawks slumped mightily in November and December during a seven-game losing streak, and Bazemore struggled as much as anyone. Then he missed two games with knee soreness.

"It was just a ton of adjusting all year and we battled," Bazemore said in his exit interview, wearing a throwback Hawks jersey colored in the blue-and-green colors of the Pete Maravich era. "I think we honestly left it all out there and did the best we could all season. We showed spurts of greatness and struggled at times. It's what you expect, man. This game throws a lot at you."

When the Hawks tweaked their playing rotation later in the season, Bazemore changed jobs and adapted to a sixth man role while Taurean Prince and Tim Hardaway Jr. took over as starters.

"This year has been encouraging (despite) a ton of hardships," Bazemore said. "We've grown as a team. Being super young with Dennis, Tim, Taurean, myself and a lot of other young guys, we learned a lot."

As his knee got healthier, Bazemore regained his old form. After January 1, Bazemore made 39.7 percent of his threes. He defended on the perimeter with force. By the end of the season, Bazemore had set career highs in assists, blocks and free throw attempts.

"I think I've gotten better upstairs between the ears," Bazemore said of his adaptive season. "I think that will take me further than anything else."

The Hawks spent much of the season with two point guards on the roster, and in those situations, Bazemore often filled in as the third point guard. He cited shooting and ballhandling as the two things he wanted to work on most this summer, with the latter being especially helpful when he takes over at the point.

Bazemore also said that he believed he would have a productive summer because he ended this season in better health than he did a year ago.

"The body is starting to feel better," he said. "All the time in the weight room is really starting to show and pay off. There are just some touch up things with my game that I'm definitely going to work on this summer, and I'll come back ready to wear this 'Atlanta' across my chest next year.