Most NBA observers can be forgiven for not knowing much about the second-year guard. It's not like he featured prominently in the Golden State Warriors rotation before heading south in the deal that sent Steve Blake to the Dubs.
But Bazemore is a player with a lot to offer, both in terms of legitimate on-court potential and as a valuable morale-booster on the sidelines.
His unique combination of tantalizing defensive prowess and goofy good vibes won me (and most Warriors fans) over immediately. And as the unofficial president of his nonexistent fan club, I feel qualified to explain exactly what the Lakers are getting in their new acquisition.
Purple and Gold, prepare for a pleasant surprise.
Good Times Ahead
Bazemore is fun. Simple, right?
More than anything else, he's an insanely entertaining personality. At present, that's Bazemore's most valuable trait. And if you know anything about him, it's that his celebrations are second to none. He had one for every occasion.
Per Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area, things got extremely emotional in the locker room when news hit that Bazemore had been traded. Instead of celebrating, there was a genuinely mournful atmosphere. That's understandable, as Bazemore was universally beloved for his constant enthusiasm:
Bazemore was the class clown, the court jester, one of the most noted bench jockeys in the NBA. Undrafted out of Old Dominion, he carved out a role mostly for his effort and spirit.
“If you're a Warriors fan, you know who he is and how energetic he is and how much he loves this team and this city,'' Curry said.
After the Warriors knocked off the Sacramento Kings in their first game without Bazemore, players bid fond farewells to their departing teammate:
Godsend to my brother and teammate @KentBazemore20 on his new journey in LA. Def gonna miss your spirit and hard work.— Andre Iguodala (@andre) February 20, 2014
But the Warriors' loss in the fun department is the Lakers' gain. Now, fans will get to see Bazemore go nuts on the bench alongside Robert Sacre, arguably the only guy on the same level of sideline shenanigans.
L.A.'s public relations team will have a field day with Bazemore as well. He's always game to get in front of the camera.
That's not to say Bazemore is only a sideshow. Far from it actually.
Also a Basketball Player
Despite winning the Lefty Driesell award as the NCAA's top defensive player in 2011, Bazemore went undrafted out of Old Dominion. He caught on with the Warriors in his first summer as a free agent, though, and earned a two-year deal.
From the moment he signed, Bazemore's road to serious playing time was going to be a difficult one. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson clearly entrenched as the team's backcourt of the present and future, it was tough for Bazemore to carve out minutes.
He seized an opportunity to show everyone what he could do over the summer of 2013, though.
Bazemore blew up in the Las Vegas Summer League, leading the Warriors to an undefeated record and narrowly losing out to Jonas Valanciunas for MVP award. Everyone got caught up in his incredible growth. With plays like this one, it was hard not to:
But Bazemore's progress was about more than dunks. He handled the ball much more effectively, ran surprisingly good pick-and-rolls and was the clear leader on the floor. In all, he averaged 18.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 steals over seven terrific games.
Unfortunately, he couldn't carry that momentum into the regular season.
Shaky work at the point made Bazemore an early-season target for defensive pressure and as the turnovers mounted, his confidence took a major dive. Afraid to make mistakes, Bazemore's hesitancy and poor ball security cost him a rotation role in short order. There was a sense that he'd failed in what should have been his big opportunity to break through.
Still, the second-year guard grew a ton over the summer. His offensive skills are still raw, but there's real, honest-to-goodness talent hiding somewhere inside his lanky 6'4" frame. Maybe a new situation and the drastically reduced pressure of playing for a rebuilding team will help him rediscover his summertime form.
For what it's worth, he's optimistic about a new start:
New journey starts today!!! #LakeShow— Kent Bazemore (@KentBazemore20) February 20, 2014
Bazemore profiles as a shutdown defender. All the tools are there: length, athleticism, speed and a willingness to work extremely hard on the defensive end.
If he has a flaw in that area it's that he's often too aggressive. That's a forgivable shortcoming, though, as it stems from a genuine desire to make an impact. Trying too hard is a good problem to have.
And it's easy to connect mistakes from aggressiveness to the urgency Bazemore felt in the early season. When his offensive game fell apart, he redoubled his efforts to make an impact on the other half of the floor. He gambled a bit too often, reached when his man beat him instead of trusting his helpers and found himself off-balance far more frequently than a defender of his skill ever should have been.
He was pressing.
If Bazemore can relax a bit, his defensive chops will shine through. Lakers fans are going to thoroughly enjoy his work as a smiling assassin on D.
A Guy to Root For
Bazemore's not perfect, and it's possible he won't stick around in the NBA for much longer if he can't calm down on offense and leverage his defensive skill into a legitimate role.
But he's someone all fans should want to see succeed.
Even when he was struggling mightily, occasionally killing the Warriors' second unit earlier this year, fans never turned on him. Instead of getting angry, they felt bad for him because they genuinely wanted him to do well.
There aren't many players who inspire that kind of regard.
His joy for basketball is both obvious and contagious. He's not playing a part when he celebrates on the bench; he's legitimately excited for his teammates. That kind of enthusiasm is hard to find and for Bazemore, it's born of a refusal to take an NBA career for granted.
He knows he's lucky to do what he does for a living. And Lakers fans are lucky to have him.