The team’s latest surprise has started in eight of nine appearances since coming to L.A., averaging 15 points and three assists in 30.9 minutes per game.
To put that into greater context, the undrafted second-year guard out of Old Dominion has the third-highest scoring average of all players on the Lakers’ roster, right behind Nick Young, who has been mostly sidelined since fracturing his knee in early February.
It's been a blur for Bazemore, who arrived with MarShon Brooks for Steve Blake in what was considered a salary dump that saved the Lakers about $4 million in player payroll and luxury taxes. He'll happily take the on-the-job experience. His career averages with Golden State were 2.1 points and 5.1 minutes.
Per Bresnahan, Bazemore is enjoying the transition immensely:
It's fun playing in the biggest market outside of New York. It's a blast. People down here, they don't really like Golden State, so I was kind of nervous about that but they greeted me with open arms. They're cheering me on. You can hear the little claps from the crowd when they call my name.
After failing to find a home during the 2012 NBA draft, Bazemore joined Golden State’s summer league roster and impressed management enough to sign him to a two-year, partially guaranteed contract. The 6’5” swingman is a lefty shooter with a reputation for athleticism and defensive intensity. Bazemore has an absolutely ridiculous 6’11.5” wingspan, per Draft Express, which no doubt helped when he swatted seven shots in a win against the Chicago Bulls during a summer league game.
Since joining the Lakers, Bazemore has averaged .44 blocks per game, the highest of any guard on the roster. He’s also leading the entire team in steals, at 1.33 per game.
Bazemore has also scored a career-high 23 points, twice, during his brief tenure with the Purple and Gold.
So he’s had a fast and improbable start out of the gate since joining the Lakers—is he actually a viable long-term contributor, or is he just fool’s gold in Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball system?
It’s not a glib question—D’Antoni’s style of coaching rewards guys who can get down the floor fast and score. It’s a gunner’s mentality, as evidenced by the fact that eight players on the current roster are averaging double figures in scoring.
The drawback to D’Antoni’s high-octane offense is that it’s not balanced by a stopper’s mindset at the other end of the floor. Bazemore, however, has the tools to make a difference on defense, and in fact, he is showing the will to do so. That’s a plus, given that it’s not a huge part of the Lakers’ current coaching culture.
Kent Bazemore: "I grew up this way with not much going for you so you gotta fight & claw, & that's how you bring the best out yourself."— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 5, 2014
There’s also the matter of affordability and existing contracts, factors that weigh in favorably for the Lakers’ newest shooting star.
Bazemore's current salary is just $788,872, with a qualifying offer of $1,115,243 for next season. The only other Lakers shooting guards with future contracts are Kobe Bryant, who will enter the first year of his extension at $23,500,000, and Nick Young, who could very well choose to walk away from his player’s option of $1,227,985 (all salary data via Sham Sports).
Bazemore is an unheralded player who’s making the most of his second chance in the league. He’s enthusiastic, and yes, a little raw. How far he can go has much to do with the circumstances around him. For now, he’s shining in an unfettered system. Playing under D’Antoni can be empowering in an undisciplined way—like a child handed unlimited amounts of candy.
Still, the young guard's desire to succeed and willingness to push the envelope is evident.
With the worst record in the Western Conference, the Lakers are heading into unfamiliar territory. Yes, they’ll be in the draft lottery and will also have money to spend in free agency. Still, a horrendous season is nothing to brag about, and you can’t blame it all on injuries.
The writing is indelibly inked upon the wall for all to see—D’Antoni is not the answer in Los Angeles. And by the same token, Bazemore’s brief moment in the sun hasn’t secured his future.
But unlike his coach, the young guard hasn’t yet reached his ceiling. It would be wise for the Lakers to invest in Bazemore’s development, because that’s how teams with lousy records actually improve.