Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every week day, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Kent Bazemore.
When Frank Vogel and Rob Pelinka courted Kent Bazemore to come back to Los Angeles in the early days of August, they reportedly told the free agent that they see him as a potential difference-maker for this team. Because as retooled as L.A. is now with more offensive talent, Bazemore is probably the best two-way player, and their only real option to replace the defensive boosts Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso gave the team during their tenures in purple and gold.
Bazemore, who is entering his 10th year in the NBA, provides something crucial that the other role players on this roster do not — defensive versatility. According to BBall-Index’s defensive versatility tool, Bazemore has played three various roles on defense in the past couple of years (wing stopper, chaser and point of attack) stylistic flexibility that probably already has Vogel giddy for his new guard.
And more importantly, Bazemore can confidently knock down shots from the field while working on defense. The 32-year-old is fresh off a 40.6% 3-point shooting season in 67 games for the Golden State Warriors.
Here's a look at Kent Bazemore's stable 3PT%, Open 3PT%, and Contested 3PT% percentiles.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 18, 2021
He had a down year this past year with hitting contested 3s, but he's had a lot of good seasons in a row with these stats.https://t.co/d5UxZrtDtT pic.twitter.com/TwIoRhnPau
Like that friend of yours who just seems to be good at everything he or she does, Bazemore is a jack of all trades type of player. Vogel can count on his veteran guard to bring down the ball, pass, defend on or off the ball, make open threes, run the floor, and even close out games. Additionally, Bazemore can be utilized as a stationary, catch-and-shoot and spot-up shooter. He can run in transition and serve as a sneaky cutter from time to time as well.
Speaking of shooting, Bazemore has a large gap between percentage on wide open threes (42.12%) and contested threes (29.17%) which means the opposing defense can’t totally ignore him, an extra important quality on a Lakers team with three stars.
That said, the veteran’s ability to make shots from behind the 3-point line will be vital for both him (if he wants a permanent and large role) and the team this season. Thankfully, his performance last year can boost some confidence in him, as he converted 42.1% of his open 3-point shot attempts and knocked down 41% on catch-and-shoot jumpers (76th percentile) according to Synergy.
Basically, Bazemore has the potential to improve the Lakers’ spacing and shooting while also clamping down on the opponent’s best perimeter players. For the veteran’s minimum, that’s a good get.
That’s important, because L.A. took the risk of diminishing their mighty perimeter defense by waving goodbye to Caruso and Caldwell-Pope, and among the new faces on the team, Bazemore is arguably the best role player to help contain the likes of Steph Curry, Devin Booker, Donavan Mitchell, as well as some of the 3-and-D wings the Lakers are bound face this season.
Bazemore can’t simply be an X factor for this roster. They need him to be a reliable player that can bring it on offense and defense every night. The good news for the Lakers is that at least Bazemore is already well-aware of where he is needed most this season.
“Defensively is where I hang my hat, getting that assignment every night. You watch the playoffs, you see all the younger talent at the guard position,” Bazemore said at his introductory press conference. “I’m looking forward to coming in and kind of shutting off that water. Waking up every day with that assignment to guard the other team’s best player at the guard position.”
Bazemore’s 7’0 wingspan, height and experience serves him well on defense. Aside from his role versatility on this end, the former Warrior has a knack for generating turnovers (he ranked in the 85th percentile in steals) which will help the Lakers put their foot on the gas and get out in translation — one of the best and most important kind of offense to maximize L.A.’s new but familiar identity of being bigger, faster and stronger than their opponents.
According to NBA.com, the Warriors allowed just 104.6 points per 100 possessions when Bazemore was on the floor last season. But when he sat, that number skyrocketed to 111, the biggest differential on the team. Vogel’s new two-way guard (who can also slide to the wing) does not let his man get past him easily, and often recovers well enough when he gets crossed over. He’s one of those guys who will regularly set the tone on defense with his effort and intensity, and thrive off of others doing so as well.
But of course, with the positives also come the negatives. After all, Bazemore was available for the minimum for a reason. His aggressiveness and effort on defense (he likes to over help and gamble at times) causes him to commit fouls with the frequency of a suburban homeowner handing out Halloween candy. Bazemore averaged 4.3 fouls per-36 minutes last season, and that will need to go down if he wants to see more playing time this year than the 19.9 minutes per game he got with the Warriors.
Ultimately, the Lakers also have to hope that Bazemore does not get into foul trouble too often, and shoots the ball well enough that they can maximize his skillset on both offense and defense. Because again, the team’s roster turnover this offseason left a glaring hole in their formerly excellent perimeter defense, and Bazemore is the only player who projects as defensively versatile enough to credibly fill that void. He has big shoes to fill, but at least his previous performance suggests that he can do so well enough to help.