Now healthy, Bazemore making good on contract

Kent Bazemore sensed the frustration of his teammates.

The Hawks wing had struggled so much early in the season that he was turning down open shots for fear of missing. He took a moment and had an epiphany.

“I was like, if I’m going to fail, it’s going to be an aggressive fail,” Bazemore said Friday morning before the Hawks played the Kings.

Bazemore said the moment came in Jan. 13 against the Celtics. He finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting, including two 3-pointers. In the past 15 games, Bazemore averaged 14.1 points and shot .479 from the field and .424 from 3-point range. This is more like what the Hawks envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $70 million contract this summer to return to Atlanta.

In the 15 games, Bazemore has scored in double figures 11 times. He reached double figures only 16 times in his previous 36 games since the start of the season.

Bazemore said the biggest factor in his recent success is simply his health. He said he was slowed much of the year by a sore right knee. He missed two games in December with the ailment and came off the bench for the next three games before returning to the starting lineup.

“That was a huge part of everything I was going through — the frustrations, not being able to be who you are,” Bazemore said. “In the present moment not being able to adapt. You are so stubborn mentally, you are going to the game with one mindset and that’s to play the way you play. You can’t do that and it wears on you.

“I had a moment there where I took a step back and said this is what you have, this is what you have to play with. Make the best of it. It worked for me.”

In his first 36 games, Bazemore averaged 9.8 points per game and shot .365 from the field and .295 from 3-point range. There were questions about the contract. Was he deserving? Did the Hawks make a mistake? Bazemore heard them. Maybe, for a few minutes, some of the doubt crept into his own mind.

Bazemore just wanted to get healthy. There was extra rehab and weight-room work to finally get back to feeling normal.

That was followed by a return of confidence.

“I’m just feeling a lot better physically and being aggressive,” Bazemore said. “Now that my body is getting back to me normal self, I’m able to do a little bit more, go a little bit harder and not think about certain parts of my body. It’s all about getting healthy.”

“(My right knee), it’s my jumping knee, my power knee. It was bothering me a little bit, and I was favoring it and scared to do things. I’m over that and getting after it.”

Bazemore said he has been driving to the basket more of late. That has been a product of opponents again having to respect his 3-point shot. Bazemore has gotten inside as defenders rush at him.

The Hawks stuck with Bazemore for his defensive ability. That’s a must in the Hawks’ team system. Play defense first. Bazemore did all that despite his health limitations. The shot and the confidence would eventually return.

Overall, Bazemore is averaging 11.0 points in 51 games with a .401 shooting percentage and a .340 3-point shooting percentage.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he doesn’t see one specific thing that has led to the turnaround. Well, maybe one thing. One important thing.

“I feel like he’s just making shots,” Budenholzer said. “When he’s getting open looks, he is making a higher percentage. That’s what I feel like it has been.”