On Monday night in Las Vegas, the Golden State Warriors smashed past the Phoenix Suns 91-77 to claim the inaugural NBA Summer League Championship.
Undrafted second-year guard Kent Bazemore added 18 points to cap what has been an impressive summer run.
Prior to the team’s shoot around on Saturday, before the Warriors quarterfinal match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bazemore was kind enough to give me a call and answer some questions to better help Warriors fans get to know him.
I asked Bazemore to run me through a typical day in the life of a summer league player.
“There’s not much to it,” Bazemore explained. “Get up, try and get some breakfast, some cereal and fruit. Go to shoot-around. Come back, get food, take a shower, and then just rest up until it’s time to get treatment.”
The team overcame a 10-point half-time deficit, as Bazemore dropped a summer-high 26 points in the 83-77 win.
Bazemore scored 129 points as the Warriors cruised to a perfect 7-0 finish in summer play. That’s good for an average of 18.4 points per game.
“Then you head over to the gym and play until midnight.”
Bazemore sure has been playing. His point haul is the highest total for any Warriors player ever in the summer league.
“It’s pretty laid back. You pretty much just go at your own pace.”
Whatever the pace that Bazemore has been going at this summer, it’s working as he was included on the All-Summer League team. This was summer league though, and the real question is how will Bazemore factor into the Warriors’ roster in 2013-2014.
I asked Warriors assistant GM Kirk Lacob what kind of role he envisions for the summer-league star in the upcoming season.
“Whatever role he earns,” Lacob replied.
If the name sounds familiar that’s because Lacob is the son of the team’s majority owner, Joe Lacob. The young Lacob, who graduated from Stanford in 2010, landed on Forbes “30 Under 30: Sports” list back in 2012.
He added, “We hope he continues to be an exemplary teammate on and off the court, and be ready to contribute in any way he can.”
Rusty Simmons, who covers the Warriors for the San Francisco Chronicle on what surprised him the most about Bazemore’s performance this summer:
“I guess I ‘m not surprised, but I’m impressed that Bazemore’s hunger hasn’t waned.”
Simmons also noted that Bazemore still writes 499 on his sneakers as a reminder that ESPN ranked him 499th out of 500 NBA players last season. Simmons added:
“He gets up to defend highly-drafted opponents, and plays defense like he’s still trying to earn a job. It’s refreshing to see in a league that consistently pays scorers.”
Of course, Bazemore had been scoring quite a bit in Las Vegas as well. When asked if there was any particular aspect of his game that he was really trying to improve this summer, he stated, “Everything pretty much.”
“Ball-handling, shooting, defense, pretty much everything. Defense is my calling, but I just want to be a solid player.”
Simmons commented that the aspect of Bazemore’s game needing the most work is his decision-making as it relates to ball-handling.
Bazemore, perhaps acknowledging as much, also spoke about his comfort level as a point guard and how much he expected to be handling the ball in the upcoming season.
“As much as needed. We’ve got Stephen Curry, Toney Douglas, Andre Iguodala can handle the ball,” he explained. “So wherever I’m needed. I’m always ready.”
Lacob, speaking about how Bazemore has looked as a point guard this summer, offered: “We don’t label him as a point guard as much as a play maker and pick-and-roll ball handler.”
“We knew he could make plays, but the goal was to tighten up his decision-making and focus so that the bad decisions went down and the plays made go up.”
Lacob suggested that Bazemore has improved his decision-making and also added a more consistent outside shot this summer. But also noted, “As for how these improved skills are utilized best, that is for Mark [Jackson] and his staff to determine.”
Simmons added that Bazemore spent “countless hours” after practice last season with Jarrett Jack trying to learn the “intricacies” of the point guard position. That work has continued with assistant coach Joe Boylan, but the problem is, “It’s a position that doesn’t come naturally to Bazemore. He’s usually been athletic enough to simply be better than his competition.”
“Now, Bazemore is being asked to read pick-and-roll defenses and get the ball to his teammates when and where they’ll be most effective.” Simmons concluded, “It’s a whole new ballgame.”
Bazemore says that he’s already had the chance to meet Iguodala, who like the young guard, is known for being a defensive stalwart. The new Warrior came out to watch the summer league team last week along with Curry and David Lee.
“He’s a very nice guy. Very well spoken,” Bazemore said of his new teammate.
And while Bazemore’s new teammate is certainly well known around the league, Kent is just starting to carve out his own following as the fans get to know him.
On the Warriors official team website there’s currently a video where Bazemore is roaming around the strip in Las Vegas, and at one point he has a bit of fun with some fans from Australia who don’t seem to have a clue who he is.
Bazemore on his most memorable fan interaction.
“I was in college, and I’m in an elevator, and this lady’s like: ‘Hey can you sign my shirt?’ I’ve got my back turned to her, and I turn around and she’s like pregnant.”
Bazemore told me that when the woman lifted up her shirt it read: “Little one.”
“I was like ‘oh my god, her husbands looking at me, and I’m like I don’t know if I should be doing this.”
“So I ended up signing. But it was the most awkward thing.”
Bazemore clarified that he had signed an undershirt and not the woman’s belly. Adding that it was “kind of spooky.”
Part of his new following is the attention drawn by his energy and excitement while on the sidelines during games.
Often times last season, the guard would quite literally be the last man on the bench. However, that was simply so that he could make full use of the baseline as he executed his, at times, elaborate celebrations. When asked if he planned them out, or if they just came naturally, he assures, “It’s definitely all natural, man.”
Simmons also assured that the “cheer leading” on the sideline last season “was no act.”
“Bazemore did similar things when he was taking brief rests from being being the man on the court at Old Dominion. I think that effort will keep Bazemore in the league for a long time.”
Lacob noted that “his energy and love for the game” were what most impressed him about Bazemore. Lacob, who has served in a variety of roles in the front office, with a heavy focus on analytics, scouting and the Developmental League, added:
“It doesn’t matter where he is playing, he always plays with enthusiasm and he desperately wants to win.”
And while his energy is helping him build a name for himself along with his improved play throughout the past season and this summer, he began to grow a following back in his college days thanks to the creativity of some Old Dominion graphic designers.
Back when Bazemore played for Old Dominion the team crafted a giant Kent Bazemore with fully functioning limbs, constructed out of glossy paper.
Explaining the back story, Bazemore says that it had been the team’s photo day, and they had kept him back for about 30 minutes, “and nobody would tell me what it was for.”
At first, the picture was used as a poster on the side of the team’s building, the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Virginia. The picture showed Bazemore holding two basketballs out like the old Jordan poster.
“So the conference tournament rolls around, and I think it was like 26 feet long. A huge cutout.”
“It was crazy.”
“But a lot of teams complained it was a distraction.”
Might the Warriors consider a giant Kent Bazemore?
“Nah. If anything they’d probably do it for someone like Steph, D-Lee, [Andrew] Bogut or Harrison [Barnes].”
He admitted, “That would be pretty fun though.”
The giant Kent Bazemore is, of course, a nod to the fact that the gangly guard possess a ridiculously long wingspan—nearly 7 feet to be exact. He says that it was probably his junior year of college when he first made the discovery.
“I would get a bunch of steals and deflections. Right during that time we started doing measurements for the NBA combine, and I found out that I had a very long wingspan.”
The most blocks Bazemore has ever recorded in a game thanks to aforementioned wingspan? Seven, last year in the summer league.
The six-foot-five-inch Bazemore also had the chance to take part in March Madness while at Old Dominion. He played just one game in the Big Dance, but as Bazemore noted:
“It was probably one of the greatest college basketball games ever.”
He’s not exaggerating either. Old Dominion lost 60-58 on a buzzer beater to Butler.
“Unfortunately, I was on the wrong end of it.”
Butler ended up making a run all the way to the national championship game. Bazemore says, “I mean it hurt, It still hurts. I haven’t watched that game since we played in it.”
“It’s like a thorn in the side.”
Bazemore also spoke about playing in the NBA playoffs earlier this summer and the impact it had on him.
“It definitely helped me for the summer league. Playing a championship style of basketball and watching a lot of championship basketball really helped me out.”
Before we concluded our call, Kent touched on a few more topics from defense to life in the Bay Area compared to his hometown.
Back in 2011, Kent picked up the Lefty Driesell Award, which recognizes the top defender in the NCAA. So, asked if there were any players around the league who he really looks forward to defending.
“Oh man, pretty much everybody. There’s no one person.”
Bazemore says that the toughest teammate to guard during practice is Stephen Curry.
“It’s not like he’s singling you out. He’s not like ‘everyone get out of the way.’ It’s just how he plays. He’s not going at you, he’s just playing.”
He also cited Curry’s name first when asked which players on the Warriors he looks up to or tries to emulate.
“Definitely Steph. All of them basically, ” he replies. “Because I mean, they take care of their bodies. The way they take care of their bodies, how they eat, work ethic. You know, I just try to pull stuff from everybody, and try and fit it into my lifestyle and how I take care of my body.”
“And it’s working.”
Bazemore is originally from Kelford, North Carolina, a rather small town that has a total area of just half a square mile. Bazemore didn’t hesitate to answer when asked what his favorite part of living in the Bay Area was.
“The fans, man.”
“They show so much love. It’s crazy. You go places, and people are just so happy to see you. It’s funny, it’s gratifying at the same time.”
He added, “They make your life a lot easier by them loving to see you. It makes you work that much harder.”
To wrap things up…
The coolest arena he’s ever played in?
“Oh, the Oracle, man. Hands down.”
And the Oracle will be cheering him and his teammates on again this fall as they look to take the next step towards and build on their second round appearance in the NBA Playoffs this past season.
No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more about Kent Bazemore in his sophomore season as well.