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In the second edition of a 5-part series breaking down the Atlanta Hawks opening night roster by position, we examine our depth at shooting guard.
Starter – Kent Bazemore
As has been the case over the last two seasons, Kent Bazemore projects to be starting for the Atlanta Hawks when the opening tip is thrown on October 18th against the Dallas Mavericks. His versatility, defensive instincts, and ability to hit open jumpers at a respectable rate bodes well for him owning a starting spot in Mike Budenholzer’s system. Baze is one of the few veterans on this team, even though he’s only been in the league for five years (and only played reasonable minutes for three of those seasons).
As a student of Hawks University, Baze has been able to take his game to new heights in his first three seasons in Atlanta. Kent came in to Atlanta as a high character, energetic wing whose only bout of real NBA production came in the form of a 23-game stint with the lowly Lakers. When the opportunity arose following the departure of DeMarre Carroll, Baze immediately stepped in to largely replicate the “junkyard dog” role. Over the last two seasons, Baze has posted averages of 11.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, and 1.3 SPG on average/below average shooting splits. These averages include a slight dip from 2016 to 2017. In addition to his minor statistical regression, Baze wound up losing his starting wing gig late last season to both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Taurean Prince. It should be noted that part of this lineup adjustment was the result of a knee injury in the second half of the season and due to Coach Bud preferring Taurean’s size and defensive skill to be paired alongside THJ’s microwave scoring ability in the starting lineup. With his knee back to normal and THJ returning to New York this offseason, Hawks fans can fully expect Baze to regain his spot as the starting shooting guard.
With regards to this upcoming season, there are two areas to Kent Bazemore’s game that need to improve for the Old Dominion product to have a more than successful campaign. The first weakness in Kent’s game was his ability to securely handle the basketball and perform dribble moves within his comfort zone. There were too many instances where he would lose his dribble out of bounds or try and perform a difficult move that lead to a live ball turnover. At times, it seemed as if he was moving faster than the ball was. The other area of his game that could use improvement is his shooting ability. Last season, Baze shot 41% from the field, 35% from 3, and 71% from the free throw line. With the ability to efficiently stretch the floor and hit open shots being of the utmost importance in today’s NBA, Baze needs to improve these numbers. A 45/37/80 shooting split (similar to what he shot during the 2015-16 season) would be a huge improvement, and a very realistic one at that.
Coincidentally enough, Kent Bazemore has acknowledge his need to address these areas of his game. When being interviewed by the AJC, Baze spoke on the importance of prioritizing improving his jumper and ball handling skills this off season. With his workload and responsibility sure to increase this season, Hawks fans should hope to see a career year from Kent Bazemore.
Second String – Marco Belinelli
Belinelli comes in as the first addition to the Hawks via the Dwight Howard trade that we will be discussing. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the course of Belinelli’s 10-year career, it’s that the man can flat out shoot the basketball and get buckets in a hurry. Similar to what Hawks fans witnessed with Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams in years past, Marco Belinelli will almost certainly fill the role as a microwave bench scorer and playmaker.
In addition to his scoring ability, Belinelli has displayed an outstanding consistency in this game since he started earning regular minutes in the association. Check this out: back in the 2010-2011 season when playing for the New Orleans Pelicans (then the Hornets), Belinelli averaged 10.5 PPG. Last season with the Charlotte Hornets, he averaged 10.5 PPG. Between those two seasons (2010-2017) he played in 503 games and scored 5,273 points. How much do you think this averages out to? You guessed it, 10.5 PPG. While predictability is often viewed as boring, Hawks fans should find comfort and satisfaction knowing that they will most likely see double digit scoring throughout the season from Marco Belinelli.
In more current news, Belinelli just recently wrapped up playing for the Italian national team in this year’s EuroBasket. Like Dennis Schroder, Belinelli lead his team to the quarter finals of the tournament, finishing 7th overall out of 24 teams. Through 7 games, he averaged 17.9 PPG, 9th highest in the tournament. Belinelli proved utterly dominant across the competition in one aspect of his game, his three-point shooting. Marco hit 3.6 triples per game shooting at a 44.6% clip. This combination of volume and efficiency put him second on the list in most people’s eyes (behind Bojan Bogdonavic’s largely non replicable efficiency) when it came down to who had the best shooting performance.
Coach Bud made it be known at the Atlanta Hawks media day that he has long been an advocate of Belinelli’s game and has covered the Italian guard for quite some time. What’s encouraging for Hawks fans it that Belinelli had the best overall season in his career when playing for the San Antonio Spurs, where Budenholzer was an understudy to the great Gregg Popovich. While Coach Bud was no longer with the Spurs during Belinelli’s two-year tenure there, a lot of similarities exist between the Spurs and Hawks coaching systems and philosophies. Having said all this, Hawks fans should expect to see Belinelli replicate, if not expand upon, what we have seen from him in previous seasons.
Third String – Tyler Dorsey
During the 2017 NBA Draft, our Atlanta Hawks had the luxury of having two second round picks. Originally, it was the last and first picks of the second round (31 and 60). To make the Dwight Howard trade go through, the Hawks had to move back from 31 to 41. With that 41st pick, the Atlanta Hawks selected Oregon Duck and NCAA Tournament break out player Tyler Dorsey.
Dorsey wasn’t a sure-fire draft pick by any means leading up to the tournament. All collegiate players know that if there is ever a time to catch fire it’s during the NCAA Tournament, and oh did he. Tyler stringed up eight straight games of 20 points or more, including 27 points and 6 three-pointers against the #1 seed Kansas Jayhawks. Overall, Dorsey boasted a 78% true shooting percentage while scoring at a 26.9 points per 40 minutes pace.
Up until this point, Hawks fans have only seen Dorsey play at a professional level for the Hawks Summer League team. His performance on the court was a forgettable one, finishing with an average of 2.7 PPG on 36.4% shooting. Dorsey was never able to get into a good rhythm and suffering an ankle injury early didn’t help his case. Our next good look at Dorsey will take place over the course of the coming weeks during the Hawks 5 game preseason schedule. Tyler will look to make his mark on the offensive end by stretching the floor and should be looking to impress our coaching staff by displaying an ability to attack the rim, handle the ball, and hold his own on defense.
In today’s NBA shooting is a highly sought-after asset. You will never hear an NBA coach say, “We have too much shooting!” (unless a Mike D’Antoni antagonist emerges on the scene). Barring any major trades or injuries, Dorsey likely won’t get many opportunities this coming season. However, this evolving trend in the NBA should eventually give Dorsey a clear shot to prosper and prove that he belongs.