Posts Tagged ‘Kent Bazemore’

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)

Steal of a deal? Bazemore has a shot

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

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Kent Bazemore opened eyes by averaging 13.1 points over a 23-game span. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the world waits for the big fish to name their teams already, a few eye-popping (-rolling?) contracts have been agreed upon, such as Orlando eager to prop up Ben Gordon for a couple more seasons at $9.5 million, Detroit promising Jodie Meeks $19 million and Portland giving Chris Kaman a raise!

All three players have logged enough NBA service time that we know more or less what each brings. Maybe Gordon will magically adjust his attitude along with his 3-ball, and maybe Kaman mixes in a pass, but all-in-all there’s not a lot of unknowns here.

So what of an actual surprise, a virtual unknown out there who could become the steal of free agency?

The versatile, 6-foot-5, 201-pound Kent Bazemore always thinks he’s capable of making believers. He always has.

He went undrafted after four years at Old Dominion, where he won NCAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. In 2012, after signing with Golden State, he was ranked No. 499 on ESPN.com’s list of the top 500 NBA players. So he had “499″ stitched into his sneakers the ensuing July and turned in the best Las Vegas Summer League performance of anybody.

On Feb. 19, 2014, with the Warriors needing a veteran backup point guard and Bazemore in his second season riding the pine, Golden State traded him to the depleted Los Angeles Lakers for Steve Blake. Suddenly, the kid from rural North Carolina, and an admitted Kobe Bryant admirer growing up and who is equal parts fun-loving and hard-working, was granted real playing time.

Mike D’Antoni threw him into the starting lineup, played him at shooting guard, at small forward, at point guard. He gave the developing talent the green light to shoot the 3. Bazemore’s infectious, goofy smile and full-time hustle and work ethic became instant hits. And then as if catching the injury bug that decimated L.A. last season, his came to a screeching halt five games shy of completion when he tore a tendon in his right foot that required surgery.

But he had opened eyes around the league by averaging 13.1 points, 3.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and shot 37.1 percent from deep in 23 games, 15 of which he started.

At the time, Bazemore described the injury as stemming from “overuse,” which it might have been considering he more than doubled his total minutes played with the Lakers (643) in half the number of games he played in with the Warriors (268 minutes in 44 games) before the trade.

In that short span, Bazemore put up numbers similar to those of rejuvenated journeyman Gerald Green in his first season with Phoenix. Green finished fourth for Most Improved Player of the Year. Now Bazemore, who turned 25 on July 1, the first day of free agency wants to show he can do it over 82 games.

The Lakers could have retained him for a qualifying offer of $1.1 million, but they passed to ensure as much cap space as possible on the gamble that both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James would want to join Kobe. It allowed Bazemore to become an unrestricted free agent.

According a source, Bazemore is seeking a boost in salary, around $3 million per season, as well as a little stability in the form of a two- or three-year contract. Such a commitment would suggest any team that makes it will be willing to give the athletically gifted Bazemore what we really desires — consistent playing time.

Interest in the long-limbed and innately motivated swingman has been encouraging. The Lakers remain interested in bringing him back. Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston and Utah join L.A. in the top five in terms of teams that have shown consistent interest.

Dallas, Houston, Golden State, Phoenix and Philadelphia all had at least preliminary discussions with Bazemore’s camp.

Bazemore met with the Hawks in Atlanta on Monday. His representative has meetings scheduled this week with San Antonio, Boston and Charlotte, and Utah could be added.

Bazemore will be back in Las Vegas later this week to check out the start of Summer League. He won’t be playing this time around, but it is the perfect backdrop for the long shot to continue the pursuit of his next team, his next contract and a breakout season.

The steal of free agency? Bazemore has a chance to be just that.

Lakers keep carving cap space for star

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Los Angeles Lakers continue to operate with the belief that LeBron James and/or Carmelo Anthony could don the purple-and-gold next season.

Despite the optimism out of Miami brought about by Saturday’s news that Dwyane Wade and (possibly) Chris Bosh are joining James in opting out of the final two years of their contracts, seemingly for the purpose of re-signing with the Heat at lower annual salaries, the Lakers wishfully continued to clear cap space.

According to a source, the Lakers chose not to make a qualifying offer to athletic, 6-foot-5 shooting guard Kent Bazemore, the player L.A. acquired last season from Golden State for Steve Blake.

The reason for not extending the $1.1 million qualifying offer to Bazemore, who averaged 13.1 points and 3.1 assists in 23 games with L.A., was to continue to carve as much cap space as possible to make a run at both James and Anthony, who has already informed the New York Knicks that he will become a free agent.

Free agency begins Tuesday. The Lakers have only three players under contract for next season: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Robert Sacre, plus a team option to bring back Kendall Marshall.

During the NBA Finals, in which the San Antonio Spurs whipped the Heat in five games, motivating Miami to re-tool its roster — which would first require James, Wade and Bosh to opt out to create needed cap space – USA Today reported that the Lakers were deliberately holding off on hiring a coach until they entered the free agency period with hopes of convincing at least one superstar, if not both, to join the team.

Whatever chance exists for the Lakers to land James would appear to be diminishing. Also on Saturday, Heat forward Udonis Haslem decided to not opt into the final year of his contract at $4.6 million. Haslem, whom Wade and James wanted on the club when they signed in 2010, played in just 46 games during the regular season and had only a limited role in the postseason.

Haslem’s guaranteed salary for next season is far higher than he would garner on the open market, suggesting a plan is in place for he, James, Wade and Bosh to return to Miami for lower annual salaries over a longer term.

As for Anthony’s services next season, the Lakers are in competition with the Knicks, who can pay Anthony the most money, the Chicago Bulls, who might be the best fit, the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.

Bazemore hopes to stick with Lakers, learn from Bryant


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore gets loose for a nice dunk against the Kings

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Tiny Kelford, N.C., is a place where kids still play basketball outdoors on patches of dirt. Fortunately for Kent Bazemore, outside the three-bedroom, two-bath, single-wide trailer he grew up in with his mom, dad and younger brother, a concrete slab sat vacant. It was big enough so that if you put up a basketball goal at each end it would suffice quite nicely as a full-length basketball court, and a magnet for kids throughout rural Bertie County.

Thank goodness for that slab because Glynis Bazemore was dead set against her two young boys, Kent and WyKevin, going off to play basketball one block over at the park where they’d be out of her sight.

So she brought the park home.

“I’d have a yard full of guys on a Saturday on up until a Sunday afternoon because, understand you had to go to church,” Glynis said. “After that they would play basketball until the sun went down.”

The single pole with a light bright enough to play through dusk turned the Bazemore home into something of a rustic Rucker Park from the time Kent was an absurdly tall and skinny 10-year-old until he graduated from Bertie High School, a gangly, 6-foot-5 playmaker overlooked by every major Division I program.

“We had one [basketball] goal that went in and then the kids from our neighborhood, we put up some money, gave it to my mom, she drove like 30 minutes away, got us another basket and so we got another one at the other end and we would go at it,” Bazemore told NBA.com during a recent telephone interview.

A Feb. 19 trade has elevated him from a towel-waving bench-warmer with the Golden State Warriors to a productive rotation player with his favorite team as a child, the Los Angeles Lakers.

“It got really popular. Other kids would drive from other parts of the county and kids would take like 25-minute drives, they were bringing their own groups of 4-on-4,” Bazemore said. “We would have tournaments all day. A lot of nights you go home with big scars on your legs, falling on your hip on the cement and you had to play through it, you just kept playing. It’s amazing how I’m able to still walk now going through the things I’ve been through playing in good, old Kelford, North Carolina.”

Childhood dream realized in L.A.

In star-studded L.A., Bazemore, a free-agent-to-be, is getting a golden chance to audition for the Lakers as well as every other NBA club. An exuberant, high-motor, blue-collar gym rat, Bazemore went undrafted in 2012, one year after earning National Defensive Player of the Year honors as a junior at Old Dominion, where he graduated with two degrees ( criminal justice and human services). He wants to stick with the Lakers long term and relishes the possibility to play alongside his favorite childhood player-turned-teammate, Kobe Bryant, regardless of the growing tales of the superstar’s grating, overly demanding ways.

“Shoot, that would be a dream come true, and with the track record he has, the body of work he has, I would be all ears,” Bazemore said. “For a guy who’s been through everything he’s been through, playing half of his life in this league, winning multiple championships, why not listen? If I got to go against him every day, I know I’m not cheating myself, so I would look forward to it. In all honesty, I don’t think he’s that tough to play with. If he demands a lot, he just wants to be great. You can’t really knock that.”

Bazemore’s camp believes if he continues to contribute as he has in his first 10 games, the struggling Lakers, seeking to rebuild their roster and needing inexpensive, athletic players around Bryant next season, will make the $1.1 million qualifying offer this summer. That would make Bazemore, 24, a restricted free agent and allow L.A. to match any team’s offer. With no qualifying offer, Bazemore becomes an unrestricted free agent.

“The Lakers, I think,” said Calvin Moore, Bazemore’s former coach at Bertie High School, “found a diamond just like Old Dominion did.”

In logging nearly 30 minutes a game in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s free-wheeling offense, the southpaw Bazemore is averaging 14.6 ppg on 45.9 percent shooting and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. He’s started eight games and recorded career highs of 15, 17 and 23 points in each of his first three games, the latter coming against Indiana when he went toe-to-toe with Paul George, even frustrating the All-Star into 2-for-11 shooting in the first half of a game the Pacers eventually won. Nonetheless, Bazemore’s presence, and his impressive wing span, were duly noted.

Moore sends many texts to his best and always hardest-working player from what were gritty BHS basketball teams filled mostly with football players. During the Pacers game, he couldn’t stop messaging Bazemore. At halftime, he cautioned Bazemore to be alert for George’s adjustments even though he knew Bazemore wouldn’t see the texts until after the game.

“That’s one of the things from high school: You’re going to play defense, some things are non-negotiable,” Moore said. “He just took it and ran with it and I think he can do the same thing for any team he plays with in the league.”

Bazemore honed craft in Golden State


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore’s passionate support on the bench was a hallmark of his Golden State days

The Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks

Kent Bazemore deeply valued his 2012 Summer League experience.

In 44 games with Golden State this season, Bazemore averaged 6.1 mpg and 2.1 ppg. The Warriors swapped Bazemore’s potential for the need-it-now veteran reliability of point guard Steve Blake. Bazemore said he holds no grudges and praised Golden State’s ownership and management for inviting him onto their Summer League team in 2012 and then signing him to a two-year contract. He thanked the Warriors’ coaching staff, saying “they were all out for my best interests” and blamed himself for the need for a trade by not being ready to assume the backup point guard role.

“Steve Blake is a great fit for them because I’m not your prototypical point guard and we experimented with that,” Bazemore said. “That’s my fault if you ask me. I wasn’t ready to take on that role. They gave me every opportunity to show that.”

Over the last season and a half, Bazemore put in lengthy hours with Warriors assistant coach Joe Boylan. The two formed a partnership and a friendship, and Bazemore said he will reunite with Boylan this summer to train. He wants to work on playing lower with the ball so smaller guards can’t crowd his 6-foot-5 frame. (Boylan couldn’t comment on this story because Warriors coach Mark Jackson does not allow his assistants to speak to the media in-season.)

“The thing with this league is you create relationships far beyond basketball,” Bazemore said. “For me, playing right now, he’s [Boylan] probably the happiest guy on earth. I would turn 45 minute-workouts into 2 ½-hour workouts just trying to make six shots from one spot when I first got to Golden State and he’d be the one chasing down all those rebounds.

“As time went on I got a lot better, the workouts got shorter and there were days where I would breeze through them. But we would always work hard; show up early, leave late.”

Lessons from home still ring true

The foundation of which started with those scrapes and bruises on the cement court, but mostly from the ground rules set by and the constant encouragement from his mom. She worked three jobs for years up until only last month, finally deciding to give up the school-bus route as well as being a short-order cook at her brother-in-law’s restaurant, Bazemore’s Country Kitchen, which Kent swears serves the best food in Bertie county, population 20,000. She still has her job of the last 20 years, though: teacher’s assistant at the local elementary school.

She instilled in Kent and WyKevin, a junior forward and third-leading scorer for Winston-Salem State University, humbleness and accountability, demanding nothing lower than a B in every class or no basketball.

She still texts both boys Bible scriptures and positive notes before every game they play. She still lives in the same house in Kelford where she watches every one of Kent’s games on NBA League Pass, despite many 10:30 p.m. ET tipoffs. Even through all those Warriors games where her son didn’t play, she never went to bed before 1:45 a.m., after Kent would reply to her postgame texts.

“I would text him I love him, you done good,” Glynis said. “I don’t care if he got 24 seconds.”

When the Warriors played at Charlotte, about a four-hour drive from Bertie County, the Bazemores’ church pastor organized a field trip for the Feb. 4 game. They took two buses that included some 40 kids from all over the county. Before they left, Bazemore sent money to his mom so they could all eat along on the way at Golden Corral. At the game, Bazemore signed autographs and took pictures with every person that came on those buses. He got in the game for 1 minute, 58 seconds.

“That’s where he gets his humbleness from because he knows his struggles, he knows what’s got him there and he knows what it takes to stay where he’s at,” Glynis said. “And just looking at him out there now, being with the Lakers, just being able to get that opportunity means a lot. That’s all he wanted was the opportunity, and I know he has put the work in.”

Bazemore’s sudden outburst, combined with his size and upside, will assuredly earn him a contract next season. Whether it’s with L.A. or elsewhere is irrelevant. For Bazemore, it’s the natural extension of what he’s always done: working to beat the odds.

“Coming out of high school I had this big chip on my shoulder,” Bazemore said. “I would drool at the chance to get to play these teams that overlooked me and try to destroy them. But one thing they don’t put on draft boards, one thing they don’t say about kids coming out [of high school] is how hard they work and how successful they want to be.

“That’s one thing you can’t really measure in a kid.”


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore talks after he signed his first contract with the Warriors

Curry Makes Biggest Impact Offensively


VIDEO: Stephen Curry lights up the Mavs and hits the game-winner

The List

Biggest on-off-court differential, OffRtg

On floor Off floor
Player Team MIN OffRtg MIN OffRtg Diff.
Stephen Curry GSW 744 112.0 370 86.5 25.5
Kevin Love MIN 748 109.5 313 86.0 23.5
John Wall WAS 755 104.6 230 83.9 20.6
Paul George IND 809 106.2 252 89.1 17.0
Klay Thompson GSW 872 107.1 242 91.8 15.3
Marcin Gortat WAS 691 104.3 294 89.4 14.9
Luol Deng CHI 656 101.3 324 86.6 14.7
Corey Brewer MIN 748 107.0 313 92.5 14.6
David Lee GSW 774 108.1 340 94.0 14.2
Ricky Rubio MIN 716 107.3 345 93.3 14.0

Minimum 300 minutes on the floor
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions

The Context

Last season, the leader in this category was Damian Lillard. The 2012-13 Blazers scored 11.5 more points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor than they did with him on the bench. Right now, Curry’s differential is more than twice that.

With Curry on the floor, the Warriors have scored 2.5 more points per 100 possessions than the best offense in the league (Portland). With Curry on the bench, they’ve scored 7.2 fewer than the worst offense in the league (Milwaukee).

Curry is one of the most dangerous weapons in the league and a unique challenge to defend, because he’s one of the league’s two or three best shooters, but also has the ball in his hands to start most possessions. He leads the league with 15.8 pull-up jumpers per game, including 5.1 from 3-point range.

Curry not only gets buckets himself, but the threat of him pulling up clearly creates openings for his fellow perimeter players. Klay Thompson has shot 7.4 percent better from the field and 9.9 percent better from 3-point range with Curry on the floor, while Andre Iguodala has shot 31.1 percent better from the field and 43.7 percent better from beyond the arc.

The Warriors have not only shot better with Curry on the floor, but they’ve turned the ball over 6.1 fewer times per 100 possessions. Both Nemanja Nedovic and Kent Bazemore have turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions.

Iguodala’s absence is certainly a factor in the offensive drop-off when Curry steps off the floor. Iguodala, who is the team’s back-up point guard in addition to being the starting small forward, and who also has a tolerable turnover rate, has missed the last 10 games with a hamstring injury.

But before Iguodala’s injury, the Warriors were still pretty bad offensively with Curry off the floor and Iguodala on, scoring only 93.7 points per 100 possessions over 195 minutes. They were strong defensively, however, and that’s where Iguodala’s absence has been felt most. Golden State has allowed 104.1 points per 100 possessions over the last 10 games after allowing just 96.5 over their first 13.

Even when Iguodala returns, backcourt depth will be an issue. Mark Jackson hasn’t been able to trust Nedovic and Bazemore, who have played a total of 114 minutes over the 10 games that Iguodala has missed. Curry, meanwhile, has played 40-plus in eight of the 10. Both Curry (11th) and Thompson (seventh) now rank in the top 11 in minutes per game. They’re young, but that’s a heavy burden to shoulder.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Golden State has been included among the teams interested in trading for Kyle Lowry. What they’d have to offer the Raptors is the issue. They don’t have much of value beyond their top six players.

The Warriors have played a tough schedule, with 14 of their 23 games on the road and 19 of the against the Western Conference. But their lack of depth has become a real concern. Nobody can come close to replicating what Curry gives them when he’s on the floor, but they need somebody who can at least keep their offense from falling completely off the map.

The Video

Here are Curry’s nine 3-pointers against the Clippers on Oct. 31, here are his 15 assists in Memphis from Saturday, and here’s his game-winner against the Mavs on Wednesday.

The bottom of the list

The Pacers have scored 14.7 more points per 100 possessions with Ian Mahinmi on the bench (106.5) than they have with him on the floor (91.8). Yeah, there’s still a big drop-off when Frank Vogel goes to his bench, but the reserves do their jobs defensively, Luis Scola has given them more offense than Tyler Hansbrough did, and Roy Hibbert‘s minutes are up from 28.7 per game last season to 30.7 this season.

Just ahead of Mahinmi is the Lakers’ Steve Blake at -14.6, and I wrote last week how L.A.’s bench has been so much better than their starters. Ahead of Blake are the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (-13.8), Vitor Faverani (-13.4) and the Pacers’ Orlando Johnson (-12.7).

Trivia question

What player has scored the most points without a single one coming from outside the paint? Hint: He’s a Western Conference big man who was once a top 10 draft pick by an Eastern Conference team.

More on-off-court notes

  • The presence of three Warriors in the top 10 further illustrates their lack of depth. Also in the top 10 are two Wizards, and when you take defense into account, John Wall has the largest on-off-court NetRtg differential. Washington has outscored its opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and has been outscored by 24.1 with him on the bench. That Eric Maynor addition hasn’t worked out too well.
  • It’s also interesting to see Luol Deng on the list. We understand how important Deng is to the Bulls’ defense, but it’s now clear that, without Derrick Rose, they desperately need Deng offensively. With him out over the last three games, Chicago has scored a brutal 79.8 points per 100 possessions against three bottom 10 defensive teams (Detroit, Milwaukee and New York). And no, D.J. Augustin isn’t going to help much.
  • At the top of the list defensively? Nate Robinson. The Nuggets have allowed 15.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Robinson on the floor than they have with him on the bench. Seems crazy, but the Nuggets have been just awful defensively in the first six minutes of games, allowing 121.2 per 100 possessions, more than 20 over the league average of 100.9 during that time. That has forced them to play catch-up when their reserves enter. Nate for DPOY!

Trivia answer

Andrew Bogut, who has 164 points, all from the paint (150) or from the free throw line (14).

Clark Ready For Opportunity With Jazz

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Advanced metrics are at the heart of measuring a pro prospect’s potential. But as newly signed Utah Jazz guard Ian Clark is out to prove, number-crunching can’t measure heart.

He’s used to the doubts.

The skinny kid from Memphis didn’t get a scholarship offer from his hometown Tigers after four stellar years at Germantown High School. And after four tremendous seasons at Belmont as a knock-down shooter on three NCAA Tournament teams and an all-conference defender, not even the hometown Grizzlies, rooted in defense and desperate for perimeter shooting, showed much interest in this 6-foot-3 ‘tweener — undersized by NBA standards to play shooting guard and not a natural point guard.

“Not that I know of,” Clark said from Memphis in a Tuesday morning phone interview about 18 hours after he signed his contract in Salt Lake City and was introduced as the latest member of the youth-movement Jazz.

“I guess it’s kind of instilled in me now since I’ve been growing up,” the 175-pound Clark said of being a perennial underdog. “I’ve never been the premiere player, per se, and getting all the attention, so I’ve kind of gotten used to that. At the same time, it’s a sense of pride and sense of confidence that you have in yourself that you want to prove you can compete with anybody. So that’s kind of the chip I’ve had since high school and throughout college and now I have to do it at this level.”

NBA TV’s David Aldridge covered every angle of Clark’s basketball journey through the Summer League, including his awesome 33-point championship game with the Golden State Warriors that Clark’s agent Bill Duffy said put his client “over the top.”

Clark, 22, said he picked the Jazz over a few other interested teams as well as some lucrative options overseas because of the team’s foundation of young players and the opportunity to break in quickly.

The Jazz totally revamped their backcourt outside of shooting guards Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. They acquired shooting guard Brandon Rush, drafted point guard Trey Burke out of Michigan and signed journeyman point guard John Lucas III. Clearly, the point guard position could provide plenty of opportunity for a player who seizes it.

So now the question is: Can Clark, a high-character person play the point at a high enough level in the NBA? At Belmont, he shot better than 48 percent for his career and 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. He only averaged 2.2 assists in his career, but he wasn’t asked to set people up; he got set up to let it fly.

“I look at myself as a combo guard, being able to utilize my shooting ability when needed, but also being able to bring the ball upcourt and initiate the offense and get guys going,” Clark said. “I’m definitely not a pure 1 (point guard), but I’ve been working a lot this summer on my ballhandling and making the right reads, ball screens and defense.”

Playing for Miami in the Orlando Summer League, Clark scored 15 points on Burke and the Heat. With Golden State in Las Vegas, he averaged 9.0 ppg until he scorched the  Suns for seven 3-pointers and was named the title game’s MVP. He averaged 1.4 apg while the Warriors up-and-coming shooting guard Kent Bazemore handled the point the majority of the time.

“I’ve been playing 2-guard my whole life,” Clark said. “I think it’s definitely going to be a transition, but once I get used to it, once I get with Utah and coach [Ty Corbin] really helps me out, I think I’ll be able to transition into a combo guard.”

That’s the Jazz’s hope.

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 11 Recap

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LAS VEGAS – Ian Clark is the essence of Summer League.

The 22-year-old out of Belmont was the Ohio Valley Conference co-player of the year. He was a two-time defensive player of the year and a four-time all-conference selection. He never shot below 40 percent in a season from behind the arc.

At the June 27 NBA Draft at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Clark’s name was never called.

Undrafted and looking for his big shot, the unheralded, and mostly unheard of Clark — not Kent Bazemore or Draymond Green, but the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Clark — carried the Golden State Warriors, with seven 3-pointers and a game-high 33 points, to a  91-77 victory over the Phoenix Suns in the inaugural Summer League tournament championship game.

In the NBA playoffs they call that kind of performance a podium game because the player would be asked to appear at the dais to meet the media. In the Summer League, well, let’s call it a contract game. It might not come from the Warriors, whose well-stocked backcourt includes the impressive Bazemore (who was also voted to the all-Summer-League team). But there’s 29 other NBA teams out there that might want Clark, and only one has to make an offer.

At least a few, according to a Warriors official, have offered Clark at least a partially guaranteed contract. The 2013 Summer League championship game MVP, the official said, also has lucrative options in Europe.

“Hopefully,” Clark said of making an NBA roster after besting his career-high at Belmont by one point. “I just wanted to come out here and play hard, and I think that’s what Summer League is for, to come out here and showcase your talents.

Before the championship game, Clark had averaged 9.0 points, scoring 54 points in the previous six games.

The Warriors capped their Vegas run with a 7-0 record and made it consecutive summers without a loss. The Phoenix Suns, led by new coach Jeff Hornacek and key roster players Marcus and Markieff Morris, along with P.J. Tucker, suffered their first loss but may have gained a pretty good player as they continue to rebuild next season.

Late first-round draft pick Archie Goodwin had an impressive run and ended it with 18 points. The lanky, 6-foot-5, one-and-done guard out of Kentucky consistently outplayed Kendall Marshall, the Suns’ lottery pick from last season. Goodwin averaged 13.1 ppg and shot 50 percent from the floor.

So that will do it for the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League. The big boys are in town now for a U.S. Men’s National Team mini-camp that started Monday and runs through Thursday, when the intra-squad scrimmage will be broadcast live at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV.

2013 All-Summer League Team

MVP: Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto)

Kent Bazemore (Golden State)

Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

John Henson (Milwaukee)

Jeff Taylor (Charlotte)

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 10 recap

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LAS VEGAS –
 The Miami Heat will not double-down in Vegas. The back-to-back NBA champs were seeking a Summer League title with a team whose roster is filled with young hopefuls that will not play for the 2013-14 Heat.

The only familiar face affiliated with the summer Heat has been that of coach Erik Spoelstra, who has watched the team perform from a front row seat throughout the week. Still, this Heat team deserves a lot of credit. Coached by assistant coach Dan Craig, a former Heat video assistant, just like Spoelstra used to be, Miami entered the inaugural Summer League tournament as the No. 18 seed and landed in the semifinal round.

But they seemed no match for the No. 3-seed Phoenix Suns, who feature three rotation players in P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, plus last year’s No. 13 pick Kendall Marshall and this year’s No. 29 pick Archie Goodwin. And new head coach Jeff Hornacek has been on the bench throughout the summer league.

The Suns led 60-40 midway through the third quarter before Miami’s James Nunnally (24 points), a D-Leaguer in Bakersfield last season, James Ennis (25 points, nine rebounds), a long-shot draft pick out of Long Beach State, D.J. Kennedy (18 points, six rebounds), who logged two games with Cleveland in 2011-12, and Eric Griffin, who played in Italy last season, rallied the Heat.

Nunnally’s 3-pointer with 3:51 to go put Miami ahead 84-83 and the Suns were getting burned to the point of embarrassment. It didn’t sit well with Tucker, who quickly jacked up the intensity.

“We weren’t losing that. We got too many roster players and we working too hard to get this done,” Tucker said. “Me, Markieff, Marcus, Kendall, we got way too many roster players on this team I feel like to be losing. So for me, it was a little personal at the end to try to really get the win.”

Tucker’s two free throws and then a jumper put the Suns up 89-87 with 1:07 to go as he looked over to the Heat bench and directed a few words their way. The Suns (6-0) held on to win it 91-89 and will face the top-seeded Golden State Warriors (6-0) in Monday’s championship game (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

The Warriors, led by roster players Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore, advanced with a 75-67 win over the No. 5 Charlotte Bobcats, who elected again to not play Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and No. 4 pick Cody Zeller.

Kidd-Gilchrist will stay in Vegas for the U.S. Men’s National Team training camp that runs Monday through Thursday. Both Zeller and Biyombo did not play in the last two games.

So Monday’s matchup will be a battle of unbeatens in the first Summer League championship game with the Warriors looking to make it 14 straight Summer League victories. And if you don’t think both teams — the Suns with their roster players and the Warriors with their winning streak — are taking this seriously, think again.

“It is for real for us,” said Bazemore, a leading MVP candidate who had a tough shooting going 4-for-12 for 13 points, but also collected four assists. “We came out here and had a mini-camp where we were just working out, and we always look at each other like we work too hard to just get to a certain place and be satisfied. We always feel like we can win a game. We’re probably the best de-… well, we are the best defensive team here. Defense wins championships.”

Non-rookie of the day: Who else could it be other than the Suns’ Tucker, who finished with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, plus rebounds and two steals.

Other notables:  The Suns’ Marcus Morris contributed 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 22 minutes, and Dionte Christmas had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists. Golden State’s Green put up a double-double after three quarters and finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four steals.

Rookie of the day: The Heat’s Ennis scored a game-high 25 points on 8-for-17 shooting in the two-point loss to the Suns. He also grabbed nine rebounds, an impressive six on the offensive glass, and had just two turnovers in more than 34 minutes of action.

Other notables: Big man Arinze Onuaku, a D-Leaguer last season in Canton, scored 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and had four rebounds off the bench in just 14:40. Undrafted rookie Chris Babb out of Iowa State had nine points, four boards and four assists for the Suns in 17:42 off the bench. Miami’s Nunnally went 5-for-6 from 3-point range and was 8-for-12 overall coming off the bench for 24 points. Former Syracuse guard Brandon Triche played prominently for the Bobcats with 13 points and five rebounds off the bench and teammate Troy Daniels, undrafted out of Virginia Commonwealth, had 13 points and seven rebounds. Two-year D-League vet Cameron Jones had 16 points for the Warriors. 

Coming up: The final day of the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League will see its inaugural title game pitting the Warriors against the Suns.

Summer Star Bazemore Striving For More

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LAS VEGAS – Kent Bazemore couldn’t put “499″ on his jersey, so he figured he’d have it stitched in gold on the blue underside of the tongue of his Under Armour sneakers.

That, No. 499, is where Bazemore landed on ESPN’s 2012 top 500 player rankings. The 2012 undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion came in one spot below Shan Foster, who has yet to play in an NBA game since being drafted 51st in 2008, and one spot ahead of Eddy Curry, who hasn’t kept a steady gig for five years.

Bad karma? Nah, it was cool, for Kenneth Lamont Bazemore Jr., who’s used to flying under the radar, as they say, and already beating the odds. He spent five seasons at ODU — he was a redshirt freshman, and who does that anymore? — raised eyebrows a year ago in the Las Vegas Summer League and then played sparingly as a rookie with the Golden State Warriors while frequently shuttling to the club’s D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

In fact, for the 24-year-old, No. 499 seemed fitting. He expects you to underestimate him. 

I’ve had my back against the wall my entire life,” Bazemore said. “Coming out of high school, I got a few Division I offers, but they were mid-major, a lot of D-II offers, you know, just a long, lanky kid from Kelford, North Carolina.

“But,” Bazemore continued, “I always worked. I had got my foot in the door last summer just playing defense, working with [Warriors assistant] Joe Boylan everyday and watching film.”

Now making his second tour in Vegas, Bazemore, who has always combined magnificent athletic ability and showstopping, raw talent with a bit of an on-court keystone cops routine, has emerged as a leading MVP candidate as the Warriors enter today’s semifinals of the inaugural summer league tournament undefeated at 5-0.

The 6-foot-5 shooting guard has scored 51 points in the last two games. He’s been running the point at times, particularly in crunch time, and using that long, lanky body to take any defender that plants himself up top off the dribble and to the rack. He burned the Lakers’ backcourt Saturday night for 10 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter as Golden State rallied from 10 points down to extend the team’s overall summer winning streak to 12.

“That’s what summer league is all about, developing guys and guys getting better and better in game situations against good talent,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “It’s a process, but he’s a guy we really like a lot.”

Still, Bazemore remains a relative unknown on an emerging Warriors team that boasts young star Stephen Curry and up-and-comers Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, and Bazemore will almost assuredly remain a depth player for Jackson after the Warriors added veteran Andre Iguodala this summer at Bazemore’s position.

But that’s also cool with Bazemore, who wisely seems to be treating his initial NBA seasons as an education.

“Hey man, that guy’s an Olympian, he’s an All-Star,” Bazemore said of Iguodala. “It’s the perfect situation for me because I can still sit back and learn, learn from one of the best that’s done it at every level. Now, as a leader of this [summer league] team, everything is under a microscope. [Saturday] I turned the ball over (seven times) and it’s kind of like letting my teammates down because they’re like, ‘Come on’ and ‘You shouldn’t be turning the ball over.’ But in the big leagues I’m going to be out there in spot minutes, so I can just go and wreak havoc.”

Which he did for a brief, and fleeting, moment in the wild, series-altering Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Bazemore, playing in the final minute of double overtime because Thompson had fouled out, sprinted down the sideline after Tony Parker missed and Barnes pulled down the rebound, quickly feeding Curry. Forcing the pace, Curry spotted the galloping Bazemore, who took the pass, flew through the paint along the baseline and put in a tough reverse off the glass to give the Warriors a 127-126 lead with 3.9 seconds to go.

“I’m like, ‘All right, OK,’ but you’ve got a Hall of Fame coach on the other end,” Bazemore said. “They always get a great look after a timeout, so we’ve got to get a stop. That’s what Jarrett Jack was saying the whole time, ‘Got to get the stop, got to get the stop.’”

And then just as quickly as Bazemore looked to be the hero on the highlight-reel play of his brief career, he got tangled up in the paint on the Spurs’ inbounds pass, Manu Ginobili sprung free at the wing and as Bazemore tried to recover, launching his long, lanky body toward Ginobili, the 3-pointer dropped with 1.2 seconds to go.

Jackson subbed in Andrew Bogut and Bazemore took a seat.

“That was another welcome-to-the-NBA moment,” Bazemore said. “Manu Ginobili is arguably a Hall of Famer at the end of his career. [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] drew up a great play. We wanted to switch everything, but they ran a little brush screen; they didn’t really screen, so [there was] miscommunication and Ginobili was wide open.

“Just a good player making a great shot.”

Which is exactly what Bazemore, No. 499, keeps working toward. He dares you to underestimate him.

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 9 Recap

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LAS VEGAS – Phoenix Suns forward Marcus Morris already has a comfortable rapport with new coach Jeff Hornacek.

“I call him Big H,” Morris said. “I enjoy playing for Big H.”

And Morris is already allowing the rookie coach to coach him up. Coming off a 3-for-9 shooting performance, including 1-for-3 from beyond the arc in Thursday’s game, Morris’ errant shots continued into the team’s Friday practice. Hornacek called him over.

“He’s a shooter and he’s definitely been helping me with my shot,” Morris said. “Just this past workout, all my shots were short. He sent me through a little workout, a mini-workout to get my shots up, and I come out and make three 3s.”

Morris, the twin brother of teammate Markieff Morris, went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in Saturday’s championship bracket quarterfinal victory over the Raptors. He put up a twin shooting line as his brother — 8-for-11 — and added six rebounds — three on the offensive glass — three assists and a blocked shot. And he did it in 18:31 of playing time.

If the Suns are selling hope this season as they continue a total rebuild with Hornacek in charge, the Summer League team is doing a pretty good job. Saturday’s 103-98 win moved them to 5-0 and into Sunday’s semifinal round against the Miami Heat.

Non-rookie of the day: While Marcus and Markieff (16 points, five rebounds) had big days in the win over Toronto, the Warriors’ Kent Bazemore, who is a leading candidate to be the Summer League MVP, played the point throughout the fourth quarter, took over for 10 of his 26 points and led Golden State to its fifth straight summer victory (12th overall) over the Lakers. Bazemore, 9-for-20 from the field, acknowledged that his seven turnovers are an eyesore, but he got to the free throw line nine times and carried the team down the stretch for the big win.

Other notables: The Raptors’ Quincy Acy finished with 28 points on 9-for-15 shooting, two assists and a blocked shot. The powerful forward out of Baylor is trying to prove he’s more than a dunk machine, although he did have a monster throw down late in the game.The Heat’s Jarvis Varnado, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward, came up with 13 points and 12 rebounds, plus two steals in Miami’s win over Cleveland to get into the semifinals. He was 4-for-7 from the floor and 5-for-6 at the free-throw line. Cleveland’s Justin Harper (21 points, five rebounds) and Cory Higgins (17 points, four rebounds off the bench) were also standouts. Toronto’s Dionte Christmas had 15 points (6-for-11 FGs) and five rebounds.

Rookie of the day: Suns guard Archie Goodwin out of Kentucky put up a tremendous line with 20 points on 5-for-5 shooting overall, 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and 8-for-10 from the free-throw line.

Other notables: Former Marquette guard Dwight Buycks made a strong case to be the rookie of the day with 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting, plus four rebounds and four assists. He also contributed a pair of assists and two blocked shots. Charlotte point guard Abdul Gaddy out of Washington scored 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting and 5-for-5 from the free throw line in 19:28.

Coming up: The inaugural Summer League tournament really gets serious now with the final four. The day starts at 6 p.m. ET with the underdog, No. 18-seed Miami, taking on No. 3 Phoenix. The other semifinal game features No. 5 Charlotte against the top-seeded Golden State Warriors at 8 p.m. ET.