LAS VEGAS -- You probably know Golden State Warriors guard Kent Bazemore from what he does off the court.
If you don't, it's not hard to learn. A Google search for "Kent Bazemore celebration" yields 28,000 results. A two-and-a-half minute video compilation of his best gyrations has over 178,000 views on YouTube. He became so famous for his efforts that he was specifically asked to be in NBA 2k14.
All of that makes it easy to pigeonhole Bazemore as the clown of the team, the one not to be taken seriously. But there's a potential contributor lurking in there somewhere, one that's finally starting to emerge during this year's Summer League. This contributor has freakish size for a wing player (6'3.25 without shoes with an absurd 6'11.5 wingspan, per Draft Express), developing playmaking instincts and the kind of defensive instincts that make him a perfect fit off the bench in Mark Jackson's culture.
"I made it here last year undrafted through a lot of hard work, but I never got a chance to prove it because a starter was in front of me," Bazemore said after the Warriors' 80-66 Summer League victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday. "It was probably in my favor because I got a chance to sit down and learn a lot, so I didn't really get a chance to prove it. This year, over the summer, I feel like I belong."
Twelve months ago, Bazemore had little reason to think he'd belong. Teams weren't sure what kind of player he was, so they passed over him in the 2012 NBA Draft. Bazemore hooked on with a loaded Warriors' Summer League squad, grinding for any opportunity like hundreds of others that weren't lucky to hear their names called.
But then Bazemore got a break. The Warriors so thoroughly dominated in the first two games that they saw fit to sit Klay Thompson, the team's second-year cornerstone. That gave Bazemore the opportunity to step in, and he took advantage, dropped a ridiculous 11-point, eight-rebound, two-assist, two-steal and seven-block line in the team's fourth Summer League game against the Bulls. The Warriors eventually signed him in late July, then shuttled him down often to Santa Cruz in the NBA Developmental League, allowing him the opportunity to fine-tune his game.
The fruits of that labor are beginning to show, and now Bazemore is the one giving youngsters a rude awakening before they can feel like they belong. Three days ago, he made 2013 No. 3 pick Otto Porter's life miserable in his first Summer League game, holding him to seven points on 3-13 shooting. He followed that up by harassing No. 7 pick Ben McLemore, helping to limit him to 14 points -- much of it in garbage time -- on 4-12 shooting and four turnovers on Monday.
Bazemore's defense is fueled by his length, instincts and ability to deceive. His long arms allow him to recover even if he's beat on a screen, and he notices a play developing before it happens. The best example from Monday: a fast break where he snuffed out David Lighty's attempt to drop it off to McLemore in stride for a there
Better yet, Bazemore's very good at not overplaying his hand. Bazemore and the rest of the Warriors seemed to force McLemore left, pushing all ball screens to the baseline and not letting McLemore curl and shoot so easily to his right. But Bazemore was clever about disguising it, preventing McLemore from realizing that he could catch the defense in a vulnerable position if he just ripped through to go right anyway.
"One thing you don't want to do at this level is start thinking, 'Oh, I got to push him left. These guys are way too good and way too smart for that," Bazemore said, explaining his strategy. "If he knows I want to push him left, he's going to go right. It's just things you've got to do. Play solid defense, if he's on the right side of the floor on the ball, push him down. Simple things like that."
Bazemore is also developing his offense. Video coordinator Joe Boylan prepares a tape of pick and rolls for him and Scott Machado, and together, for an hour and a half, they go over places where he could have made better decisions.
All that work continues to pay off. The Kings, much like the Wizards, found it difficult to keep him from driving left, and he's developed his jump shot to the point where he's comfortable spotting up or firing with confidence if teams go under the ball screen. He's not fully there yet, as evidenced by his five turnovers against Sacramento that had him so thoroughly disgusted at one point in the third quarter that he slapped his own wrist on the bench before Summer League coach Darren Erman went over to calm him down. But he's getting there, as you can see on this play where he timed his pass to Draymond Green perfectly, despite the shot missing.
"It's gratifying to see everything on the floor after you've worked on the reads in practice," Bazemore said.
That progress comes just in time for the Warriors. The team is looking for reinforcements in the backcourt after losing Jarrett Jack to the Cavaliers, and Bazemore knows he can help fill that role. He also knows that a second straight Summer League crown -- the Warriors unofficially won last year by going undefeated -- will go a long way toward giving him a chance.
"Not to brag or anything, but I haven't lost a game outside the NBA. D-League, Summer League, any of that," Bazemore said, referencing his perfect mark at Santa Cruz and in Las Vegas last summer. "So I'm here to just keep winning. You know it's the inaugural championship and we want to be the first to hoist the trophy."
There may not be an actual trophy for Bazemore to hoist if the Warriors win, but the reward of solidifying his spot in the Warriors' rotation will be an even bigger prize.