Kent Bazemore never played at Chase Center as a Warrior prior to Saturday's preseason opener, but the 31-year-old guard nonetheless felt right at home in Golden State's exhibition win over the Denver Nuggets.
Bazemore played alongside longtime friend Steph Curry for the first time in over six years. Even Michael Malone, an assistant coach during Bazemore's first season with the Warriors in 2012-13, was there for what Curry called a "pretty cool little mini-reunion." None of the fans who've long held a soft spot for Bazemore were in attendance, a consequence of the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the veteran said he still had butterflies.
"I was kind of nervous during my shooting time, just kind of wearing the uni again and just being back," Bazemore told reporters on a video conference after the Warriors' 107-105 win Saturday. "It's a bit of an emotional night, just suiting up and back where it all started. And I have that fresh energy again, and I'm looking to help this team win this year."
Bazemore, donning the No. 26 he wore in 105 games from 2012 through '14 as something of a cult hero to Warriors fans, impressed in his first game since signing a one-year deal with Golden State this offseason. He led all Warriors in scoring (13 points on 4-of-6 shooting) and grabbed five rebounds in 18:06 minutes off the bench, showcasing how Golden State is a deeper team with him in the fold.
Fifty-three seconds after checking in during the game's first quarter, Bazemore pushed the pace for a transition bucket and his first (preseason) points back with the Warriors. He ran the floor well all night, looking comfortable leading the break. Bazemore scored in transition off a Brad Wanamaker steal in the first quarter, picked up a "hockey assist" on a Jordan Poole 3-pointer minutes later and then completed an And-1 seconds after his own defensive rebound in the second.
At the end of the first half, Bazemore was plus-10 while the Warriors held an 11-point lead.
"He's kind of a wild card," coach Steve Kerr said of Bazemore. "He can make three or four plays in a row -- a bucket, a steal, knock down a 3. He's a streaky player, but he can be really effective."
The Warriors didn't have much, if any, depth to speak of last season as Curry missed all but five games with a broken left hand and star shooting guard Klay Thompson didn't play in a single game while rehabbing a torn ACL. Thompson is out this season as well due to a torn right Achilles, but the Warriors have the makings of a strong bench.
Fellow free-agent signing Brad Wanamaker also impressed in his preseason debut, scoring 8 points, dishing two assists and grabbing a steal. Second-year pro Poole scored 10 points and was perfect (4-of-4) from the field, while guards Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Bazemore wasn't nearly as critical a component off the bench in his first Warriors stint as he's set to be this time around, averaging a shade over five minutes per night in parts of two seasons. The wing told reporters that the franchise reached "new heights" after his departure, but so did he. Bazemore played with the Atlanta Hawks in three playoff runs, and emerged as a veteran leader for the Sacramento Kings last season.
"He's bringing that kind of veteran experience back to our team, and he's been great," Curry said of Bazemore on Saturday. "He's been vocal, he's been helping the young guys. He's obviously been playing extremely well, and [I'm] excited for some familiarity obviously, but he's a different player than he was his first two years in the league. [I'm] excited about what he can do for us this year off the bench, and giving us an identity and expectations of winning."
For the first night of the preseason, at least, the Warriors' bench looked well on its way to becoming a strength a season after being a significant weakness. Bazemore followed Golden State closely enough after his departure to understand the organization's repeated emphasis on "Strength In Numbers," and he'll play an important part in replicating that depth this season.
"It's fun 'cause you got guys out there that just play extremely hard, and defensively we're a really good unit," Bazemore said of Golden State's. "[We have] length, we switch, Brad pressuring the ball and then we've got Jordan, who can fill it up on the wing. The sky's the limit for that second unit."