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Is Kent Bazemore Portland’s X Factor?

So far this season the Blazers have won when Bazemore contributes off the bench and lost when he hasn’t.

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers’ season has gotten off to a rougher start than most Blazers fans had hoped. Through 11 games, Portland has a record of 4-7. Injuries have definitely had an impact, as has adjusting to a largely new rotation of players. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum lead the team minutes. The seven players with the most minutes after are offseason acquisitions, plus Rodney Hood (who was acquired partway through the season) and Anfernee Simons (who rarely saw the floor last season).

One player who seems to be a barometer for Portland’s success (or lack thereof) is Kent Bazemore. Bazemore, acquired from the Atlanta Hawks for Evan Turner, has averaged 8.3 points on 37.6 shooting in 24.5 minutes per game so far this season. His game-by-game numbers have been interesting. Here are Bazemore’s scoring and shooting numbers in Portland’s four wins:

  • 9 points on 4 for 7 shooting
  • 11 points on 4 for 8 shooting
  • 14 points on 5 for 9 shooting
  • 13 points on 5 for 13 shooting

Here are his numbers in Portland’s losses:

  • 4 points on 1 for 7 shooting
  • 3 points on 1 for 9 shooting
  • 7 points on 2 for 5 shooting
  • 7 points on 3 for 10 shooting
  • 8 points on 3 for 7 shooting
  • 3 points on 1 for 2 shooting
  • 12 points on 3 for 8 shooting

Besides Tuesday night (when Bazemore started) Portland has won anytime Bazemore has scored nine or more points and lost whenever he has scored eight or fewer. Entering Tuesday’s game, he was averaging 11.8 points on 48.6 percent shooting in wins and 5.3 points on 27.5 percent shooting in losses. He also leads the Blazers in plus/minus in wins (+10.8) and is the lowest on the team in losses (-11).

This isn’t to say that Portland will only win games if Bazemore scores double digits and will lose whenever he gets cold. It does, however, highlight the importance of getting solid contribution off the bench. The Blazers are the eight highest scoring team in the NBA with 114.1 points per game, but their bench is the forth lowest scoring with only 29.8 points per game.

Last season the Blazers scored 114.7 points per game (sixth overall), but their bench contributed a greater share of that with 36 points per game (18th overall). The players with the biggest scoring differential in wins vs. losses were Seth Curry and Maurice Harkless. Curry scored 9.7 points on 48 percent shooting in wins and 4.2 points on 37.8 percent shooting in losses. Harkless splits weren’t quite as dramatic: 8.8 points on 53 percent shooting in wins; 5.8 points on 40.7 shooting in losses.

Lillard and McCollum are capable of carrying the bulk of the scoring burden for Portland, but when a player (or players) steps up from off the bench and contributes, the Blazers are tough to beat. Last seasons players like Curry and Harkless (especially later in the season) stepped up pretty regularly. So far there this season there hasn’t been consistent scoring from Portland’s reserves.

Getting more consistent bench scoring from Bazemore, who has averaged between 11 and 12.9 points per game over the past four seasons, could be an x factor for Portland throughout this season. It won’t be as simple as Portland wins whenever Bazemore scores 10 or more, but getting consistent bench scoring from the veteran wing definitely wouldn’t hurt.