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Numbers That Define Blazers Newcomer Kent Bazemore

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The new sixth man for the Trail Blazers brings a high level of defensive play and energy to the forward rotation.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Acquired from the Atlanta Hawks on June 24, 2019 in exchange for Evan Turner, Kent Bazemore was once one of the faces of an up-and-coming Hawks squad and their surprise run through the Eastern Conference in 2014-2015. Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver were the lethal shooters, Al Horford was the dominant inside force, but Bazemore was the hyper pesky defensive stopper. The Portland Trail Blazers brought him in because while that Hawks team has faded into memory, Bazemore’s defensive skills remain top notch.

Consider this for a moment: in the time that Terry Stotts has coached the Blazers, only two players from Portland have finished in the top 35 in the NBA in steals. Nicolas Batum got 35th in 2012-2013, and Wesley Matthews got 34th in 2013-2014.

Over the last four seasons, Bazemore has done this four times, including 14th in 2017-2018 and 29th last season. He is 14th in the NBA in total steals over that period. Over that time, he is 45th in the NBA in Defensive Win Shares, ahead of big time defensive names like Klay Thompson, Jrue Holiday, and Eric Bledsoe. His skill as an on ball theft menace cannot be understated.

This skill also leads to transition points, which have been a luxury in the Stotts era. The Blazers defensive style does not allow for many fast-break opportunities as it favors crashing the boards and preventing second chance points. Players are rarely in a position to quickly go the other way if a swipe does occur. Still, the Blazers are not the only team to emphasize rebounding over transition offense, but Portland is one of two teams that have finished in the bottom 10 of the NBA in fast break points every year since Stotts arrived (the New York Knicks are the other).

Portland Fast Break Ranks

Year Fast Break Points Per Game Rank
Year Fast Break Points Per Game Rank
2018-2019 10.9 23rd
2017-2018 8.4 30th
2016-2017 11.3 22nd
2015-2016 10.1 25th
2014-2015 11.1 21st
2013-2014 11 23rd
2012-2013 9.9 22nd
2019-2020 14.5 14th

This year has been different. The Blazers are playing far more up tempo, and it has showed with the team jumping to 14th so far this season in fast break points per game. While the season is only a handful of games old, it is clear that Bazemore’s on-ball skills, combined with the greatly improved thieving of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, are opening new offensive opportunities despite the defensive schemes being mostly the same. There is a major issue so far, however.

Bazemore’s quick hands have been given the green light to go to work this season, and they seem to be getting the opponent more often than the team would like. Bazemore’s 4.4 fouls per game would easily lead the NBA if he had the qualifying minutes. He fouled out against San Antonio on the 28th of October. It took him until December 5th to foul out last season, and the year before he did not foul out until January.

His fouls have been consistent over the last four years, with between 2.3 and 2.5 per season. Bazemore may be pressing for his new team, but a return to the mean should be expected. He ranks 58th in the NBA in total fouls between 2015 and 2019. For comparison’s sake, CJ McCollum is 35th.

Bazemore’s defensive intensity brings a new spark to the Portland rotation. Combined with his three-point shooting, the Blazers will be in good hands with the second unit.