Kent Bazemore has simplified the lineup adjustments needed for the Portland Trail Blazers after Rodney Hood’s Achilles tear. Portland’s last long-term injury – Zach Collins’ shoulder dislocation in October – required a lot more effort to find a replacement. Lineups with Mario Hezonja or Anthony Tolliver at power forward failed, so the organization took a leap and signed Carmelo Anthony.
The coaching staff had a straightforward decision in replacing Hood with Bazemore at the other forward position. Bazemore, one of the few constants in Portland’s reserve unit, plays a similar style of basketball that can mesh with the starters.
Bazemore is able to knock down catch-and-shoot threes – Hood’s primary function on the offensive end – but doesn’t create or hit midrange jumpers as well. Fortunately, sharing the floor with two ball-dominant guards in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will take the ball out of Bazemore’s hands.
In Hood’s 21 games of the 2019-20 season, he was converting a scorching 49.3% of his 3.4 three-point attempts. His defender stayed honest on the perimeter and generally avoided clogging the paint on help defense when Lillard or McCollum drove.
Bazemore’s reputation alone forces defenders to think before leaving him open in the corner. Even though he’s making a humdrum 34.4% of his threes, he has more shooting gravity than, say, Evan Turner, whom the Blazers swapped Bazemore for during the offseason.
Looking more granularly, Bazemore significantly ups his percentage on catch-and-shoot threes to 39.7%. With the ball almost exclusively in the hands of Lillard and McCollum, few-to-none of Bazemore’s perimeter attempts will involve dribbling, which dramatically lowers his shooting percentage. A 39.7% clip should keep defenders honest in the corner, and if they do stray toward the paint, he’s capable of punishing them with a corner triple.
From the corners, Bazemore is 12/32 (37.5%); that’s 8/16 from the right corner and 4/16 from the left corner. He may prefer the right corner over the left and therefore shoot better from that side, or it’s just sheer chance that the right side yields a 50% conversion rate while the left a measly 25%. Either way, the trend through 25 games indicates that Portland’s offense should plant him in the right corner to space the floor.
When playing with the bench unit, Bazemore didn’t have the luxury of spotting up in the corner every trip down the floor. McCollum and Simons aren’t pure ball handlers; when they have the ball, there’s one goal: score. This works for some possessions because both are dynamic shot creators, but another guard occasionally needs to operate the offense and get all five guys involved. So far this year, Bazemore hasn’t thrived in that position.
As the pick and roll ball handler, he’s scoring 0.64 points per possession, which is in the 21st percentile. Such possessions account for more than one-quarter of his offense.
The frequent result of a pick and roll is dribbling around the screen and going downhill toward the hoop. Bazemore has the speed and ball control to do that but doesn’t convert once in a favorable position. He’s shooting 20.9% on drives – he drives the third-most on the team – and is turning it over on 8.76% of his drives, more than all other Blazers guards.
The alternative outcome of Bazemore keeping the ball in a pick and roll is settling for a pull-up midrange jumper. Few guys in the league have the leeway to consistently attempt shots in no man’s land: McCollum, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul…the list is short.
While the Blazers guard doesn’t launch a ton of midrange jumpers, they should become a rarer feature in his offensive arsenal. On shots between 10-14 feet, Bazemore is 0/10. On midrange jumpers, he’s 10/29 (34.5%). Additionally, he’s shooting 28.8% on pull-ups from any spot on the floor.
Joining Lillard and McCollum reduces the pressure on Bazemore to score dynamically. Instead of being a swiss army knife who pushes the pace in transition, runs pick and rolls, and spots up – a combined 72.8% of his offensive possessions – he can focus solely on spotting up. It yields his highest points per possession of any play type besides when in transition and allows the Blazers offense to maintain course after Hood’s injury.
No matter what, another season-ending injury decimates this Portland roster on and off the floor. But Bazemore’s smooth assimilation into the starting lineup can hopefully fill most of the void left by Hood and allows the starters to continue playing naturally.