Despite a Conference Finals run in the 2018-19 season, Portland Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey isn’t resting on his laurels, running back the same team in 2019-20. The Blazers have a number of outgoing free agents and likely do not have the financial flexibility to keep all of them. To counter, Olshey made a pre-free agency move to strengthen the team’s wing rotation when he and the Trail Blazers agreed to a deal with the Atlanta Hawks to trade Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore.
The loss of Turner will be felt from a playmaking perspective; Portland would often go to him in the post and let him create offense for others from those spots. Bazemore doesn’t bring the same size or playmaking prowess to make him a viable replacement in that sense, but he does bring the one skill Turner never quite learned throughout his career – he can shoot the ball.
Bazemore is a career 35 percent shooter from outside, with his career high coming in 2017-18 at 39 percent from beyond the arc. He fell to 32 percent last year, but he still commands respect from opposing defenses when he’s spacing the floor, something Turner never did. He’s willing to take those outside shots and won’t gum up the offense in the same way, making him a much better fit around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
2018-19 was the tale of two seasons for Bazemore – in the first 35 games before suffering an ankle injury that kept him out for a month and zapped his athleticism for the rest of the year, he was playing about as well as he ever had. The three-point shooting still wasn’t quite there for him, but he was an active part of the Hawks’ success on both ends of the floor. His secondary playmaking and ball-hawking defense had him on his way to a career year, particularly on the defensive end; had he continued to put up the steal and block rates he had posted through the first 35 games, both would have been career highs and put him in rarefied air as one of only 20 players in NBA history to do so. The ankle injury in late December made things much more difficult on him and he was never quite the same after returning a month later, but with a full offseason to get healthy, Bazemore should be able to contribute to the Trail Blazers on both ends of the floor in a very positive manner.
Bazemore’s a different defensive player than Turner, who had more size and switchability across the forward line. Bazemore’s quicker, making him a strong option to defend opposing guards and smaller wings, which can be helpful next to Lillard and McCollum, particularly if they’re going against smaller teams in the playoffs and it becomes easier to hide those guys away from the ball.
Portland is improved with this trade, if for no other reason that opposing teams will respect Bazemore’s ability to hit three-pointers and he’s willing to shoot from outside. As rough as his three-point percentage was last year, he took a number of those off the dribble, which won’t be in his game as much with the Trail Blazers. He finished in the 66th percentile in catch-and-shoot spot-up jumpers, per Synergy, but shot 31 percent on 183 pull-up jumpers, which is particularly poor. As a floor spacer and occasional slasher in Portland’s offense, Bazemore’s numbers should tick back up in 2019-20.