Everyone knows that Sam Presti tends to draft players that no one would expect. I was intrigued when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Oklahoma City was drafting Darius Bazley with their 23rd pick in the 2019 draft, but all the analysts initially talked about was that Bazley was a New Balance intern. They didn’t talk much about what made him a five-star prospect out of high school, originally committed to Syracuse.
After a promising first season in the NBA, many would now say that Bazley has sky-high potential to be an All-Star in this league.
Thunder fans hoped that Bazley would take a big leap this season, especially now that he has been inserted into the starting line up and is averaging 29.4 minutes per game, second most on the team behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (33.7).
Through 14 games this season, Bazley is averaging 10.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game.
“He’s a young enough player [whose] game is a little undefined and we’re a bit in discovery mode with him. We’re gonna see where his game takes him,” said head coach Mark Daigneault, who has also mentioned that Bazley has the capability to be a play maker, and expects the sophomore to make a jump this season.
Starting in the bubble
Going into the All-Star break last season, Bazley averaged 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in just 17.2 minutes. However, he finished the season strong in the bubble. According to statmuse, Bazley averaged 10.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 15 games in the 2020 NBA Bubble, all while shooting 42.4 percent from the floor and 47.6 percent from three.
It looked like Bazley definitely took advantage of the four-month hiatus to work on his game.
His coming out party came against the Miami Heat on Aug. 12. Bazley scored 21 points in a 22-point comeback win. He outscored the Heat 16-15 by himself in the fourth quarter, and also had the game-winning assist to Mike Muscala.
Those 16 points came on 6-6 shooting–4-4 from 3-point land–along with three rebounds, two assists, one block, and one steal.
This was a game that got many fans excited about the future of Bazley and what he is capable of.
Let’s take a look at the state of his game about a fifth of the way through the season.
Finishing in the paint
It was apparent last season that finishing in the paint and at the rim was a weakness for Bazley. He has improved so far this season in that category, but it is still something that he needs to get better at. That will come with time and experience. We forget that Bazley isn’t even of legal age to drink alcohol.
Here is a look at a nice spin move around Lamelo Ball, along with a nice reverse finish at the basket:
Bazley has had his hands full on the defensive side of the ball. He has already taken on difficult defensive assignments including Jimmy Butler, Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant. He has done a good job holding his own.
Here is a look at two nice defensive plays by Bazley in Oklahoma City’s win against the Brooklyn Nets, both of them while guarding Kevin Durant:
Bazley’s 7’0″ wingspan can make him a dangerous defender, especially on pull-up jump shots in the paint or on the perimeter. But he tends to struggle when defending more physical guys, such as Williamson and Davis. That is something that I think will improve with time as he gets stronger and more experienced in the league.
Bazley’s 3-point shooting has been a little discouraging so far, but I don’t believe that it is much to worry about.
He finished his rookie season shooting 34.8 percent from three; so far this season, he is only shooting 27.5 percent. That has come with the bigger role and more 3-pointers taken per game. In my opinion, this isn’t something that Thunder fans should worry about this early in the season.
I think the big question that Thunder fans want to know is if Bazley can be that second cornerstone moving forward alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
I think that is what Presti and Daigneault are hoping for, and at just 20 years old, he is showing that he might not be far away from becoming that guy. How he progresses through the rest of the 2020-21 season will help answer that question.