The Oklahoma City Thunder added a ton of size and length to their roster via the 2022 NBA Draft this offseason. Did this leave a strange man on the list?
He doesn’t get much longer than second overall pick Chet Holmgren whose combination of length and dexterity has been the most intriguing in years. But in addition to their first pick, the Thunder added two other intriguing lottery prospects in French forward Ousmane Dieng and Santa Clara standout Jalen Williams. Then they quadrupled with their second-round pick, selecting big man Jaylin Williams of Arkansas.
Yes, Chet Holmgren will surely miss the entire 2022-23 season with an unfortunate Lisfranc injury. But even with him out of the picture, Thunder’s current player roster is stacked with similar players matching the very profile they loaded.
Aleksej Pokusevski has been a poster boy for long limb potential since joining in 2020. Both Kenrich Williams and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl have featured in the Thunder lineup at one point or another. The former has just signed a new long-term contract while the latter started a handful of games with the power forward last season.
So where does that leave former first-round pick Darius Bazley then? The prospect most famous for turning down a college scholarship from Syracuse to complete a million-dollar internship at New Balance hasn’t exactly taken off the way the Thunder expected.
On paper, Baze is certainly an enticing talent. At 6’8″ with long arms, he offers positional versatility in a league trending in that direction while joining a team that prioritizes player development over short-term results. But the fact that he didn’t do much with the opportunities presented to him means the Thunder had to end one of his early experiments.
The non-progression of Darius Bazley
The Thunder saw some flashes of potential in Darius Bazley late in his rookie season. While he was averaging just 4.5 points per game before the All-Star break, he upped that to 13.0 points and 6.3 rebounds in the eight NBA bubble games and had his moments. in the Thunder’s seven-game loss to the Houston Rockets.
As the team embarked on a full rebuild the following season, Bazley had every chance to develop without any pressure as the team’s undisputed starting striker. While he increased his raw numbers and became a 13-7 player with perimeter skills, his efficiency was abysmal shooting less than 40% from the field and 30% from the three-point line.
He took another step back last season. After failing to do much as a Year 3 power forward with virtually no competition, Bazley was eventually demoted to the bench of a Thunder team that was one of the worst in the NBA the last season.
Darius Bazley had the frame and the versatility to become the do-everything attacking teams that have been sought after since the emergence of guys like Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But Bazley has become a player who can do a bit of everything, but doesn’t excel at anything in particular. He is the definition of a tweener without much development in any area.
The Thunder needed to trade Darius Bazley
Even the most ardent of Bazley defenders (are there still a handful?) would admit he wasted chances to solidify his place in the Thunder hierarchy. Now that there are a handful of promising young players on rookie salaries joining the roster, the forward rotation has become extremely crowded. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey now part of a core alongside role player Lu Dort, Baze has become the odd man out of previous team selections.
After all, the purpose of the Thunder storage picks was to find a few diamonds among several lumps of coal. Not everyone could be successful. Now, with the new kids coming in to strut their stuff in order to impress enough to be a part of the Thunder’s future, Bazley will likely be reduced to a much smaller role than he’s had in the past. Despite several mental errors and ineffective scoring, the leash was as long as Darius could get in previous seasons. He won’t enjoy the same leniency with several rookies and some current roster players keen to take his place in the rotation.
The Thunder probably would have been wise to clear some space and get whatever value they could for Darius Bazley. They probably wouldn’t earn much more than a second-round pick, but it could very well be addition by subtraction at this point.