Outside the lottery once again, the Oklahoma City Thunder had to take a shot an a player with upside potential in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Originally slotted to pick at No. 21, Sam Presti traded back and eventually made his selection with the 23rd overall pick.
Presti landed on a relatively unknown prospect in forward Darius Bazley, who had opted to forgo college basketball to take an opportunity as an intern with New Balance.
What Bazley represented was perhaps a shift in OKC’s draft philosophy.
Yes, the 6-foot-9 prospect brought size and wingspan to the table, but he also had a flash of playmaking ability that gave him a ceiling much higher than just a 3-and-D guy.
Understandably, after a year off Bazley was a little slower out of the gates than Thunder fans may have wanted, but he came on strong at the end of his rookie season and showed flashed of his top-end potential in the NBA Bubble.
But after posting a shooting mark of 34.8 percent from behind the arc during his rookie season, Bazley took a small step back in Year 2.
Seeing his time on the floor balloon to over 30 minutes a game, Bazley’s 3-point shooting dropped to 29.0 percent.
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There was plenty of reason for that, though. After shipping Steven Adams to New Orleans, Bazley was forced to play down on the low block defensively without a true rim protector to back him up. As a result, he drew some tough defensive matchups which made him work incredibly hard on both ends of the floor.
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As the year went on and the Thunder added Moses Brown and Tony Bradley to the rotation, Bazley looked much more comfortable and began to attack the bucket with much higher levels of aggression.
Bazley averaged 17.2 points per game over his final 19 games of the 2020-21 season, once again ending his year on a high.
He’ll hope to continue that development, as next year will be a big year for the former intern.
He still has plenty of potential, but as the Thunder look to surround Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with a core built to contend for the next decade, Bazley will need to show he can be more than a rotational piece.
His perceived defensive struggles can easily be chalked up to roster construction from a year ago, so Bazley will need to return to his 3-point shooting levels of his rookie year while maintaining his aggressiveness that closed the season.