Watching Darius Bazley last season felt like riding a rollercoaster due to the nature of his up-and-down play.
One second he’s making an aggressive drive and finish. Next thing you know, he’s dancing with the ball into oblivion. This led to the Thunder looking in a different direction at the four-spot early on.
Head Coach Mark Daigneault would ultimately decide to bring the forward off the bench after being named a starter for the first 27 contests. Year three was expected to be a large step in the right direction for the former first-round pick but his benching seemed to indicate the opposite.
Throughout those 27 games, Bazley struggled in a major way, shooting a paltry 37.3% from the floor, and 28.1% from deep, scoring only 8.5 points in 27.4 minutes. Not only that, but he also produced a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, something he’s struggled with throughout his young career.
Perhaps attempting to live up to the expectation, Bazley seemed to be playing outside of himself, doing things like running isolations on the perimeter only to turn the ball over or get a bad shot off.
But throughout 2021-22, he did show some signs of growth. In February, Bazley resumed his role in the starting lineup and played significantly better in his next 24 games. His field goal percentage improved to 45.6%, and his three-point percentage to 32.1%. He increased his scoring output to 13.9 points, recorded more free throw attempts per contest, and produced more assists than turnovers. In March, he even poured in a career-high 29 points on 11-out-of-19 shooting at home, versus Memphis.
Although Bazley’s play improved throughout the season, there is still a lot of work to be done. His overall offensive game is still highly suspect, evidenced by the fact that he’s barely improved his scoring efficiency from year one to year three.
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His three-ball is incredibly inconsistent, he struggles to make free throws, and he still resembles a stumbling fawn at times when driving to the hoop. If he has any hope of sticking around with the Thunder, let alone the NBA, it is absolutely necessary that he takes some major strides in his game.
Perhaps his saving grace can be his defense as the former New Balance intern has all of the necessary tools to be an elite-level defender. He has the fluidity and lateral quickness at 6-foot-9 to keep up with a lot of guards, potentially lock down the league’s best wings, and bother a few centers.
While he continued to show glimpses of what he could be last season, there were too many times when he let the offense get the best of him. If Bazley can really lean into his strengths and become more of a sound and aggressive playmaker on the defensive side of the floor, his value will skyrocket.
It’s easy to forget that Bazley is just 22-years-old heading into the 2022-23 season. He won’t turn 23 until June. While he hasn’t been the player the Thunder hoped for when they drafted him with the 23rd overall pick, he still has a window to figure things out. But that window starts now. The front office has accumulated other forward prospects capable of replacing Bazley altogether. Between Chet Holmgren, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl capable of being better forwards long-term, Bazley can quickly become expendable.
With training camp in full swing and preseason a few days away, it’s time to put his foot on the gas and leave it all on the floor as this could very well be his last, meaningful opportunity in the NBA.