Darius Bazley returns to the floor as OKC Thunder fans split on his future

The Oklahoma City Thunder got welcomed news on Saturday, as the team saw young prospects Lu Dort and Darius Bazley return to the lineup for the Thunder against the 76ers. Darius Bazley, making his second half of the season debut, has been caught in the crosshairs of Thunder Twitter this season.

It is almost a daily occurrence that fans ask me via DMs, mentions, mailbag episodes, email, you name it, what the future plans are for the 20-year-old forward. The Thunder second-year player has been bad this year, in fact, he has been the only player to not progress under new head coach Mark Daigneault.

After being sidelined since March 4th due to a shoulder contusion, which we later found out was a fractured scapula, his future began to look murky for Thunder fans that look around and see Aleksej Pokusevski come into his own, and fall in love with the All-Oklahoma City Thunder Rejects Kenrich Williams, Svi Mykhailiuk, Moses Brown, and Isaiah Roby. Bazley’s second-year struggles and inability to stay healthy made him feel expendable to fans.

Given the state of this season, as we cling to everything to give us hope for the future, the games coming fast and furious for fans much less the players, getting very little time to digest and breath, it is totally understandable why people have soured on Bazley.

However, backing out 500 feet and seeing the entire picture is important. Darius Bazley has played in just over 82 games (98) after forgoing college to be a New Balance intern. he is also dealing with a new role, after earning just nine starts in his rookie season, he has started all 37 games he has played this year. He has seen a minutes-per-game jump from 18.5, to 30.7.

With that new starting role, comes new defensive assignments. Bazley went on a stretch earlier this year where he was tasked with defending Bam, Zion, Julius Randle, and Kevin Durant. A wide-ranging assortment of some of the League’s most talented players.

This new starting role also impacted his offensive game, as his catch-and-shoot numbers slip from beyond the arc (30-percent), as well as his corner three-point percentage diminishes from 32-percent to 30-percent, while his non-corner threes fell from 35-percent to 28-percent. With him being plugged into the starting lineup, along with the roster subtractions from a year ago, defenses began game planning for Bazley. The Forward did not adjust well to that shift, though he has had less than 40-games to do so.

An obvious adjustment that Darius Bazley has to make is moving more off-ball. No matter if it was by his doing, Mark Daigneault’s doing, or Sam Presti’s doing, turning Darius Bazley into a “stand in the corner” and shoot threes guy is not a recipe for success. Bazley’s best traits are his playmaking, rebounding, and his athleticism.

Playmaking goes deeper than just having the ball in your hands, which Bazley excels with the ball in his hands, but it also includes off-ball movement, freeing your teammates up by moving off-ball and forcing the defense to adjust.

The 20-year-old has a cutting Field Goal percentage of 86-percent, good enough for the 87th percentile in the NBA, grading out to an A- trait according to B-Ball index. However, he is rarely on the move this season. Bazley’s cutting ability gives defenses an extra layer to worry about and will result in freeing up his teammates who can knock down three-point shots.

In his first game back from injury, Darius Bazley faced off with the monstrous Eastern Conference foe that is the Philadelphia 76ers.

Bazley recorded 17 points, including 10 first frame points on 100-percent efficiency. The wing grabbed nine rebounds, five assists, a block, and finish the game shooting 75-percent from beyond the arc, and 58-percent from the floor.

The second-year player was put in a more ball-handling role in this contest and showed the flashes that he did way back in high school of being a good-to-elite playmaker for his size. He also has an ugly number next to his name in the turnover category, seeing a nine in that column is never a great thing.

However, it is deceptive. Most of these turnovers came via miscommunication. Expecting a player to be at a different spot than they were, air mailing a pass, or his teammate mishandling a dime. He also had the standard give-aways, such as Joel Embiid getting a clean swipe from him in the lane, and dribbling a ball off his own foot. In the end, the nine number is higher than his actual turnover output…or as I would coin them “repeatable turnovers.” With more time on the floor next to this team, I do not expect him to put up many nine turnover games, or even close to that.

This game marked the first time Bazley played with a lot of these players, or at least these versions of said players. Prior to the All-Star break think back to how many of these guys played in general, were on the team, or played at the level they are playing at now: Theo Maledon, Svi Mykhailiuk, Aleksej Pokusevski, Jaylen Hoard, Tony Bradley, Moses Brown, Kenrich Williams, Ty Jerome, Justin Robinson, and of course, Lu Dort. Those were all the players that logged minutes in this tilt alongside Bazley.

There is no sugar coding the first half of this season for Bazley, he was factually and objectively bad. Though, there is context surrounding his poor play.

Sure, he is the only player yet to get better under the tutelage of Mark Daigneault, and sure, if the Thunder need a young asset to throw into a trade as a sweetener beyond draft picks, Darius Bazley is the first and only true option to go. It is not insane that fans have been displeased with his play, or even to be hypothesizing trades involving the young piece.

However, just take a step back, breath, evaluate the context, and give the 20-year-old time. The forward’s career can still go either way. He can still be building block Bazley.

Rylan Stiles

Rylan Stiles is the host of the Locked on Thunder podcast, a media member with the Thunder and the NBA, and Founder of BricktownBuckets.com.

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