The shorthanded Thunder are still a real problem in Orlando. The team is without five of its key rotation players, and the results have been a mixed bag of gritty wins and ugly losses.
Yet, out of the mixed bag, one star continues to shines bright–Darius Bazley.
In the bubble, Bazley is averaging 12.3 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists per game on 41 percent from the field, and 41 percent from three. His game took several steps forward over the four-month hiatus. And in his games in the bubble, he has shown full flashes of his complete offensive repertoire.
Bubble Bazley has scored in double digits four out of six games. He also became just the third Thunder rookie to score 20+ in back to back games. The company he’s in with this achievement is Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Leaps in 3-point shooting
Prior to the stop in play, Bazley shot 32 percent from three. His three-point shooting came more of a surprise than an expectation. In the bubble that has flipped. He’s added stepback threes, pull up threes, and pick and pop threes into his offensive game.
He is shooting with extreme confidence from long range, forcing teams to guard him when he gets the ball on the perimeter. Before this stretch of play for Bazley, teams didn’t have to close out hard to him on the three-point line. This made his drives to the rim difficult, limiting his offensive game to transition buckets and chance opportunities.
In Orlando, that’s changed. Since he is a real threat from three now, teams have to honor his jump shot. This means hard closeouts with high hands for defenders, with the hope of running Bazley off the three-point line. Which, we have seen teams like Washington try to do.
Opening up the rest of his offensive game
The necessity to guard Bazley at the three, has opened up different shades of his offensive game.
We have seen tough off-hand finishes and smooth assists from the youngster. One of his go-to moves is a head fake, followed by an eerily similar Chris Paul swipe through, into a hard drive to the basket.
Players, again, have to honor his ability to hit open threes, so they bite on head fake causing wide-open driving lanes.
In a situation where the Thunder offense has often struggled against good teams, Bazley has shown an immense level of gravity on the floor. He has managed to force defenses to gameplan for his offensive skill set. The craziest thing is he’s only 20.
What happens next?
Bazley, in the summer of 2019 was viewed as an offensive project. And in many ways he still is. Yet, we can’t ignore the great offensive poise and outside shooting he has showcased in games that matter in Orlando.
With the Thunder’s offensive lineup depleted, Bazley has shown he is a real building block, not just another Sam Presti project. There is something real in his game, and its something us Thunder fans have to be excited about.
The improvements in the bubble are just step one. The great play and increased offensive trust is just the tip of the Bazley iceberg. When this kid puts it all together, he will be one heck of a player.