Oklahoma City forward Darius Bazley has the talent to become a foundational piece for Thunder basketball in the next decade.
For Bazley, there are flashes of a soft shooting stroke and shot creation on the perimeter. And those momentary flashes have forced people to hypothesize just how good he can be if he puts it all together. However, I am here to say, it’s not necessarily a question of if he puts it all together, but when.
And when that moment comes for Bazley, his game could look similar to prime Nicolas Batum.
Bazley’s rookie year can be characterized by incremental improvement and consistent development.
Early into the 2019-20 season, he pressed the issue offensively. He had these moments when you could be enamored with the size and mobility on the floor. And then he would also have moments in a play where you wondered what he was exactly thinking. That is the reality for any rookie in the NBA– it’s a learning process.
The 2019-20 season
October saw him play in five games, and he averaged 2.6 points per game and 3.6 rebounds in 17 minutes.
In November, he played in 13 games. In those games, he shot 44 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three, while also improving his points per game average to 5.5 per game.
December saw a slide in his counting stats–5.5 points per game to 3.0–but this could possibly be attributed to hitting the rookie wall. He started five out of 15 games and saw his usage rate improve by 0.5 percent–14.0 to 14.5.
In January, Bazley played in 17 games and started three of them. He hovered around 5.5 points per game, but his usage rate rose again, and his true shooting percentage sat around 51 percent. He also saw an increase in his total minutes per game.
February only saw Bazley in three games, so that month can not be looked at in comparison to the others throughout last season. However, after the NBA hiatus, Bazley came back in August and had the best month of his career.
In August, he averaged 13 points per game, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists. He also saw the highest usage rate of his short career–19.0. The most remarkable thing about Bazley’s August run was that he shot 47 percent from three. And these weren’t just standstill catch and shoot threes. His usage rate indicates that he had the ball in his hands more, and at the end of the play he had the final say in whether it was a shot for him or an opportunity to create for a teammate.
The round one series against the Houston Rockets showcased how Bazley carried a higher level of comfort on the floor, as opposed to when his rookie year started.
In seven games Bazley averaged 6.6 points per game and shot 50 percent from three. The 50 percent from three came on 3.5 attempts per game, and it looked as though he was shooting the ball with more confidence on the floor.
He saw an improvement in his Box Score Plus Minus, from -1.6 to 5.7. That improvement indicates there was an overall improvement in his efficiency and total value on the floor as an offensive player.
Other facets of his game that improved in the playoffs were his defensive rebounding, total rebounding, and assist percentages. His defensive rebounding percentage rose from 20.5 percent in the regular season to 36 percent in the playoffs. To put this into perspective Andre Drummond in his last playoff run held a defensive rebounding percentage of 29.3 percent. Bazley’s total rebounding percentage also rose in the playoffs from 12.0 in the regular season to 19.5 in the playoffs. Lastly, his assist percentage saw a slight bump under playoff pressure from 5.1 percent in the regular season to 7.0 in the playoffs.
Bazley played his best during the most important time of the NBA season, as a rookie. That is a positive indicator of just how good he can be. The advance stats show that when on the court his impact was trending in a great direction for any first-year player.
I can see Bazley falling into a very unique category for the Thunder during his career. He offers them mobility and size, but also he can create his own shot on the perimeter. For the first time since Kevin Durant, it feels like the Thunder have a frontcourt player that can have the offense run through them.
That is what makes him such an exciting project.
Player comparisons for future Bazley are tough, you have to take into account a player who moves as he does, and carries themselves on the court in a similar fashion. However, the one player that always comes to mind when I watch Bazley play is a young Nicolas Batum.
Their rookie year stat lines are eerily similar. Batum averaged 5.4 points per game and 3 rebounds, on 44 percent from the field and 36 percent from three. Yet, where you see it most is in how young Batum moves on the floor and attacks the basket.
Now check out this Bazley highlight tape in comparison.
Bazley is a unique player, but there is nothing new under the sun. His impressive rookie season is only the beginning of what should be a great Oklahoma City Thunder career.