Reader Grade: B (43% of votes)
Darius Bazley has met his primary objectives over the last calendar year. One: get drafted despite forgoing the college experience with an apprenticeship with New Balance and the Klutch Sports fraternity. Two: earn playing time despite playing behind both established veterans and many other Thunder prospects with more urgent questions about their place in OKC’s future.
What he’s done with those minutes hasn’t been overly impressive, but there’s a reason he kept receiving opportunities to develop on the NBA court instead of in the G League. Bazley has length and athleticism, but isn’t the explosive-but-raw (think Jerami Grant, Andre Roberson, Hamidou Diallo) project you’d expect Sam Presti to roll the dice on late in the draft. As Zach Lowe pointed out, the rookie forward has some polish and craft to his skillset uncommon for 19-year-olds:
“He seems to read the game — to rotate without falling behind, pausing to figure out his next move, or zipping to the wrong place. Combine all that with a 7-foot wingspan, and you have the ingredients for an interesting multipositional defender. It is hard to drive around Bazley when he arrives on time, arms spread wide.
He’s also a smart cutter on offense, with a knack for anticipating when an alleyway will open. Teaching feel is harder than teaching skill. I am always intrigued by rookies who show an early foundation of feel.“
As Aidan Elrod pointed out for Daily Thunder, the anemic boxscore numbers for Bazley (4.5 points on 47.5 TS%, and rebounds being the only counting stat above 1 per game) align with an equally dismal O-PIPM. But the fluidity that Elrod and Lowe highlight has led to impressive defensive metrics and tantalizing signs of playmaking for a power forward.
Add to all that his comfort being a gregariousness young face of the franchise, interacting with fans and media like a seasoned pro, and the “it” factor comes into view for Bazley. Chris Paul took Bazley under his wing along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, marking those two as the most promising players for the Thunder future. If his production materializes as it could, the Fresh Prince of OKC will have the on-court value to match the off-court charm that has helped make him a fan favorite. That we are considering that scenario plausible means he deserves a strong grade.