This draft, the Thunder decided to go for minor moves, not big ones.
Leading into the draft, there was a lot of speculation about the Thunder trading their 21st pick away. They were supposed to be floating it as incentive to shed salary, trying to lower their luxury tax load.
Well, they traded.
They just didn’t drop salary. Much.
Instead of using the 21st pick as incentive, the Thunder decided to move back slightly in the draft and pick up an asset, drafting Darius Bazley at 23 after swapping picks with Memphis. Unlike a lot of the players that were mocked to the Thunder, Bazley is mostly a mystery. So who is this mystery man? And why did the Thunder move back?
A Unique Path to the NBA
Bazley is a little bit unique. Originally committed to Syracuse, he changed his mind before he actually became part of the Orange. Instead of going through the NCAA like most prospects, he decided that he was going to go to the G-League to prepare for the NBA.
That didn’t last, though. When he struggled in some workouts, he decided to just take the year completely off, skipping a year of playing to work out by himself. He signed with agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports fame (best known as LeBron James’s agent), then signed a $14 million contract with New Balance that included a $1 million internship last year.
Coming into the draft, it’s hard to know what Bazley’s game looks like, as we don’t have any film since his high school years to go off. What we do know is that Bazley fits Sam Presti’s prototype as a long, athletic forward who projects as a possible versatile wing. I touched base with a source who had some front office experience and loved him, having him as a good sleeper. And most mock drafts had him projected in the range the Thunder took him, citing potential.
It’s hard to say what he looks like long-term, but a good guess is that he’ll need a few years of seasoning before he’s a legit contributor (if he ever becomes one). He’s an unfinished project. Most likely he’ll spend at least one year with the Oklahoma City Blue. Oklahoma City has some good history of using their minor league team to develop prospects, but it’ll take us some time before we know how to evaluate this one.
The Thunder right now are in an unenviable position when it comes to assets.
At the moment, when it comes to young assets, the two they have that project as having any value are Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo—neither of whom moves the needle a ton in terms of trade value.
In terms of picks, they’re thin. They have all their second-round picks moving forward, but they have two first-round picks that they’ve traded out, which means they’re limited in terms of what they can trade away. Now they also have two second-round picks from other teams. One from the Bulls (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot) is a “fake” top-55 protected pick that has very little chance of conveying. The other is the 2024 Memphis pick they just acquired.
That may not sound like much. But for a team as asset-starved as OKC, every little bit matters.
If they wanted Bazley and not someone like Clarke, trading back two spots to take a guy they knew would still be there and creating another asset is smart management. It’s hard to say what that second-round pick could do, but smart teams play in the margins, and OKC needs to nail those margins right now.
What Comes Next?
It’ll be surprising if the Thunder hangs onto that 2024 pick. Look for that to be included as a sweetener somewhere down the line to bring in more help or cut salary.
And for those who were looking for an impact trade today, take heart: it’s not over yet. Keep an eye on when the Thunder sign Bazley. If it looks like they’re waiting to sign him, it may mean that they’re waiting to aggregate his draft rights in a trade.
Either way, it’s hard to say how the Thunder did on draft day. It’s a minor move to get a minor asset and a project draft prospect. Grade this one an “incomplete”.