The Oklahoma City Thunder are heading toward a very important offseason headlined by the 2022 NBA Draft in which they control four picks within the top 34 selections. With Sam Presti’s public stance that he is comfortable using all four picks, that would lead to the OKC Thunder making some tough decisions in creating four roster spots. Darius Bazley enters the last year of his rookie contract at an interesting time.
The former New Balance Intern has had an interesting career, to say the least. On Draft night Bazley was traded to OKC and swapped for Brandon Clarke with Sam Presti taking a shot on this project prospect from Massachusetts. After playing his high school ball in Ohio, Bazley elected to intern at New Balance instead of attending college. He entered the league playing his rookie season at the age of 19 in which he logged 61-games with nine starts in the pandemic shortened season before having some fun moments in the Disney World Bubble.
In year two, after a shortened offseason, a new roster role, and a head coaching change Darius Bazley struggled out of the gate despite starting all 55 games he played in during the 72-game season. What many OKC Thunder fans forget, due to the team not making the postseason last year, was that the 2021 offseason was still shortened. So short, Sam Presti held Aleksej Pokusevski out of NBA Summer League because there was not an offseason long enough to get his off the court work in along with a Summer run.
Bazley saw another season of struggles on the offensive end but leaped into an elite and versatile defender during the 2021-22 campaign. After another overall disappointing season filled the ups and downs, the 22-year-old forward enters the final year of his contract owed 4.2-million dollars before he hits restricted free agency during the 2023 offseason.
OKC Thunder forward Darius Bazley entering an important but full offseason ahead of the final year of his contract
Darius Bazley has to capitalize on this offseason one that he is “excited” for as it is the first full offseason since he has been in the league. During the 2021-22 NBA Season, Bazley averaged 10 points, six rebounds, one assist, a block, and 0.8 steals per game on 29-percent shooting from deep and a career-high 42-percent from the floor.
His defensive leap is incredibly important for the OKC Thunder who have an awkward lineup when fully healthy. As the team tries to play Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Lu Dort together, the Thunder have to have a team style of defense with defenders who can guard multiple positions. Enter Lu Dort and Darius Bazey locking in on that side of the floor taking on the toughest assignments.
While his defense is great, what keeps him from being on solid footing in this rebuild is his offensive game. The 6’9 forward shoots 58-percent at the rim, 38-percent in the mid-range, and just 29-percent on non-corner threes.
The area that can make his offensive game playable is his corner three-point shooting which leaped to a career-high 33-percent during the 2021-22 season. Darius Bazley becoming a 38-plus percent shooter in the corner would make him an incredible all-around player. The explosive athlete is a fantastic cutter despite his 58-percent rim percentage, stroking the long ball at a high clip would make his a prototypical modern NBA player defending 1-5.