Darius Bazley has to make a leap in a contract year

Well, it is once again that time. As the calendar flips to August, training camp is just over a month away. With that comes an entirely new season, new expectations, new exciting storylines, and new players. However, this is a topic that has been discussed multiple times over. Is Darius Bazley in line for a breakout season?

I feel like that classic Bernie Sanders Meme.  I am once again asking for you to buy into Darius Bazley. The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to have to sort out a massive roster crunch this offseason, having to waive three standard NBA deals between now and October 17th. The roster picture does not get much clearer after this season is over. OKC will likely be equipped with another high draft pick, and they will be ready to make their all-in move to complete the rebuild and begin contending.

The Oklahoma City Thunder needs Darius Bazley to produce in this contract year. Could he break out in the final year of his deal?

Darius Bazley has been a polarizing player for the OKC Thunder. For starters, not many knew who he was at the time of the selection, but after a quick search on YouTube, fans got excited by the highlight plays.

The fan base rallied around him during his rookie season in what was the most feel-good, house-money season of all time. The Thunder had just traded the face of their franchise in Russell Westbrook, pulled off a heist in trading away Paul George, and were set to rebuild.

However, the team surprised…everyone. ESPN projected them to have a 0.2-percent chance of getting to the playoffs. Fast forward to March 11th they were getting ready to face off with the Utah Jazz for who would control the 4th seed for now.

That game was never played, the pandemic happened, the bubble happened, and the team fell in the playoffs in seven games to the Houston. No one could complain about that team, that season, or any outcome in the postseason.

That was the most enjoyable and fun season in Thunder history because you just got to embrace the moment without pressure, and won basketball games! There was no impending doom, nothing was on the line besides good times and vibes.

So after a rookie season filled with flashes and excitement, the expectations were placed on him for a year two leap. In a new role as a starter, Bazley struggled and did not take the expected leap as a Sophomore.

In year two, Bazley averaged a career-high 13 points per game, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out one assist per game. The New Balance Intern shot a career-low.29-percent from distance, five percent worse than his rookie season’s percentage on three more shots per game from three-point land.

It was a weird season, no fans, not a full offseason, he battled shoulder injuries, and had to adapt to being a starter as he started all 55 (out of 72 possible games) that he played in.

Now in year three, it was time for Darius Bazley to bust onto the scene. A plethora of draft picks on the horizon, the rebuild kicking into year two, Bazley had to step up. He was facing what I called a make-or-break season before the year, and once again showed flashes in training camp and preseason.

During the 2021-22 season, Darius Bazley transformed into an elite defender switching 1-5 and playing well on the perimeter defensively. There was also an offensive stretch that saw Bazley average 13-points, seven rebounds, an assist, and a block per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 50 percent from deep throughout five games.

Though, there were also disastrous stretches that saw second-year bench boss Mark Daigneault remove Bazley from the starting lineup mid-way through the year. His first time off the pine since his rookie season, he was sat for rookie big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Like in previous seasons, Bazley also battled injuries along the way.

The potential, the skillset, and the ability are there. Bazley just has to find consistency in the 2022-23 season. There are no more excuses for the former first-round pick, and believe me, I have tried to make them all so far. The Klutch client is equipped with a full-offseason for the first time in his career, he is in the same system, a more familiar roster, and in a contract year.

To the 22-year-old forward’s credit, he has taken full advantage of this offseason. Not only is he dominating pick-up runs on Instagram, booming at the rim, but he posted about his weight gain. He is now up to 219, as of June 14th, and said his goal was 220 but after hitting it so quickly, he could push for 225. For reference, Darius Bazley was listed at 6’8 208 last season.

The future of Bazley’s NBA career will be shaped by this season as he is set to hit restricted free agency in 11 months.

Darius Bazley has never shot better than 34 percent from distance, in the corners Bazley has never shot better than 33 percent (which he did this past season), and even his rim finishing has been dreadful converting just 58 percent at the cup (which ranks in the 20th percentile). With a new shooting coach in Chip Engelland, who is regarded as the best in the business, the Thunder have given Bazley all the tools to have a breakout season.

Do you believe Darius Bazley can breakout this season? Now that he switched back to the number 55 which he wore all throughout the high school circuit when these highlight plays were made. Maybe that will spark things for his OKC tenure.