Thunder

Bazley Stepping up in Dire Time of Need

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Six games into the NBA restart in Orlando, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s most impressive player has not been Chris Paul or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander– it’s been rookie Darius Bazley.

The six-foot-eight forward, who the Thunder selected 23rd overall in the 2019 draft, had shown signs of promise, but was having a relatively quiet regular season up to when the NBA suspended the season in March. But in the bubble, Bazley has been more than impressive, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds through the Thunder’s first six games in Orlando.

Bazley has absorbed a bigger role in the bubble, providing a huge spark off the Thunder bench, which is currently without Sixth Man of the Year candidate Dennis Schröder.

Shooting lights out from 3-point range

Bazley has been Oklahoma City’s best three-point shooter in the bubble, knocking down an impressive 43 percent of the shots he has taken beyond the arc. Bazley’s lights-out shooting from deep has helped him put together back-to-back 20-plus-point performances, including a career-high 23 points on Sunday against the Wizards.

With Bazley proving his ability to knock down the three-ball, the Thunder can stretch their offense out more to allow guys like Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander to have more space to work with and either get to the rim or create a shot opportunity for an open teammate.

If Bazley continues to light it up from deep, OKC’s offense will elevate to another level because defenses do not only have to be concerned about Bazley shooting it from beyond the arc, but also the threat of his ability to penetrate the paint.

Boost to the boards

Entering the bubble, the Thunder ranked as one of the league’s worst rebounding teams. That must change if Oklahoma City wants to have any shot of making a playoff run. This is where Bazley can make an impact.

At six-foot-eight, Bazley has the size to compete with anyone for a rebound. As mentioned above, he is averaging 5.5 boards per game in the bubble. In fact, he pulled down 10 rebounds on Monday against the Suns along with 22 points to notch his first career double-double.

Versatility

Bazley is primarily a forward but has spent some time playing center in each of the Thunder’s last two games. While he is undersized as a center, he has been productive on both ends of the floor when playing at the five.

Offensively, Bazley forces the opposing team’s big man to guard the three-point line– something that most centers are not very comfortable doing. This makes it easier for him to blow by his defender and attack the rim if he gets the ball on the perimeter. It also stretches out the floor and gives Oklahoma City’s guards more room to make plays.

Defensively, Bazley has looked solid against opposing team’s big men. His length allows him to challenge their shots and prevent any easy buckets.

Expect the Thunder to continue experimenting with this lineup of Bazley playing the five in their final two seeding games. If it continues to produce, OKC might even use it in the playoffs.

Final Takeaways

Bazley’s performance in the bubble so far should excite Thunder fans. With it being unclear when Dennis Schröder will return to the bubble, Billy Donovan will continue to turn to Bazley as his go-to X-factor off the bench.

Follow us on Twitter @ThunderLead for the latest Thunder news and insight.

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About James Mueller

James Mueller is a current student at the University of Houston who is majoring in both Sports Administration and Journalism. James has been passionate about sports his entire life and has extensive knowledge about all the major sports.

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