Oklahoma City’s frontcourt is struggling, but the Thunder aren’t, and if you’re a casual fan, you may notice that the Thunder are down four big men right now too.
It’s not as much of a focal point because the rebuilding and “tanking” Thunder are 2.0 games out of the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
But it is a bit of a problem, and while Mark Daigneault has masterfully found supplements for the problem, I haven’t been distracted from the fact that a once bright young player has been buried at the end of OKC’s bench.
That bright young player is Darius Bazley – a legitimate option to fill the void of a competent starting big man without Chet Holmgren, Aleksej Pokusevski, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Ousmane Dieng – all big men sidelined with injuries.
Baze has been on a slow decline for the last season, and it stems from many things.
He hasn’t developed the way everyone expected
Bazley’s game looks very similar to when he was drafted in 2019. Despite other people’s negative opinions of him, I’ve been a fan of his, but I’d be remiss to say his development has been different from what many of us thought it would be. But is it his fault? Not entirely.
His role has been diminished and unclear for the last two seasons. How can he grow?
Basketball players are creatures of habit and thrive off momentum. It takes a special player to perform and find their rhythm while getting inconsistent minutes. That’s why players like Kenrich Williams are so coveted. In Bazley’s case, there’s a fine line between not getting the opportunity to strut your stuff and not seizing the moment when you do get in the game.
Baze averages 5.6 points, the worst since his rookie season, with 3.5 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game. He either hasn’t been active, didn’t dress, or did not play in 15 of OKC’s 40 games this season and hasn’t been anything near a part of OKC’s gameplan as of late.
Other players, however, have surpassed him
This doesn’t explain why he has yet to play a significant role in the absence of four OKC big men, but the thought of Chet’s upside has already passed Baze’s 3.5 years of experience. Poku’s upside and progression have been more impressive than Baze’s, and from what we’ve seen from JRE and according to some people, Dieng has surpassed Baze. So basically, and weirdly, he’s become the weakest link.
His social media posts and the timing of them
From the infamous post of him getting gas, claiming that pumping gas is a woman’s job, which undoubtedly rubbed Thunder fans the wrong way, to him sending cryptic messages on Twitter during the Kyrie Irving vs. Jewish debacle earlier in the season, I think he’s upset Thunder fans and the Thunder organization.
Personal opinion: I think Bazley has poor taste in timing and may need a few lessons on tactfulness, but I don’t believe he believes pumping gas is a woman’s job, nor do I think he hates the Jewish (the tweet was assumed to be about that but there was nothing to prove it).
Regardless of what has happened to Bazley, he’s falling off – at least within OKC’s roster. Luckily for him, he’s a good basketball player, and I believe with the right opportunity and fit, he’ll turn out to be a productive professional, but as far as OKC goes, I think that he’s nearing the end of his time, especially with him heading into restricted free agency this offseason.