Photo by Michael Kinney
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Heading into the 2019 NBA draft, no one seemed to know what the Oklahoma City Thunder were planning to do. With the No. 21 pick in the first round, there were reports they wanted to trade it, along with veterans such as Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Andre Roberson.
However, the one thing that looked unlikely was that the Thunder would actually draft a player.
But that is exactly what the organization did, sort of. After a draft-day trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City (via Utah Jazz) selected Darius Bazley with the No. 23 pick.
All trades will not be finalized by the NBA until later this summer. Until then, Bazley is technically still a member of the Jazz.
Because of that, Thunder Vice-president and General Manager Sam Presti could not speak directly about Bazley. He could only speak in generalities to what the team was looking for in the draft.
“I think the way we’ve always approached the draft is we’re always looking to create value for the organization and get the most value from the opportunities we have to pick,” Presti said. “I think we’ve also shown, like, at different points in time to try to take along view, give yourself the most opportunity for the most success. But every one of these is different. We try to just go off the board, take the next player that’s there.”
Oklahoma City traded down to No. 23 after originally owning the No. 21 pick. Along with it, they picked up a second-round pick in 2024. They had no other draft picks on the night.
Bazley was an all-American guard at Princeton High in Sharonville, Ohio before deciding not to go to college and head straight to the G-League. Yet, he changed his mind again and didn’t play at all in the 2018-19 season and just trained to get ready for the 2019 draft.
“He had a unique path to this draft,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “He was a top 10 recruit; he was going to Syracuse. He is 6-9, but he is rail thin. He is very fluid. He has very good handles, he can attack the rim. Good athleticism, good vision and he runs in transition. So he’s got some potential.”
During Bazley’s year away from basketball, he worked as an intern at New Balance, where he made $1 million. Bazley also is one of only two NBA players who have a show deal with the shoe company. The other is NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
At 6-foot-9, 200 pounds, the 19-year old Bazley has the size to play the small or power forward spot.
However, there is no telling where Bazley will wind up once he gets to the NBA. The Thunder are loaded on the frontcourt with Paul George, Jerami Grant, Terrance Ferguson, Abdel Nader, Patrick Patterson and Deonte Burton.
However, other than George and Grant, the forward spot was a weak spot for Oklahoma City last season. Despite that, it’s hard to imagine after sitting out an entire year, Bazley can come in and earn minutes his first year.
Social media was filled with angry Thunder fans who were not in favor of the pick knowing the team was in dire need of 3-point shooting. But Oklahoma City was in a difficult situation. They were picking so far down in the draft, it would almost be impossible to find an impact player. So, they once again had to take a long-term project much like Ferguson.
However, for some, the story of the Thunder draft was told by the names of the players still on the board. They included Carsen Edwards, Jordan Poole, Dylan Windler and Nassir Little. All of whom have 3-point range.
Because Bazley didn’t play last year, there are very few accurate scouting reports on him, except on what he did at combines at individual workouts.
However, coming out of high school, Bazley was heavily recruited. He averaged 15.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game.
“Very versatile,” according to Matt Reynolds of Prep Hoops. “Made plays slashing to the basket with great athleticism. Long and Lanky. Shot it okay. He may be a great pick down the road but will be a project for the future.”
Michael Kinney Media services