OKLAHOMA CITY — Professionalism has long been a foundational tenet of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
When the team drafted Darius Bazely — a former five-star recruit who famously chose a paid-internship with New Balance over a stint in college basketball — many questioned the pick at the time. The Thunder were still in playoff-contention mode. A rookie that appeared to be on a slower path to make consistent contributions on the floor seemed to go against OKC’s trajectory at the time.
The thing about Darius is he can just do a lot of things. He can handle the basketball, he can pass. He can play around the basket and use both hands. In terms of his package of things he can do, he can do a lot of things.
Due to his unique path, and thanks to an offseason of overhaul, Bazely may have found the perfect spot to develop.
“Mr. (Sam) Presti made it a thing of when you come here,” Bazley told The Franchise. “He told me, you have to have a level of maturity and professionalism you’ll have to reach no matter how old you are or this being your first year or not. So I think me having the internship for three months I think they valued the versatility and professionalism I gained from it.”
Thus far, Bazley has showcased his talents to the public in four Summer League games and a team scrimmage on Sunday afternoon. Mistakes were made, and will continue to be made. But Bazley is comfortable with that reality.
“It is really comforting to know that if I miss a shot or miss a pass, I know those guys will be there to tell me ‘let it go, keep going,’” Bazley told The Franchise. “No one gets down on you. It’s all constructive criticism.”
Those guys know I’ll go hard for them on both ends of the floor. I will give everything I got.
– Darius Bazley
Comfort is an adjective closely related to the former New Balance intern. Anytime you watch him play, he looks comfortable on the floor. Whether he is succeeding or making mistakes, his mannerisms are calm and give off a bravado of “I’m supposed to be here.”
“I think that’s really big,” Bazley added. “Talking to Mr. Presti and my teammates about all this makes me feel much more comfortable.”
That comfort will go a long way in Bazley’s rookie season.
Given Bazley’s skill set and size, the Thunder like him at the power forward spot. The potential for a stretch four seems to jump off the screen when you watch the rookie play.
He (Bazley) will be a problem in the NBA, in a good way.
“There’s no question I have God-given abilities,” Bazley told The Franchise. “A lot of it is just natural talent. Obviously, you’ve got to work hard to get to this level and then you have to continue to keep working. So i’ve built off the foundation I’ve been blessed with.”
It is almost a blessing in disguise given the Thunder’s summer concerning Darius Bazley. Would the the rookie benefit from extensive playing time in the G-League? Perhaps. But the maturity and varied repertoire of skills gives the impression that a trial by fire in the NBA will provide a better learning experience.
It’s growing pains, you just have to stay aggressive. You still make mistakes but you’ll keep building.
“He just needs time to grow and get those experiences,” Deonte Burton told The Franchise. “I’m excited to see him grow. I think when he does get those experiences, he will be a problem in the NBA, in a good way.”
With his professionalism being one of the more important reasons Presti took Bazley, his versatility and arsenal of skills will keep him on the floor through the inevitable rough patches of a rookie season.
“The thing about Darius is he can just do a lot of things,” Billy Donovan said last week. “He can handle the basketball, he can pass. He can play around the basket and use both hands. In terms of his package of things he can do, he can do a lot of things.”
Billy Donovan last week on what he likes most about Darius Bazley's game. One thing that kept coming up during camp from players and Donovan was that Bazely can "do a lot of things."
After seeing him in Summer League and today's scrimmage it is easy to see what they mean. pic.twitter.com/1bS7GBQl9F
— Brady Trantham (@BradyDoesSports) October 7, 2019
Doing a lot of things seems to follow Bazley around anytime his name is brought up amongst his teammates and coaches. He isn’t a one-trick pony. He doesn’t come with a reputation of being a sniper in the corner or a lockdown defender. His talent comes from those God-given skills he mentioned as well as his intellect.
“I was talking to Mr. Presti and he said a lot of times, things will look messy but it’s good because you can grow off that,” Bazley told The Franchise. “So I’ve just given thanks to people to have me, to coach me and put me in the right positions.”
“Typically when players come from one year in college or a year overseas, generally the biggest challenge is decision making,” Donovan said. “He’s got a really good feel for the game, when to shoot, when to pass. His attitude and willingness to work and listen has been very good.”
What is the ceiling for Bazley? Too early to tell. But the professionalism, versatility and willingness to learn will help him on his path to be a valuable player for the Thunder.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. For Sooner fans, you can also listen to the “Inside OU” podcast with John Hoover, Rufus Alexander and Brady. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports