Darius Bazley- Grade: B+
When it came to players stepping up for Oklahoma City this year, Darius Bazley was a player a lot of people had their eyes on. His athleticism, combined with his versatile skill set, is exciting for any coach to have on their roster. But athleticism can only get a player so far. To reach an elite level in the NBA you have to become a dominant force in all areas of the floor.
The beginning of the season proved to be a little rough for Bazley. Not only was his production on the floor very inconsistent, but he was lacking confidence in a key area: the lane. Bazley had a difficult time recognizing shot opportunities and even when he got a good look at the rim, there were times that poor execution cost him a bucket.
Yet, when Bazley returned from a shoulder injury, he seemed more confident than ever. He perfected some post moves that allowed him easy access to the basket. He was also quicker to recognize different defensive coverages and knowing which moves to make in order to score.
In January, he was averaging 11 points per game, but he almost doubled his scoring output in April, averaging 19 points a contest. One game in particular revealed how well-rounded Bazley was becoming. He snagged nine rebounds, recorded two blocks, and finished with 26 points against the Indiana Pacers in late April.
Bazley improved in each facet of his game, which was what the coaching staff was looking for each player to do this season. Seeing how much he developed this season should get Thunder fans excited for what leaps Bazley will continue to make in Oklahoma City.
Lu Dort- Grade: A
Lu Dort’s biggest strength is his defensive tenacity and there was no doubt that those skills would transfer into this season. Yet, there were doubts as to whether Dort’s offensive game would begin to take shape.
The gaping weakness in Dort’s game was his inability to finish on offense. Last season Dort was averaging seven points per game and took around three 3-pointers per game. But Dort became more confident driving to the rim as well as shooting from deep. In the 2020-2021 season, he averaged 14 points per game and took six shots from behind the arc.
What became more impressive about Dort is how his efficiency improved while getting more looks. In January, he averaged 35 percent from behind the arc yet in April he averaged 46 percent. Against Toronto in mid-April his shot selection was on full display. Dort shot 9-of-15 from the floor, 5-of-8 from behind the arc, and finished with 29 points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander praised Dort’s work ethic in his end of the season exit interview.
“(Dort) is a really good player, hard worker,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “This year he got better in so many areas.
But that was not even Dort’s best night, in Oklahoma City’s matchup against Utah Dort dropped 42 points. That elite level of offensive production did not hinder his effort on the defensive end. Donovan Mitchell has averaged 25 points per game this season but Mitchell was limited to only score 16 points when Dort was defending him. Daigneault had a lot to say about Dort’s offensive and defensive performance.
“It’s a testament to his prowess as a defender but obviously he had an unbelievable offensive night. Happy for him, he works really hard.”
Dort made big strides this season into becoming a more balanced player. Combining this increase in offensive production with his defensive dominance will make him a huge asset on the floor.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander- Grade: A-
From the start of the 2020-2021 season it was clear that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is becoming the next face of the Thunder. His role on the team has shifted dramatically from what was expected from him last season. With no Chris Paul to lean on, the question became just how effective could Gilgeous-Alexander be at the helm of the Thunder. Game after game, he proved that he is ready to put the franchise on his shoulders.
Becoming Oklahoma City’s primary ball handler meant that Gilgeous-Alexander would need to be great in various areas of the floor. One specific area of the court that greatly improved from last season is his shot recognition and efficiency. Last year he shot 35 percent from 3-point range, improving that mark to 42 percent this season.
Another big stride Gilgeous-Alexander made this season was coming in clutch down the stretch. When games became close, he was able to turn on the jets and put the Thunder in a true position to win. Against San Antonio in February specifically, Gilgeous-Alexander shined. He was 13-of-20 shooting, 6-of-11 from behind the arc, and finished with 42 points.
Gilgeous-Alexander was having an impressive season until he unfortunately incurred an injury to his foot in March. Initially there was hope Gilgeous-Alexander would return, but mid-April it was clear he would not wear a Thunder jersey for the remainder of the season. This was a blow to Oklahoma City’s offense and it became a huge struggle to fit the gaping hole his absence left.
Since Gilgeous-Alexander only played half of the season it’s tough to give him an overall grade. But it’s obvious he has a legitimate spot in the Thunder’s future.
“I have no doubt that when he walks through the doors next year he’s going to look different again and he’s going to look better again,” Diagneault said.
Stay tuned for the upcoming report card as it will go into questionable players on the Thunder’s roster.