With the 2022-23 season just past halftime and the close of trading just 16 days away, front offices across the NBA will be scrambling to position themselves for a playoff run or improve the roster for next season or just just clean up their cap sheets.
Well, it’s no secret that Darius Bazley could potentially be on the Oklahoma City chopping block. With the final year of his rookie contract drawing to a close, he’s not getting much playing time at the moment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t help another team.
Bazley, a New Balance intern drafted with the 23rd overall pick in 2019, was selected before Oklahoma City traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook, moves that would ultimately ignite a long-term rebuild. Now in his senior year, Bazley struggles for minutes while accepting a new role on a progressive team full of up-and-coming talent.
But Bazley can still help teams that could use a “small ball” center or more size in the power forward position. At 6’9 and nearly 220 pounds, Bazley’s ability to cover the ground and get airborne quickly allows him to disrupt both perimeter and inside players, as evidenced by his 5.5% block rate and steal rate of 1.6%. He’s also a good rebounder, catching almost 19% of all misses from all opponents while on the ground.
And while he’s far from a good offensive player, Bazley shoots a career-high 35% from beyond the 3-point line – albeit on just 40 attempts – and posts a 43.2% free throw rate, another career high . If a team can unlock Bazley’s ability to stretch the ground, he will have the ability to defend across the entire ground, bring defense to bear from outside the arc, and be a threat to finish inside.
Bazley’s contract may benefit franchises who are expected to be above the salary cap next season. His outlaw gives those teams an opportunity to re-sign him for what is most likely a cheap and easy-to-move deal.
The Milwaukee Bucks are a team that could make sense as a landing spot. They’re currently about $10 million over the luxury tax threshold, and their forward-moving center rotation consists of the slower feet of Bobby Portis and an aging Brook Lopez. Bazley could be an extremely inexpensive play that gives the Bucks some lineup flexibility and versatility.
And the Bucks have amicably agreed to trade a former Thunder player into their roster: Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has played just 185 minutes in 16 games this season after failing to crack Mike Budenholzer’s rotation.
The 14-year veteran was drafted by Sam Presti with the 24th pick overall when the franchise was still the Seattle SuperSonics. Ibaka became a key cog for the Thunder, hitting shots and drilling mid-range jumpers and corner threes to help them enjoy a long streak of playoff success before being traded to the Orlando Magic.
For the Bucks, flipping Ibaka for Bazley would increase their luxury tax bill, but could also put their front court in a better position if things go right, and it would likely only cost them a future second-round pick or pick swap.
For The Thunder, Ibaka would be welcomed home by the fans and would be a great addition to the dressing room as it would offer experienced tips and tricks to young players, but it could mean the franchise would have to send some money to Milwaukee for Bazley’s bigger deal to balance .
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