EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Darius Bazley brings athleticism, size to Suns’ wing rotation
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns had some other business they got done before the trade deadline, understandably to less fanfare.
After acquiring Kevin Durant, they dealt big man Dario Saric and a second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for fourth-year forward Darius Bazley.
First and foremost, the deal helped soften up the Suns’ tax bill.
Tax penalties went from $69.7m to $49.5m. Plus the $5mil dip in salaries. https://t.co/fUhxSS7R5Q
— David (@theIVpointplay) February 9, 2023
But it was also a sound trade by president of basketball operations James Jones to balance out the roster a bit more and take a chance on a young player with a lot of talent.
Bazley isn’t even 23 years old yet despite having 221 games of NBA experience and 118 starts to his name. The No. 23 overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft saw fairly consistent playing time in OKC for his first three seasons, including as a key starter for his second and third years.
But on a roster overflowing with lottery picks, the Thunder’s draft capital eventually caught up to Bazley and had him in-and-out of the Thunder’s rotation this year by December. Exciting players like Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams were developing into franchise cornerstones, and other less heralded youngsters like Isaiah Joe and Aaron Wiggins were getting more run on a team playing roughly .500 basketball.
Phoenix presents Bazley a timely refresh for his career. He’s heading into restricted free agency this offseason, and the opportunity is two-fold. He could emerge and really turn his value around while the Suns get a free look at a player they could retain going forward. As a tax-paying team, Phoenix has limited avenues to adding players, so re-signing them is important when it makes sense.
It was a completely different situation for the franchise five years ago, but that’s more or less what happened with Kelly Oubre Jr. and he had a breakout season.
The forward is averaging 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game across his four seasons.
“He’s a young guy that just hasn’t found his consistent niche if you will in the NBA,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said Monday. “We look at his body, we look at his skill set, we look at how he was viewed when he came out and some of the early success he had in OKC and you have to ask yourself what can we do to help him get on a path that’s more consistent.
“Because you look at him, 6’9″, long arms, athletic, can make a shot, has defensive capabilities to affect the game — how do you help him become a part of your program? It may take us a while to figure that out and we hope we can but he’s got some tools and the attributes not many NBA players have.”
Bazley said he was all smiles when he got to see his former teammate Chris Paul, who called him when the trade happened. Bazley played with Paul in his rookie year.
“I view it as an opportunity to come in and help a really good team win more games than they already have,” Bazley said Monday. “Obviously, a playoff team looking to make a big push to win a championship. Anyway I fit in and be able to help win is kind of how I’m looking at it.”
Bazley outlined his defensive versatility in guarding five positions and wants to get his athleticism into the game offensively.
When you move like he does, there is obviously a rotation-caliber player somewhere in there. Check out this highlight reel of him attacking the basket.
Darius Bazley attacking and finishing off the bounce: pic.twitter.com/P2uG4J1Tk4
— Brett Usher (@UsherNBA) August 31, 2022
And some more of his great shot-blocking ability.
Darius Bazley: elite shot-blocker pic.twitter.com/pfBzm733Ot
— Brett Usher (@UsherNBA) October 28, 2022
Bazley said his mindset isn’t changing much from OKC to Phoenix. After all, the Thunder have been playing good basketball this year. He’s just trying to win.
With his size and length, Bazley will be given strong consideration by the Suns for minutes after the departure of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Knocking down 3s (31.0% for his career) and being a playmaker offensively aren’t really things he has to worry about short term if he can truly impact the game defensively and stay active everywhere else. As Williams pointed out, it’s about Bazley finding that niche. If he does, it’ll be exactly what both he and the Suns needed.