I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t have the deepest knowledge of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2021 roster.
Many of the big name players of last year — Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, and Dennis Schroder — have been cast around the NBA, playing for different teams this season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander remains the franchise centerpiece and veterans Al Horford and George Hill are now in the fold, but outside of them (and cult hero Luguentz Dort), this OKC roster is a team of no-namers.
Well, allow me introduce you to Thunder starting forward Darius Bazley.
A rookie last year, Bazley only started nine games for the Thunder in the shortened season, averaging just 18.5 minutes per game and a stat line of 5.6 PPG/4.0 RPG/0.7 APG/1.1 StPG. Those numbers aren’t wowing by any means, but this season has been an entirely different story.
Now starting for the Thunder, Bazley is playing 30.6 minutes per game (second most on the team behind SGA) and is averaging 13.1/9.0/1.7/1.7 this season through seven games. Those numbers are good enough to rank him a top 100 player in fantasy basketball per ESPN player rater — 80th overall, ahead of Zion Williamson and Donovan Mitchell. I’ll take this moment to mention that Bazley is currently only rostered in 37% of ESPN leagues.
As if that jump wasn’t enough, Bazley has taken his game to an even higher level over this last week. Since January 1st, Bazley is averaging a wildly impressive 18.3/10.7/2.3/1.7 stat line, while shooting 50% from the field (on 13.3 attempts) and 40% from three (on 6.7 attempts). Only three other players have averaged 18 and 10 while attempting at least six threes since the start of the new year. Their names are LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and Christian Wood (shoutout Christian Wood). I’d say that’s pretty elite company.
Even if you look at Bazley’s full season stats (13 points, nine rebounds, at least five 3PA per game), only Luka, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Vucevic are putting up that stat line. Maybe even more elite company?
The Thunder’s moves this offseason further cement the notion that Sam Presti is looking to tank and rebuild this team with all the draft capital they’ve collected (about a billion first round picks). Currently the Thunder are 3-4 and are 11th in the West. Things are going according to plan. This is great news for fantasy managers as the Thunder have every ounce of motivation to get their young players playing time and experience to see what pieces they have for the future.
It was one of the reasons I was so high on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander this offseason. It’s the reason I’m so high on Bazley right now.
While I don’t expect him to continue averaging almost 20/10 and shooting 40% from three, it’s hard to ignore the tape and production Bazley has put up when given the minutes. I fully expect head coach Mark Daigneault to continue giving the young big 30+ minutes a game and ample opportunity to shine. Given what we’ve seen from Bazley so far, he has the recipe for an early season waiver add who turns out to be fantasy league winner down the road.