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Thunder Draft Selection Raises More Questions

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It’s far too early to render final judgement on OKC’s draft night, but much more work remains

High School Basketball: McDonalds High School All American Games Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

There was an expectation that the Oklahoma City Thunder would trade its first round pick, the 21st overall, on Thursday night.

And they did.

For the 23rd overall pick.

Weeks after a first round exit that led to rounds of trade speculation, the Thunder ended the evening with the draft rights to Darius Bazley, a 19-year-old prospect with his own interesting history.

Reaction to the selection is mixed, as always. As a raw and athletic prospect, he checks all the boxes of a typical Thunder draft pick. Oklahoma City traded the draft rights to Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke and acquired a second round pick in 2024 from the Memphis Grizzlies in the deal.

And yet, the lefty Bazley isn’t even officially a member of the Thunder yet. The trade won’t be official until after the Grizzlies and Jazz complete the previously reported Mike Conley trade on July 6. Sam Presti held media availability after the draft, yet was unable to discuss the prospect he will eventually acquire because the NBA loves to make things weird.

Bazley is a former Ohio five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American. After committing to Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim, he opted to bypass college altogether. That led to a plan to enter the NBA G-League instead, before he ultimately decided to spend the year training on his own and take a $1 million internship with New Balance.

In his final mock draft, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic noted that Bazley had strong workouts with teams, displaying a promising combination of athleticism and shooting ability. He slotted Bazley at San Antonio with the 29th pick.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony also pegged the Spurs as drafting Bazley. His skill set impressed teams and Givony noted that he showed promise as a multi-positional defender.

Steve Kyler from basketballinsiders.com saw some of Bazley’s workouts and felt he’s not getting much shine because he was out of the spotlight for a year.

Bazley also got praise from now-former NBA star Dwyane Wade.

Anyone who claims to know today if Bazley or Nassir Little or Grant Williams will have a better career is selling snake oil. Whether OKC got a steal, a solid rotation player, or a bust won’t be fully known for years.

And that’s where criticism should be focused: not on who was selected, but that a selection was made at all.

Without knowing what trades were on Presti’s desk, it’s unfair to ding him for not making a splashier trade. He reminded everyone that this was just the beginning of the offseason. A lot more action can, and likely will, happen once July arrives.

But can Bazley contribute to a team in the middle of a title hunt? Perhaps, though it’s unusual for title chasers to get high-level production from an NBA newbie in the bottom third of the first round. Can the Thunder afford to give him the NBA development he’ll badly need and also aim for a deep playoff run? It’s been a tricky challenge the previous two seasons with Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo in their respective rookie campaigns.

Granted, a lot can change in the next month. Those cost-cutting, talent-boosting, team-altering trades may be on the horizon and the need to immediately depend on Bazley may be diminished. Until then, reserving full judgement for now isn’t a bad course of action.