Oklahoma City were short on bigs against the Washington Wizards. Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel were both ruled out due to injury. Coach Donovan had to go small at the five spot. In previous games, Billy Donovan tried Deonte Burton at centre with very little luck. In last night’s game, he tried Darius Bazley at centre.
Bazley has not played at that spot much this season but his performance was surprising. Bazley had a career high in points as he notched 23 points. His defense was pretty solid and Darius did not look troubled by the Wizards’ big man. The game which Bazley played suggests this could be a viable lineup in the future.
Raw numbers suggest that Bazley could work nicely as a centre. Bazley is an offensive option who derives most of his value from his deep scoring. Bazley has proven to be an efficient marksman in the last five games. Bazley is shooting 41.7% on 4.8 3PA. It is a small sample size but the statistics are encouraging. Bazley profiles to be a serviceable outside shooter going forward for the Thunder.
Billy Donovan has put Bazley in the same sort of pick and pop sets that he usually runs for Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala. This kind of action spaces the floor and generates clean looks for the big if the action is executed properly.
The pop-out to the 3-point line stretches the defense and forces big men to defend in areas where they are uncomfortable. Thomas Bryant rarely defends the perimeter. Bryant, the Wizards center, cannot cover ground fast enough to contest the look effectively at the arc.
The defensive scramble creates further opportunities for Darius to create a shot. Bazley can blow by his assignment and get to the rim for an easy finish. Bazley is capable with finishing with both hands and challenges the defense with his finishing. Bazley is an able scorer inside 3ft and is a threat in that shooting zone.
A big who can shoot the ball provides additional options for the Thunder in terms of offensive scheming. During the game against Washington, Billy Donovan put Bazley on the perimeter. The Thunder ran a version of 4-in, 1-out with Diallo sitting in the dunker’s spot.
The floor was well spaced and there was space inside for the Thunder to create good looks. The scheme fully took advantage of Hamidou Diallo’s skillset. Diallo was free to hang around the rim and use his athleticism to finish effectively.
It was an interesting wrinkle added to the offensive system by Coach Donovan and it is something that you could see the Thunder relying on going forward. I am aware that it is just one game against the Wizards, one of the worst remaining teams in the bubble. There is also the fact that Darius will struggle to defend lengthier, stronger centers.
However, I do not believe Bazley will flounder in this position; there is enough evidence to suggest that Bazley will be fine on defense against bigger players. Bazley’s defensive rating of 102.1 is very good especially for a rookie forward.
Darius has just enough length to challenge shots and force opposing bigs into difficult finishes at the rim. Bazley has grown over the course of the season and one of his growth areas has been interior defense. Bazley has become much better at absorbing contact and keeping an arm in an attacker’s face.
Bazley at a centre is not a long-term option but it will be useful in short bursts. The floor spacing and mobility will be useful against a team like the Jazz or even the Los Angeles Lakers. Rudy Gobert is an excellent interior defender and the Thunder can nullify his defense by making Gobert guard someone on the perimeter.
The game against Washington was an indicator that Bazley at center could be a useful option for the Thunder. I would like to see the Thunder explore this option a little more over the coming games. Nerlens Noel and Steven Adams both have injuries which will limit their mobility on the court. It makes sense to allow these players to sit against Phoenix and continue the Bazley experiment.