Would-be preps-to-pros trailblazer Darius Bazley won't play in the G League, after all

Yahoo Sports
Five months after making what would’ve been a landmark decision to go straight from high school to the G League, Darius Bazley has changed his mind, opting to just work out on his own for the year instead. (AP)
Five months after making what would’ve been a landmark decision to go straight from high school to the G League, Darius Bazley has changed his mind, opting to just work out on his own for the year instead. (AP)

Five months after making what would’ve been a landmark decision to go straight from high school to the G League, Darius Bazley has evidently changed his mind.

Rather than entering the G League draft and widening the road for prep prospects to go pro without entering the NCAA ranks, the 2018 McDonald’s All American forward and former Syracuse commit has reportedly chosen not to play in the NBA’s developmental league, deciding instead to “use the year to train and prepare himself as a professional” with an eye toward the 2019 NBA draft, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

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Who is Darius Bazley?

Bazley, a 6-foot-9, 200-pound wing out of Princeton High School in Cincinnati who was considered a consensus five-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, made headlines in March when he decommitted from Syracuse and announced plans to enter the G League. He averaged 17.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his final season at Princeton, and after playing well in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds and two assists in the prep-prospect showcase, he announced his plan to go pro.

Bazley isn’t the first player to choose to bypass the NBA’s “one-and-done” mandatory minimum age for entering the league’s annual draft by looking for a non-college option for a year. Brandon Jennings did it in 2008, Emmanuel Mudiay did it in 2014, Terrance Ferguson did it in 2016 and Mitchell Robinson did it last year; all of them were selected in the NBA draft one year after skipping what would’ve been their freshman seasons. Bazley, however, would’ve been the first to go the domestic-developmental-league route since the Tulsa 66ers drafted Latavious Williams out of prep school in 2009.

“Ultimately, playing professional basketball has always been my dream,” Bazley said at the time. “It’s always going to be the dream goal, always going to be the goal until I achieve it. This is going to put me one step closer to doing so.”

Why Bazley says he changed his mind

Now, though, rather than go pro in a way that some observers thought might start a trend, Bazley says he and his advisors — including his mother, Lynnita, and his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who also represents the likes of LeBron James, John Wall and Ben Simmons — have decided that there’s “no upside” to playing in the G League for him. Instead, Bazley and company feel he should use the next year “to work on [his] craft” rather than cede control over his future to a draft process in which he wouldn’t be able to choose which team he’d join.

From Charania:

“If you play well, it’s expected. If you don’t play well, you’re not NBA-ready. That’s what they’ll say. For me, working out and preparing is the best route,” [Bazley said]. […]

Bazley would have had to sign a G League contract and enter the draft in October because he has not been part of the NBA draft. He was expected to be the No. 1 pick in the G League draft, meaning he could fall into uncertainty by being selected to play for an organization that was the worst team a year ago. […] For Bazley, there is no control over his draft destination due to the process currently in place, and it ultimately prevented him from following through on the G League plan.

From Bazley’s side, then, the main issues are wanting to exercise as much control as possible over where he lands, and wanting to be as prepared as possible to hit the ground running once he can actually enter the NBA. There is, however, another side to consider.

What else might have led Bazley to change his mind

Charania’s story notes that, since the McDonald’s game in Atlanta, Bazley also participated in the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit, two of the top showcase events for high school players. He also turned up at the Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles earlier this month, though — an event featuring “26 of the top prospects in college basketball and 35 elite high school players” — and reportedly struggled to make an impact, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

The youngest participant in these 5-on-5 scrimmages, having only turned 18 two months ago, Bazley looked far from capable of holding his own physically with legitimate college players, struggling to put the ball in the basket and making a litany of bad decisions on both ends of the floor that caused scouts to question his feel for the game.

Bazley bit on fakes on defense, gambled excessively in the passing lanes and let stronger players go right through him en route to the basket, even if his mobility, length and instincts do allow him to make plays on occasion. Offensively, he has a difficult time getting low to the ground and creating high percentage shots, rarely making the extra pass and settling for long 2s when his initial move is cut off. Even when Bazley made an effective move, he would often attempt to finish in bizarre fashion, heaving up awkward floaters and step-backs from difficult angles, shying away from contact and almost never getting to the free throw line in turn.

After a performance from which there were “not many positives to take away,” Givony reported that league scouts were speculating that Bazley “could reconsider his decision and forgo competitive basketball for the year.” Two weeks later, that’s just what has happened, and while the messaging from Bazley’s camp obviously didn’t indicate that he made the choice because he doesn’t feel ready for the G League, some of what the teen told Charania does suggest he’s gained a greater respect for the challenge ahead:

“Training with professional players like [2018 first-round pick and fellow Klutch Sports client] Miles [Bridges], seeing what hard work really is … man, I used to think that I work hard, but then coming out here, working out two-a-days and your body is aching and you have to keep grinding, keep going,” Bazley explained to The Athletic. “It’s been been an experience. It’s taken me a while to get used to it, but it’s fun to be put in environments with greatness. Whenever I stepped on the court with Miles in front of NBA scouts, I always tried to go hard, but I didn’t put myself through it. I saw how Miles went through it and saw the process. All the experiences, USA camp and Nike camp, all show me I have to continue to challenge myself and see where I’m at.”

Will taking a year off from competitive play help or hurt Darius Bazley’s draft stock?

The question now is whether the path Bazley’s chosen will indeed put him in the best position to maximize his draft position and succeed at the next level. Charania refers to Bazley multiple times as a prospective top-10 pick next June; others suggest that might be an overstatement of his likely 2019 draft stock at this stage.

After opting out of playing at Western Kentucky, Mitchell Robinson wound up having to wait until the sixth pick of the second round of the 2018 draft to hear his name called. (He’d later sign a three-year contract with the New York Knicks, and open some eyes during summer league play.) But while Robinson’s an intriguing rim-running, shot-blocking center, Bazley profiles as precisely the kind of long, athletic, ball-handling swingman every NBA team covets in the modern era. That could help convince front offices with multiple first-round picks next year — Atlanta, Boston, Brooklyn, San Antonio — to overlook the warts in his present-day game in favor of taking a gamble on his potential to evolve into something special.

Such suitors might have to wait a while to find out what kind of return they’d be getting on their investment, though. ESPN draft analyst Fran Frischilla told the New York Times in April that while Bazley has “got a chance to be an N.B.A. player some day,” he expects the swingman to need to play in the G League for at least two years, comparing him to a hard-throwing high schooler who can hit 100 mph on the gun but who needs to learn how to pitch. One suspects that a dicey showing at the Nike academy and this latest change of course won’t make NBA teams feel more comfortable and confident with taking a shot on Bazley next June.

Even so, Bazley tells Charania he’s convinced this is the best move for both starting his basketball career and getting the most out of it down the line.

“I take pride in my decision. There are no regrets at all,” he said. “At the end of the day, people are going to do what they want to do. Whether it’s going to college, whether it’s skipping college to go to the NBA, whether it’s quitting basketball altogether — people will make their choices. This decision is what I wanted to do, and I embrace that. It’s my life, my decision, my path and my journey.”

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoosports.com or follow him on Twitter!

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