Darius Bazley’s game might be unfamiliar to some Phoenix Suns fans. Obviously, he does not have the same prestige as Kevin Durant and had not been a Sun previously like T.J. Warren.
But in an immediate sense, Bazley is expected to fill a role the Suns seemed to have lost when they sent Mikal Bridges, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, to the Brooklyn Nets. Listed at 6-foot-9 and 216 pounds with a 7-feet wing span, Bazley has a lanky body that might allow him to play a similar style that could benefit the Suns.
At his introductory media session with local reporters Monday, Bazley expressed confidence he could guard all five positions. Suns coach Monty Williams also spoke highly of Bazley’s potential, saying he felt the forward had not yet found a niche in the NBA and could flourish with the opportunity.
"He's a young guy that just hasn't found his consistent niche if you will in the NBA."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) February 13, 2023
Monty Williams on new addition Darius Bazley.
"What can we do to help him get on a path that's more consistent. 6-9, long arms, athletic. Can make a shot. Has defensive capabilities." #Suns pic.twitter.com/l1Ez6HHNLQ
Bazley has a chance to do so with the Suns, who are suddenly crowded at the wing/power forward spot with him, Warren and guard Terrence Ross, who was bought out by the Orlando Magic and is set to sign with the Suns. The move will not be made until Tuesday or Wednesday, after Ross clears waivers.
Phoenix backup guards Damion Lee and Josh Okogie could be in this mix if the team decides to go small with Durant even at center. The possibility of a lineup like that is speculative but could make sense against teams like the Golden State Warriors and maybe even the Boston Celtics if the Suns reach the NBA Finals and potentially face them.
Bazley was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s leader in defensive win shares last season and is very disciplined on that end. He has ranked in the 92nd percentile and above in foul percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass, in each of his four NBA seasons. He ranks in the 92nd percentile this season at 2.7 percent.
Bazley’s potential is promising for the Suns, but he will need to acclimate to his new role quickly. Phoenix has been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this season, which it allowed it to survive multiple stretches in which it played without shooting guard Devin Booker and others. The Suns should be one of the best offensive teams once they start Booker, Durant, point guard Chris Paul and center Deandre Ayton together, but they will need consistent wing depth to maximize their championship hopes.
Thankfully for Bazley, he is on a team that has allowed its role players to flourish over the last few seasons. Current forward Torrey Craig quickly found a niche after he was acquired by the Suns late in the 2020-21 season before their Finals run, and former forward Jae Crowder thrived as a leader, 3-point shooter and a competitive defender when provided the opportunity.
Bazley also has some familiarity with Paul, who was his teammate with the Thunder in the 2019-20 season, when Bazley was a rookie.
Bazley’s role will be incredibly important once the Suns – barring a very unforeseen circumstance – reach the postseason. If he succeeds, he could be tasked with some of the best wings on opposing teams. At the very least, he will be relied upon to guard top scorers off the bench and provide an impact nightly.
Bazley’s acquisition was viewed as a ‘win’ for the Suns in exchange for former forward Dario Saric, who may have been the missing piece for the team in its 2021 Finals run after he went down with an ACL tear in Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Could Bazley be a critical part of what the Suns do over the next three months and potentially beyond?
Let us know below what you think. Bazley is available to make his debut with the Suns Tuesday night against the Sacramento Kings.