When the Duke Blue Devils slid by the Syracuse Orange in the Sweet 16, the missed opportunities, squandered free throws and two too many lobs that successfully flew over the zone in SU’s four-point loss quickly faded from memory. With Darius Bazley in the fold for the 2018-19 season, the team was set to have one of their best teams since 2003 after rocketing beyond expectations in ‘18.
Six days passed between that loss and another one. Bazley stunned the college basketball landscape with his decision to forgo Syracuse University and play in the G League prior to the 2019 NBA Draft. The initial scare that both Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett would declare for the 2018 draft dwindled in the months that followed. Otherwise intact, Syracuse could forever be linked to a trailblazer who broke the traditional mold of pursuing professional basketball in the U.S.
The addition of Bazley — at one time ranked top-10 in the Class of 2018 — could become a massive step for affirming the G League’s credibility. The NBA even announced pay raises for the league in the aftermath of his decision. But through four months since Bazley’s decision, all remained quiet regarding where he would play in his year prior to NBA eligibility until Wednesday. According to NBA scouts, he may not play competitive basketball in 2018-19.
At the Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles, Bazley participated in drills alongside various high school, college and even NBA stars. After, Jonathan Givony dropped a possible bomb from the event.
“There is speculation among NBA scouts that this might have been the last competitive action they will see from Bazley until the NBA pre-draft process next spring,” he wrote. “Or even the 2019 summer league.”
Speculation among NBA scouts at the Nike Basketball Academy in LA was that they might be watching the last competitive action Darius Bazley participates in until the NBA pre-draft process next spring -- or even the 2019 summer league. More on that here: https://t.co/ZwASkDQ9cO— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) August 14, 2018
That’s stunning considering Bazley listed his role as a trailblazer and fixation with attacking his basketball ambitions straight-on, without the other responsibilities and distractions of college life, as reasons for leaving the NCAA. The explanation made sense, and were even worth rooting for despite history occurring at the Orange’s expense. Now, his detractors could gain some ammunition in critiquing his plan.
Bazley would become a “second,” rather than a “first,” if he sits out the 18-19 season. As Givony pointed out, his closest comparison becomes Mitchell Robinson — the first NBA player drafted after electing not to play basketball to fill his eligibility gap. Robinson was picked by the New York Knicks in the second round this June.
Like Bazley, Robinson was a McDonald’s All-American in 2017, but his departure from the NCAA happened because he withdrew from Texas A&M to follow Rick Stansbury to Western Kentucky, then got suspended indefinitely before playing a game. He pursued transferring, but due to NCAA rules, NBA’s one-and-done policy and an obscure G-League rule about summer classes, he couldn’t play in any of the three in 2017-18 — so he just sat out. Bazley never enrolled at Syracuse, opening the door to the NBAGL route that Robinson, and formerly P.J. Hairston following his college suspension, could not explore.
The limbo Robinson fell into, combined with his raw talent, dropped him all the way to 36th in the 2018 draft. At the Nike camp, according to Givony, Bazley looked similarly underdeveloped as he bit and gambled defensively while stronger players overpowered him. He played off-balance on offense, unable to use his body to create space or even get to the free throw line.
Given Givony’s source — NBA scouts — the Bazley rumor could stem from their disbelief in his ability to compete at the G League level. The nature of that league is instability; older players push to hang on and teams send their young talents back and forth expecting priority possessions for them, creating an inconsistent team dynamic.
With the future of college basketball in flux over the FBI investigation and the ongoing Condoleezza Rice-led recommendations for NCAA reform, I’ve long been infatuated with the idea of the NBA G League serving as an outlet for elite prospects. If high school graduates were allowed to play an allotted time there after entering the NBA Draft (leaving college basketball to the players actually interested in being there), it could be a one-and-done compromise.
The G League receives a talent pool, and NBA teams get interest in developing those players. Prospects get paid, compete and are allowed to take agent and endorsement money. The NCAA would lose its elite stars, but the best players remaining likely stay longer and become more recognizable. Imagine the crowds in Canton, Ohio if the Cavaliers could’ve drafted Anthony Davis into their G League affiliate there in 2011.
Bazley, 18 years old since June, would clock in as the G League’s youngest player this season. He’d be a year-long face on a development squad where the parent has no incentive to develop him (unless by some miracle that team ends up drafting him in ‘19). He’d largely play around individual rather than team basketball. The concerns about how he’d fit in there do exist, but leaving his longterm development to the imagination of NBA teams probably will not fare better than a year at Syracuse competing with other teenagers would have.
However, he can receive financial holdover from his agency, pursue endorsements and avoid injuries competing for a layover team. That’s benefits of his risk, but none of it exactly spurs any momentum toward draft night. Unless he kills a team workout.
The pioneering aspect of Bazley’s journey is key to its luster, and he had to know how difficult it would be when he opted in. If he skips the G League, without any competitive film to rate him with teams may steer clear into the deeper portions of the draft as they did with Robinson. If Bazley does decide to play, he can still open the door for several high school classes behind him. The NBA isn’t likely to move toward changing the one-and-done rule until after 2020.
For now, Bazley and his camp at Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports agency that represents LeBron James have not commented on the rumor. He’s facing the first road bump in the difficult road he chose. We’ll soon learn how dedicated he is to it.