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Darius Bazley not playing in NBA’s minor league, after all

2018 McDonald's All American Game

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 28: Nassir Little #10 of Orlando Christian Prep is congratulated by teammates Keldon Johnson #23 of Oak Hill Academy and Darius Bazley1111 #15 of Princeton High School after he won the MVP trophy in the 2018 McDonald’s All American Game at Philips Arena on March 28, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Darius Bazley drew a lot of attention for de-committing from Syracuse to play in the NBA’s minor league. It would have been a unique path for a top recruit.

But Bazley struggled at a recent camp, to the point NBA scouts speculated he’d sit out the season rather than expose his weaknesses against professional players. And now that’s what he’ll do.

Of course, Bazley and his camp are putting their own spin on it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“Talking about it over with my group, we felt confidently that the G League wasn’t going to be needed and now I can use this time to work on my craft,” Bazley told The Athletic. “It’s mainly me talking to [agent] Rich [Paul], he knows so much, and whenever he speaks my ears perk up. When Miles [Bridges] was in Cleveland for his predraft workouts, whenever he got a chance to work out in front of NBA teams, I was working out in the gym, too. So that played a part in it, me playing well in those workouts for us to say there’s no upside in the G League. 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.

“The G League is the only league where winning might not be everything. Development is the most important aspect, but guys are playing for the team and at the same time trying to play for themselves. That’s not the type of guy I am. For me in those settings to just get mine, I’ve never been brought up that way. I feel basketball is a team sport and everybody is supposed to eat. In the G League, that’s not the way it is. Everyone is trying to get an opportunity to go to the NBA.

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. With the start of two-way contracts as well as affiliate, local tryout and domestic draft-and-stash players, the G League draft has appeared to lose some of its value. Robert Covington (2014), Jeff Ayres (2015) and Anthony Brown (2016) were the top picks in consecutive years before a center named Eric Stuteville became the No. 1 selection in 2017. The G League affiliates of the Utah Jazz (Salt Lake City, No. 1) and Charlotte Hornets (Greensboro, Nos. 2 and 3) have the top picks this year.

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. Around the G League, there are several strong developmental programs, including Austin (San Antonio), South Bay (Lakers), Oklahoma City Blue (Thunder), Raptors 905 (Toronto) and Sioux Falls (Miami). Given the rules in place now, however, Bazley lacked the same freedom as most of the league’s other players to choose his situation.

Many people got in front of themselves painting Bazley as a trailblazer. He and his camp didn’t understand the G League draft when he announced his plan? They didn’t consider his potential no-win position in that league? They didn’t know the G League is more about player development than winning? It’s really hard to paint them as particularly clever navigators of these waters.

Bazley is probably doing the best thing for him at this point. It’s uncommon, but it’s certainly not unique. Knicks second-rounder Mitchell Robinson did it last year. Hopefully for Bazley, it works as well for him.