The NBA is most exciting when young stars are budding across the league. The talent pool is ridiculous in the Association. Some players are just waiting to sprout into the player they have the potential to be. It is best to take this subject by division since I want to pick a breakout player for every team. The Northwest Division holds the Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, and Portland Trail Blazers. One of the least successful divisions in the sport, they have had zero championships in this divisions since it was forged in 2004. The drought looks like it will continue because the division does not look to have any legit contenders. The only thing that could change that is if players made strides in the off-season and have breakout seasons this year.
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On this list of improved players, Darius Bazley is the player I believe will have the largest statistical improvement. In his first year, he struggled to find playing time on an Oklahoma City Thunder team that shocked the world by trading away Russell Westbrook and Paul George while somehow getting better. Bazley only averaged 18 minutes per game and rarely had a massive impact on the outcome of games. The one thing that fans took note of in his sparse minutes was his inspiring motor and athleticism. He did not flash any vertical, speed, or agility that was too eye-popping but was impressive in all of those categories for a guy that is 6'8" with long arms. The Thunder went through another overhaul of the roster this offseason and look to create more opportunity for Bazley this season as a starter next to veteran center Al Horford.
So far into the season, Bazley is in the top 20 as a rebounder and shot-blocker. He has gotten a 12 minute per game increase and is shooting an efficient 47% from the field. I believe that with more time and as chemistry grows, Bazley's production will grow too. To help him develop, who is the better veteran to learn from than Al Horford. Horford has made a career on his ability to fill in the role of any team he plays on and has. He can shoot, pass, defend inside and outside, and rebound with the best of them. Bazley has the potential to be one of those well-rounded players like Horford if he progresses and learns from Al this year. As the season goes along I expect the Thunder and Horford to look more to Bazley as an integral piece of the offense. I am excited to see him grow into a great player, this is only the beginning.
Author: Daniel O'Donovan