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Trend starter? High-level recruit Darius Bazley decommits from Syracuse to play in G-League

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Darius Bazley had given a verbal commitment to play his college ball at Syracuse. If he was going to rethink that there were a host of other programs — Florida, Ohio State, Louisville, and on and on — ready to step in.

Instead, Bazley decommited and instead is going to polish his skills for a season in the G-League, then turn pro.

Top recruits have shunned college ball to get paid to play overseas before —Terrance Ferguson in Australia, Emmanuel Mudiay, Brandon Jennings before either of them — but the G-League and its $25,000 max salary has not been an option up until now. Bazley talked about his decision with Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“This is a life-changing decision,” Bazley, one of the top players in the Class of 2018, told Yahoo Sports. “I put a lot of thinking into this with my mom and close circle, especially sitting down with her. It’s just like making the decision to which college you want to go to. Me and her did some talking, and I prayed on it. I talked to my high school coach, Steve, who played overseas, and then I talked to a couple of guys in the G League who have experience. Ultimately, playing professional basketball has always been my dream. 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.

“The G League will have the most to offer, considering that is the development league for the NBA,” he continued. “I will get more out of that than going overseas. The G League is the closest thing to the NBA.”

Bazley statement is right out of the NBA’s recruitment pitch for growing the G-League — to turn it into a genuine minor league that can grow and develop players. The league would love to turn it into an alternative for players who do not want to go the college route (whatever is ultimately decided about the one-and-done rule). In another story, Charnia had NBA executives drooling that this could open the floodgates.

When asked about a top prospect decommitting from college to play in the G League, NBA executives said it could become a portal for change. “This has the ability to alter rules moving forward and show prospects the G League is a true option,” a team official told Yahoo Sports.

“As the G League grows, the way teams develop players under NBA styles and under NBA eyes, it makes sense,” another team executive said of the move. “There’s no new culture in the G League, nothing out of the NBA norm, and you’re growing in an NBA environment. It could open the floodgates for players who want to focus on basketball and development, first and foremost.”

Maybe, but I’m skeptical. The main reason is what drives every decision in the NBA — money. Right now the top salary in the G-League is $25,000 (except for players on two-way contracts with NBA teams, which players straight out of high school cannot qualify for). We know from the FBI reports that likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton had about four times that much come to him to play in college. For other elite recruits, $25K might be a paycut, too.

If in the coming years the NBA does change the one-and-done rule and again allows teams to draft guys right out of high school, we likely will see 19-year-olds getting development time in the G-League. That is a great use of the league, to develop those players games (and them physically) while under an NBA eye and contract. However, players going straight to the G-League? We’ll see.

As for Bazley, he is an elite recruit. He’s a McDonald’s All-American and in that game recently had 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and one block in just 17 minutes. He has good size, can run the floor, shoot threes, and has real potential as an NBA wing. Where he lands a year from now (in what is considered as of now a down 2019 class) remains to be seen, but if he goes the G-League route and gets picked high others will consider it.

Watch the top 60 blocked shots of last NBA season

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We love blocked shots. One player is attacking the rim, another gets in his way and rejects that shot. Frankly, we overestimate their importance on defense at points (because it’s a quantifiable stat in a world where defense is hard to quantify), but they matter.

And they are fun.

Check out the top 60 blocks from last season, as put together by NBA.com. It all starts with a chase down block by Kevin Durant (who has improved his rim protection in recent years) and ends with Anthony Davis showing why he is a beast.

It’s Sunday, and what else are you going to do? Watch preseason football?

Grizzlies expected to bring rookie Jaren Jackson along slowly

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Jaren Jackson was one of the standout rookies of Summer League. It started in Salt Lake City at the Jazz Summer League, where he looked like the future of the NBA five — knocking down threes, being athletic enough to run the court on the break, blocking shots, and being physical inside. In Utah, he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night.

Expect the Grizzlies to bring Jackson along slowly, however, once the regular season starts. Jackson likely will come off the bench behind the starting frontline of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. That will not be popular with the fan base, but the Grizzlies want to trust their veterans and make a playoff push.

Look at what Grizzlies executive John Hollinger told the Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

I think whatever happens, we want it to happen organically, and not get ahead of ourselves, and make sure we’re taking all the right steps on him, and not getting too excited and skipping ahead….

“We don’t want to put him into overtly physical matchups yet because he’s 18 and his body is still filling out,” he said.

Strength is almost always the biggest challenge facing young big men in the NBA (and Jackson is still 18, he will turn 19 during training camp). These are grown men they are going against nightly, and while Jackson had plenty of strength to hang with the Summer League crowd, things are very different when the big boys come to play. Even in an NBA moving away from old-school power ball, it still matters.

While the Grizzlies will work to not rush Jackson, that plan is somewhat dependent on players with a history of injury issues staying healthy. Jackson is not going to get 30 minutes a night, he’s not going to get the touches that fellow rookies such as Trae Young and Luka Doncic will receive, and he may not be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. We’ll see how things shake out, but on a Grizzlies team looking to put itself in the playoff conversation, the coach likely will lean on veterans he trusts.

Where Jackson will rank in this draft class three years from now could be very different. He has the potential to be the star of this class (or at least one of a few breakouts, this is an interesting group).

Victor Oladipo: “I play nothing safe now” because “that really didn’t get me anywhere”

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Victor Oladipo transformed last season.

Traded to the Pacers, he showed up to camp in better shape than he had ever been before, and with a new confidence in his handles and shot making. Coach Nate McMillan realized what he had, put the ball in Oladipo’s hands, and got out of the way. The result was a 48-win Pacers team where Oladipo was the league’s most improved player, made an All-NBA Team, the All-Defensive Team, and was an All-Star for the first time.

Oladipo, after going to the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, is back in a Miami gym with the same team of trainers and staff who transformed his body and game a year ago. In a fantastic profile by J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, Oladipo talks about the mental transformation he has undergone as well.

“I push the envelope. I play nothing safe now,” Oladipo says. “I’m the guy if we’re down two, I’m pulling up for three. I work too hard to not push the envelope. I used to be conservative but that really didn’t get me anywhere.”

His trainer, Al Watson, talked about getting Oladipo better prepared for defenses that focus on him and late-game situations.

“Last year we started doing a lot of tightening up his ball-handling skills. This year we took it to another level because I watch a lot of film on him,” Watson says. “In the fourth quarter, he’s like the point guard. Wanted to focus on a lot of combination moves, working on traps. It’s no secret now. They’re going to be double-teaming him.

“You look at the great players, Kobe, they had to do a little bit of everything. His shot from the perimeter may be off so he’s got to learn, ‘Let me get myself going, get to the mid-post, get some fouls.’ He’s got to be able to attack with all different facets of the game. We do a lot of sprinting, getting to your spots. Got to get open. I touch everything with in-game situation stuff.”

Oladipo’s team includes an off-the-court group trying to better position himself to make money off his stardom. He doesn’t want to play it safe off-the-court, either.

Indiana is going to lean heavily on Oladipo again. They added some depth — Doug McDermott, drafting Aaron Holiday — and are counting on more from players such as Myles Turner. However, by and large, the Pacers are running it back, and they are sneaking up on nobody this season. Internal improvement will be their key.

Oladipo is ready. He’s not playing it safe anymore.

Klay Thompson: “I would like to be a Warrior for life”

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Next summer, Klay Thompson becomes a free agent.

That has a lot of teams interested — they would love to pitch Thompson on how his elite shooting and strong defense would make him the star or their team and lift said team to new levels. Thompson is a big enough talent to have “his own team” if he wants it. Thompson’s free agency also excites fans who want to break up the Warriors juggernaut, this could be the first crack in the armor.

Or not.

At events around the Thompson Family Foundation Golf Tournament this weekend, Thompson reiterated to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News that he wants to remain with the Warriors.

“I’ve said it many times before: I would like to be a Warrior for life,” Thompson told Bay Area News Group before hosting a party at Hotel Vitale as a prelude to his first annual Thompson Family Foundation Golf Tournament on Sunday at TPC Harding Park. “Contract negotiations are way down the line. But I think we all have the same interest. I would love to be here for the rest of my career.”

Would he take a massive discount and sign an extension?

“It’s tough to say,” Thompson said. “I’d definitely be interested. But at the end of the day, I’m going to be a free agent in 2019. Number one on my list would obviously be to stay with the Warriors.”

Thompson’s father Mychel — a former No. 1 pick, a 12-year NBA veteran with a couple of rings, and a current Lakers broadcaster — was more emphatic, speaking to Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Oh yeah, you can mark it down,” Mychal Thompson said at a party to kick off the Thompson Family Foundation’s first charity golf tourney. “Klay’s going to retire in the Warriors’ uniform. He’s going to play at Chase Center (the Warriors’ new arena, opening in 2019), and he’s not going to be at Chase Center as a visiting player, he’s going to be a Warrior for the next seven or eight years.”

Two thoughts here.

First, I am not a fan of taking seriously family members comments on players, they often miss the mark. However, there are exceptions, and Mychel Thompson is one of those. Not only has he lived the NBA life, but he and his son are also very close. He’s been a good barometer of what Klay is thinking.

Second, beyond Thompson’s own words, sources from other teams don’t expect Thompson to leave the Warriors. A lot of teams would love to make the pitch, they will place calls and try to get their foot in the door, but nobody really expects him to leave. Thompson is his own guy (he stepped out of his last contract extension talks to play with his dog), he’s not built with the “I have to be the man on my own team” ego that accompanies a lot of star players, what matters most to him is to win and be in a good environment, and he has that in Golden State. Thompson is happy. He’s not likely to sign an extension to stay with the Warriors, that would be financially stupid, but most sources expect him to give the team a discount and stay put.

Which kills the dreams of a lot of fan bases, but it’s the reality.