OKC Thunder rookie Darius Bazley switched shooting hands as a kid, and it's paying off: 'I'm pretty weird'
When Darius Bazley crossed over between his legs, Bam Adebayo was already backpedaling to defend a drive. But the Heat center guessed wrong. Bazley stepped back and swished a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired.
Adebayo, who might be a fixture on future All-Defense teams, tried his best to contest the shot from the top of the arc, but Bazley had all the space he needed.
The step-back three is a weapon Bazley didn’t have, or at least didn’t show, before the season was suspended. But through seven games in the bubble, the 20-year-old Thunder rookie is shooting 17-of-36 (47%) from 3-point range. He converted just 30% of his 3-point attempts in 53 games before the stoppage.
Bazley’s left-handed shot suddenly looks smooth.
Especially for a righty.
“I’m pretty weird,” said Bazley, before explaining why he shoots a basketball, and does nothing else, left-handed.
The switch of hands happened at a Cincinnati park when Bazley was in the fifth or sixth grade.
“So I’m shooting around with my right hand and I kept missing shots,” Bazley said. “I would imagine as if I’m playing with my dad … and if I would miss, I would act as my dad and come in like, ‘No, this is how you shoot it, son.’ And I would shoot almost like to redeem myself for the miss I just had. I kept missing with my right hand and so I just switched to my left, and it worked for me I guess.”
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Bazley didn’t play organized basketball growing up. The now 6-foot-8 forward transformed his shot during those practice sessions and pick-up games in the park.
Bazley has become known for his impressions — from Mickey Mouse to teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — so it’s no surprise he mimicked his dad.
“I used to do that a lot,” Bazley said. “Like if I shot and I missed, I would act as someone else and say, ‘Hey, no. You gotta shoot it like this.’
“It was almost like I was stepping out of the person who missed the jump shot, and stepping into someone new who just made it. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s the best way I can describe it.”
Bazley shot 5-of-8 from 3-point range against the Heat and he fueled OKC’s comeback with 16 points in the fourth quarter. The performance came one day before International Left-Handers Day, which Bazley can only celebrate when he’s on the court.
Bazley’s ambidexterity is similar, but opposite, to Russell Westbrook’s. Westbrook shoots right-handed but does everything else left-handed.
“The ball started going in and it felt kind of natural to me,” Bazley said of his southpaw stroke. “I kept doing it.”
Bazley’s right-handed instincts are revealed when he drives to the rim.
“When he does drive right, and as long as he is, he’s got a really uncanny ability to finish with that right hand,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He can step around people and reach out. He’s really ambidextrous around the basket.”
Bazley has recorded back-to-back-to-back 20-point games in the bubble — the three highest-scoring games of his young career. Bazley had never even strung together three straight 10-point games before the restart.
“I know what I’m capable of doing,” Bazley said, “and I’m just doing it.”