New Nets’ F Darius Bazley says Brooklyn ‘was the place’

If there is anything new Nets forth Darius Bazley going to do in Brooklyn – that’s play some defense.

Bazley, the versatile prep-to-pro forward who signed a one-year deal with the Nets this offseason, says he’s excited to bring his game to New York.

“This is like the Mecca of basketball,” Bazley said in his initial interview with reporters Thursday. “So just playing in front of fans who appreciate the game, who love the game of basketball, love the sport.

“I think it would be really fun.”

Bazley said he does not have a relationship with Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, but noted that he worked out with Nets forward Cam Johnson this summer. He also says he has a relationship with both Mikal Bridges and Ben Simmons.

And for the 6-foot-8 forward who has played minutes at both the four and five in his four-year NBA career, defense will be the calling card that earns him regular minutes in head coach Jacque Vaughn’s rotation.

“Being able to match up one-on-four, one-on-five, guarding bigger wings, also being able to guard smaller guards — I’m looking forward to that,” he said Thursday.

Out of high school, Bazley skipped college and chose to go to the G-League, then skip the G-League to prepare for the NBA Draft. He went 23rd overall to the Utah Jazz in the 2019 NBA Draft, but later was part of two draft-night trades – first to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Mike Conley deal, next to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for forward Brandon Clarke.

He averaged a career-high 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds during his second season in Oklahoma City. but the Thunder eventually opted to move on from the athletic forward and traded him to the Phoenix Suns after the Kevin Durant deal.

Bazley averaged 5.4 points and 3.4 rebounds for the Thunder in the first half of the season and was not a regular member of Phoenix’s rotation after the trade.

He hopes to show more of his game now in Brooklyn, but says winning is the No. 1 priority.

“Offensively, just getting my athleticism into the game, being a knock-down shooter and just having fun playing. The main goal is to win, not for me to – I’m not going into the season [thinking] how can I put my game in?” he said. “It’s all stuff that comes with it, but it’s not my main focus. But whatever, definitely defend.”

And to win, Bazley believes the Nets need to play fast, which appears to be an area of ​​focus for the front office given their offseason acquisitions.

Bazley is the third new free agent the Nets have welcomed after agreeing terms with both Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV on one-year deals. Both Smith Jr. and Walker IV is known for bringing athleticism and scrappy defense to the backcourt.

They figure to back up a starting lineup of Bridges, Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and Nic Claxton. Simmons remains a wild card given his back injury history. As of Summer League, he had not yet returned to playing five-on-five basketball.

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“Personally, I think there are some core things that just have to happen no matter what during the game to give yourself the best chance to win,” Bazley said on Thursday’s call. “We have the flavor of youth and also like that veteran presence with some older guys, just fast, and play hard. Defensively, play hard, get after it.”

Bazley projects to add depth to the Nets’ front court. Nic Claxton played the lion’s share of the minutes at the five in Brooklyn, and third-year big man Day’Ron Sharpe’s minutes project to increase this season as the only true rebounding machine on the roster.

Bazley is a career 31% three-point shooter, but shot 37.7% from downtown last season. He shot the three at 40% over his first 36 games of the season for the Thunder. That percentage dropped when he arrived in Phoenix, largely out of the Suns’ rotation.

However, the Nets may not ask Bazley to shoot many threes. His role will be to play lockdown defense and add energy and athleticism to his minutes on the floor. He joins a team that will enjoy its first full offseason after the pair of blockbuster midseason trades detonated Brooklyn’s championship hopes.

What’s left now is a young team rebuilding its rising star, Bridges.

“The young core, with a veteran presence as well. Just watch them a little bit in the playoffs. Even just during the season. The new team that they had toward the end here, they looked like they were having fun,” Bazley said. “They looked like they were playing hard and together. It was just something I wanted to be a part of.”

“When it all came down to it, Brooklyn was the place to be.”

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