The Oklahoma City Thunder have been accruing future assets for what feels like years as they look to progress their rebuild. And while they are finally beginning to see their rebuilding efforts pay off this season, they continued to abide by that strategy at the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline, selling off players in an effort to bring in more future assets.

The Thunder weren’t exactly busy at the trade deadline, and their moves weren’t glamorous, but they managed to turn two players who weren’t part of their future plans into draft picks. For a rebuilding team, you can’t ask for much more than that, even if the moves themselves aren’t the most exciting deals we have ever seen.

It’s tough to look at the moves the Thunder made (or didn’t make) and be wildly upset with anything they did. It’s clear, though, that they did make a mistake in the mismanagement of one of the young players that they sent out the door on deadline day. So let’s take a look at who this player is, and see why this decision will go down as Oklahoma City’s biggest mistake at the 2023 trade deadline.

Thunder 2023 NBA trade deadline mistake: Giving up on Darius Bazley

Trading Mike Muscala to the Boston Celtics was fairly inconsequential for the Thunder, and while giving up on Darius Bazley and dealing him to the Phoenix Suns isn’t the worst move ever, it’s clear that Oklahoma City didn’t exactly handle his situation in the best way possible. Bazley largely fell out of the rotation this season, despite showcasing his potential early on in his career.

After playing 31.2 minutes per game in his sophomore campaign back in the 2020-21 season, Bazley’s minutes had been slashed all the way down to 15.4 per game this season. The Thunder have had an influx of young talent recently, but Bazley is a part of that group. Instead, he was ostracized from the get go this year, diminishing his value in the blink of an eye.

Bazley’s numbers aren’t exactly impressive this season (5.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 44.9 FG%, 40 3P%) but he’s shown improvement in his game when on the court. Bazley’s biggest weakness was his efficiency from the floor, and by limiting his shot selection, he has seen his efficiency shoot up as a result.

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Not long ago, Bazley was putting up numbers that suggested he could be a nightly double-double threat at the power forward spot for the Thunder in the future (13.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 39.6 FG%). There were holes in Bazley’s game, but he was a late first-round pick that entered the league and was losing pretty much every game he was playing. It’s tough to totally blame him for his early struggles.

This doesn’t mean that Bazley is going to become the best player to ever take the court, but giving up young players with lots of potential for very little in return typically isn’t a great basketball move. Bazley wasn’t going to sign an extension with the Thunder, which justifies moving him, but that was more due to the Thunder’s overall mismanagement of one of their young players.

Bazley could have used more minutes to continue building his game. Again, his efficiency has looked better this season, and at 22 years old, he still has a lot of room to grow. But he never really got a chance to improve this season, and it felt like he was bound to be traded at some point this season one way or another.

Even if that was the case, which it very likely was, playing Bazley would have given Oklahoma City an opportunity to build up his value a bit. Getting Dario Saric and a 2029 second-round pick isn’t exactly a hefty return for a player who has proven to have skills that could make him a viable player in this league down the line. A team as desperate for depth as Phoenix after the Kevin Durant trade is likely going to slide Bazley into their rotation immediately.

When you make two small deals at the trade deadline, it’s tough to get truly upset with the moves that were made. There’s a very good chance that nobody will think twice about this deal now that it’s been completed. Bazley seems like he could become a solid contributor off the bench but he still has holes in his game that need to be fixed.

But in terms of mistakes that were made by the Thunder at the deadline, the trade of Bazley is really just due to the mismanagement of a young player during his time with the team. This isn’t something we are accustomed to seeing from Oklahoma City, and while it likely won’t come back to bite them, the small chance that it could opens the door for this to be labeled a mistake. And considering their lack of activity, it makes this an easy choice for their biggest mistake of the 2023 trade deadline.