OKC Thunder: Darius Bazley's knee injury bound to hand others opportunity

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Darius Bazley (7) tries to get a shot around Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Oklahoma City.

NORMAN, Okla. — For the first time this season, the Thunder will face life without rookie forward Darius Bazley, who suffered a right knee bruise against the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

The team announced the injury early Monday evening.

Though the Thunder have dealt with periodic absences from several players this season, Bazley has been a constant, playing in all 53 games, a distinction only shared by second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The injury occurred as Bazley converted a driving layup with 55 seconds remaining in the first quarter, finding a seam to the basket between Boston defenders Enes Kanter and Grant Williams.

Though replay doesn’t make it clear how the injury occurred, it was clear something had happened when Bazley, clearly hurt, attempted to run back down the court to play defense.

As he drove to the basket, the defender nearest his right knee was Williams, though Williams did not appear affected by any contact with Bazley.

Additionally, Bazley did not appear to land awkwardly so much as be slowed by something a moment before putting up his shot, almost flat-footed.

The Thunder announced Bazley will be re-evaluated in 4-6 weeks.

If his absence runs exactly four weeks from Monday, he would miss 11 games. If it were to run exactly six weeks, he would miss an additional seven games.

Bazley is averaging 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds. Those may not sound like big numbers, yet his 17.2 average minutes of court time is a big number, bound to create opportunity for several teammates.

Typically, Bazley backs up Danilo Gallinari at the power forward — the “four” — position. However, it’s not like the Thunder carry a classic third-team power forward they can simply plug in.

Players who could see their minutes increase include 6-foot-6 forward Abdel Nader (15.1 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg), 6-5 guard Hamidou Diallo (19.3 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and 6-5 guard Deonte Burton (8.5 mpg, 2.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg).

Each of the trio has spent time in and out of coach Billy Donovan’s rotation, though not much lately: against the Celtics, Diallo played 12 1/2 minutes, Nader 4 1/2 and Burton not at all.

A selling point of some combination of the three splitting up Bazley’s minutes would be its simplifying any affect his absence might have on other players and positions, but that doesn’t mean Donovan will choose that course.

Donovan could ramp the playing time of both Terrance Ferguson (25.3 mpg, 4.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg) and Lu Dort (20.7 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg), giving Ferguson more time at the shooting guard spot at which he used to start and Dort additional time at a forward position when he’s not playing in Ferguson’s spot, where he’s started the last 10 games.

Ferguson, 6-7, is taller and longer. Dort, 6-4, is thicker, more physical and, lately, a better offensive player.

Donovan could even slide Gallinari to the “three” and bring in 3-point shooting reserve center Mike Muscala at the “four,” giving him some time on the court alongside centers Steven Adams or Nerlens Noel.

Muscala, 6-11, has only seen action in 35 games, averaging 12.8 minutes and hasn’t gotten off the bench in four straight games.

However, from Jan. 4 to Jan. 27, a run of 14 games, he averaged 17.5 minutes and 7.4 points, shooting 42.4 percent (25 of 54) from 3-point land, including 12 of 18 over his last four appearances.

The Thunder have responded quite well to players being out of the lineup this season.

They’re 15-7 without Diallo, 10-4 without Ferguson, 6-1 without Gallinari, 5-4 without Noel, 3-3 without Adams, 1-0 without Dennis Schroder and 0-1 without Chris Paul.

Now they’re without Bazley.

Donovan has many options and, soon enough, plenty of time to think about them, too.

Following tonight’s game against the Spurs, the Thunder travel to New Orleans on Thursday before receiving an All-Star break of an entire week, returning to plays host to the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 21.

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