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Marvin Bagley deserves better

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The Kings aren’t setting their big man up for success.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Bagley played 12 minutes Wednesday night. 261 players have been granted more opportunity than the second overall pick over the past three evenings, and of those 261 players, 15 have been rookies, including two second-round selections:

2018 Draftee Minutes Ranking

Ayton 36 1
Young 33 5
Doncic 32 3
Gilgeous-Alexander 28 11
Jackson Jr. 25 4
Bamba 25 6
Knox 24 9
DiVincenzo 22 17
Carter 19 7
Brunson 19 33
Brown 19 42
Sexton 18 8
Miles Bridges 15 12
Shamet 13 26
Bagley 12 2

In a more historical context, no second overall pick has played fewer minutes in their NBA premiere over the last 15 years than Bagley was allotted against the Jazz:

2005 - 2018 2nd Overall Pick Premieres

Year Player Minutes
Year Player Minutes
2004 Okafor 32:00
2005 Williams 25:07
2006 Aldridge 19:11
2007 Durant 31:34
2008 Beasley 26:59
2009 Thabeet 12:07
2010 Turner 30:40
2011 Williams 23:48
2012 Kidd-Gilchrist 19:37
2013 Oladipo 22:35
2014 Parker 36:53
2015 Russell 25:50
2016 Ingram 23:40
2017 Ball 29:21
2018 Bagley 12:07

Over the past decade and a half, no other franchise has placed a lower value on their lottery pick’s shoes hitting the hardwood than Sacramento did Wednesday night. And make no mistake, the Kings aren’t a contender trying to squeeze in a few minutes for a lottery pick that they sniped from another team; that will be the Boston Celtics with the Sacramento pick next year. Rather, they’re a rebuilding organization with no real hope of a post-season appearance choosing to treat their second overall pick as an end of the bench player. They have managed to discover a fresh way to separate themselves from the rest of the league, and once again, the context is anything but positive. Marvin Bagley seemed discouraged in the post-game, and his family wasn’t thrilled, either.

It’s first easiest, and not completely inaccurate, to assign blame to the man directly in charge of the team’s rotations: Dave Joerger. Bagley played well enough in his short stints on the court, scoring six points and grabbing five boards in his dozen minutes, extrapolating to 18 points and 15 rebounds on per-36 minutes basis, and while not even the most optimistic fan believes those numbers would have held steady at that rate, it does demonstrate his mild impact while on the floor. He wasn’t an absolute disaster. Defensively, he did struggle to contain Jae Crowder on the perimeter.

Multiple mistakes were made, but that’s to be expected from a 19-year old rookie. His errors were well within reason, meaning Bagley’s play couldn’t be the sole reason for his severe lack of court time.

Dave Joerger did face one understandable struggle when trying to find minutes for Bagley: the contributions of Willie Cauley-Stein and Nemanja Bjelica. Willie quite possibly played the most complete game of his career, while Bjelica was the solid veteran presence and scoring threat the Kings so desperately needed last season. The minutes allotted to those to big men were necessary and justified.

What isn’t justifiable or necessary is the grotesque experiment that is Justin Jackson at power forward. The second year wing has yet to prove he’s a quality NBA small forward, yet the coaching staff seems convinced he’s best suited as a big man, despite the presence of Cauley-Stein, Bjelica, Bagley, Giles, Koufos, Labissiere, and Randolph on the depth chart. The Jazz did frequently run a small-ball lineup, playing Jae Crowder as their power forward, but a strategic move by the opposing team doesn’t always require a similar adjustment from the Kings. Bagley struggled to contain the more experienced Crowder, but the same could be said in the reverse as well:

Meanwhile, Justin Jackson couldn’t guard Crowder or Ingles, nor could he contribute on the offensive end, yet Joerger’s cultish belief in his abilities saw him play over 30 minutes in the opening game, third most minutes on the team, and even more alarming were the 10 minutes he filled in at the 4-spot. Those 10 minutes could have been allocated to Marvin Bagley, the much better and more effective player; a simple adjustment that would have bumped Bagley’s playing time up to 22 total minutes.

Dave Joerger’s decision-making must improve, but he’s also been handed a nonsensical depth chart from which he’s supposed to extract meaningful wins. Vlade Divac has spent the last three years stocking up on big men like an expectant parent grabbing every diaper in sight, but has been unable to jettison any leftovers and failures of years past. June and July were filled with moves that made moderate amounts of sense in a vacuum, such as the drafting of Marvin Bagley, the signing of Nemanja Bjelica, and the retention of Willie Cauley-Stein, but when put together, combine for the least sensible roster in the NBA. The coaching staff is now obliged to create patchwork lineups due to a front office obsessed with big men, one that that has invested five first round picks on power forwards and centers over the past 3 years, as well as another $57 million thrown at those same positions in free agency, while not a single starting caliber small forward has been acquired. Willie Cauley-Stein wasn’t moved in the offseason and will likely outplay Harry Giles on most nights, and Bjelica was brought in despite the likelihood of his stealing minutes from Marvin Bagley, and that still doesn’t account for the injured Kosta Koufos, or the benched Skal Labissiere or Zach Randolph. If Cauley-Stein and Bjelica continue to receive a combined 66 minutes per night, either one of Bagley and Giles will get minutes while the other one is benched, or each will account for only a handful each night. A very real danger of minutes deprivation is facing both of the young bigs, potentially leading to a suffocation of their on-court development. Only one game has been played, but that one game demonstrated every concern shared regarding management’s inexcusable roster construction. There are only so many minutes to go around.

Vlade Divac needs to find a way to clear the big man cluster facing the Kings, but that solution is much more easily contemplated than executed. Sacramento cannot trade Nemanja Bjelica until later in the year and the chances of a Giles or Bagley deal are about as probable as a Sacramento playoff appearance this year, so they likely need to find a new home for Willie Cauley-Stein, while also benching Kosta Koufos, Skal Labissiere, and Zach Randolph. However, the time to move players has already come and passed. NBA teams just spent the last few months assembling and perfecting their rosters, while ours stayed stagnant and bragged about their cap space and flexibility, meaning the trade horizon is empty and will remain that way for months to come. December is typically the soonest most transactions take place, while most occur in late January and early February. The minutes crunch will continue for the foreseeable future; no quick fix for the glut of big men is coming anytime soon.

Marvin Bagley needs a coach who will allow him to make mistakes without getting benched. He needs Dave Joerger to stop playing a low-quality wing in front of him at power forward. Those are easy wins. Dave Joerger needs his General Manager to construct a sensible roster, as well as a front office that isn’t satisfied with entering the season without a true small forward on the team while boasting about their $11 million in cap space. Dave Joerger needs Vlade Divac to do his job well, so we can properly assess Joerger’s ability to produce from his spot on the bench and turn these prospects into high-caliber NBA players. The wacky lineups, general lack of planning for this team’s construction, and organizational dysfunction is too large of a burden for the second overall pick to overcome. Marvin Bagley simply deserves better.