The Sacramento Kings find themselves in a unique position. 10 games into the season the Kings are still above .500 and have turned heads with their style of play. And while the Kings have a brutal upcoming schedule and most of us still don’t expect the Kings to be an above-.500 team at the end of the year, the Kings have earned a level or respectability. And when that happens the articles being written about the team tend to change from “Can [Rookie] be the one to finally save the Kings?” to “Does [Rookie] fit into the Kings future?” It’s a good thing, but can be frustrating nonetheless. The article in question is from The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks, who is excellent and should not be summarily dismissed.
Tjarks questions how Marvin Bagley III fits with the Sacramento Kings future, and I’d recommend reading the article before reacting because Tjarks is very fair to the Kings and praises them quite a bit. But as he brings up, the Kings’ success right now is built around the front court pairing of Willie Cauley-Stein and Nemaja Bjelica. Bjelica’s shooting has opened up the floor in a way the Kings have needed for years, and Willie has finally found success as a high-flying rim-runner in a way that Kings fans have been begging to see for years now.
Bagley has been excellent off the bench. He’s averaging 12.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game in 23 minutes of action per night. His motor and intensity has been a delight to watch. His game is developing before our eyes, and has won over tons of Sactown Royalty staff members who, ahem, didn’t think Bagley could translate quickly if at all to the NBA.
Let me state it more clearly — I was wrong about Marvin Bagley.
But let’s go back to Tjarks central question; how does Bagley fit with this team going forward? You don’t draft a guy second overall with the hope of him anchoring your bench. There’s the Willie Cauley-Stein question, of course. We don’t know for sure that the Kings will keep him this summer. Is one good (possibly great?) season enough to make up for years of lackadaisical effort? Especially in a contract year, the concern is legitimate that Willie could revert to old form. If Willie is gone then Bagley is a natural fit to assume his place next to Bjelica.
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that Willie is retained by the Kings and that his leap forward is real. Bjelica’s game doesn’t rely on quickness or insane athleticism, so he should remain productive even though he’s already 30. And, as Tjarks points out, Bagley is not a small forward.
Sacramento GM Vlade Divac said after the draft that Bagley could moonlight at small forward, but that was never realistic. He needs to play at either power forward or center, which means taking out either Bjelica or Cauley-Stein. They each have a specific role that is vital to making the Kings’ best lineups work. Bagley can’t fill either at this stage in his career.
But focus for a second on the bolded part of that quote (emphasis mine). Marvin Bagley is 128 days shy of his 20th birthday. He’s shown the ability to create a shot, although it needs work. He’s shown the ability to shoot from deep (50% on the season on 12 attempts, Small Sample Size Institute approved) even if we wouldn’t consider it a reliable weapon yet. Bagley is averaging just 4 fewer minutes per game than De’Aaron Fox did in his rookie season, and we’re just 10 games in, and just 9 games removed from all of us losing our minds over Dave Joerger giving Bagley just 12 minutes in the season opener.
Marvin Bagley looks like he’s going to be just fine. He’s playing plenty of minutes and is making the case for more. Marvin Bagley will be a starter for the Sacramento Kings, of that I feel confident. If Bagley can’t overtake Cauley-Stein or Bjelica it won’t be because of roster construction, but rather him failing to deliver on the potential he’s already shown. And there’s nothing about his game that makes me worried that his style of play can’t fit the Kings new identity. Bagley can play fast, he can rim-run, he’s a perfect fit with the Kings’ style of play.
The question isn’t how Bagley fits with the Kings going forward, the question is which current King will be his ideal front court mate.