Draft day for NBA lottery teams can often feel like Christmas in June. So after hearing Marvin Bagley III’s name announced on Thursday, and witnessing the reaction from the fan base, I can’t help but let the same image come to my mind over and over. I see us as children that had been waiting all year, could barely sleep the night before, rushed down the stairs the morning of, tore open our gift, and found it wasn’t exactly what we had hoped for.
It’s a harsh metaphor, and one that comes at the risk of infantilizing Sacramento Kings fans everywhere, but it feels right to me. All sports fans are little kids at heart, and emotional ones at that. We can’t help but react in ways that defy logic and reason. Have you ever kicked and screamed while watching a game? Yelled and cursed and thrown things like a toddler having a tantrum? Yeah, me too.
So here we are, with a brand new toy. It’s top of the line, but many of us had hoped for a different brand. The mixture of simultaneous excitement and disappointment is not like anything I’ve felt in years. And as much as we may want to, we can’t run away from home. This is our family. The Kings are in our blood.
Thankfully as adults we have the ability to reassess and change our perspective, if we see fit. Now that I’ve had a couple days to breathe, I think I’m ready to embrace the gift we did get. After revisiting many of my pre-draft thoughts I’ve decided to take a shot at explaining why I believe Bagley could end up being what I really wanted all along, even if I couldn’t see it before.
In my mind, the biggest advantage that Bagley had over Doncic was something I picked out early and never wavered from. That is a complete lack of redundancy on this roster. It goes without saying that the Kings have starter-level talent in place at the guard positions. Small forward is where it gets murky.
Some might say that we have no option there, but I disagree. Justin Jackson was drafted to play the position just one year ago, right at the fringe of the lottery. While he did not have a great rookie year, he does have potential to improve and can at least assume some of those minutes in the upcoming year.
Not to mention that our biggest rookie standout, and possibly best player on the team, was categorized as a small forward by Basketball Reference last year. The site estimated that Bogdan Bogdanovic played 59% of his minutes at the 3. Additionally, we got solid bench play from Garrett Temple who was estimated as a small forward 46% of the time.
So is small forward a position of need for the Kings? In some ways, yes. Is the need there higher than at power forward? Absolutely not.
Here is a comprehensive list of Kings who played at least one-third of their minutes at power forward: Zach Randolph, Skal Labissiere, JaKarr Sampson, Nigel Hayes, and Bruno Caboclo. One of those players is turning 37 next month, another has trade rumors swirling around him, and the remaining three combined for merely 549 minutes on the court last season. None of those three are widely expected to be on the opening day roster.
On a team that will be heavy with expiring contracts next season, it’s important to understand who has the multi-year deals. Looking down the line, the players currently under contract for 2019-20 now have the following positional classifications: Two point guards, one shooting guard, two small forwards, and one big man who has yet to step on the court in Harry Giles. More on him in a minute.
The fact is that Doncic is best suited to play a hybrid PG-SG-SF role. In other words, a combination of the three positions which are already occupied by the Kings largest investments for the future. Bagley is best suited for the 4, the position that is currently most vacant.
Locker Room Favor
The other notable advantage that I found pre-draft in Bagley’s favor was how quickly the current core of players seemed to gel with him, and how willing he was to visit with Sacramento.
He was the only top-five prospect to come to town and workout for the Kings. There was a late look at Wendell Carter Jr., but other than that it was mostly second round projections that were willing to make their case in person.
Bagley started popping up everywhere in the Kings social media landscape. Giles featured him in an Instagram story and mentioned their meeting in a tweet as early as June 10th. And this was not run-of-the-mill, nice-to-meet-you, just-doing-my-job type of stuff. They were just kicking it downtown. None of it seemed forced. They were excited.
De’Aaron Fox also met up with them. And while his social media references toward Bagley were a bit more cryptic, it seems clear that MB3 was who he was lobbying for as well. The three just recently had a killer photo-op that has been featured on every Kings outlet known to man.
And who could blame Fox for wanting him? Fox’s best role is as lead ball handler, and the Kings have a fantastic secondary one in Bogdanovic to boot. And while Bogi may speak Luka’s native language, the same can’t be said for the rest of the roster.
Even Bogi would be justified to have mixed feelings toward Luka. Would you want a younger, bigger version of yourself to walk into your office tomorrow with the potential to do everything you do, if not more? Well he doesn’t appear too upset that Doncic wasn’t picked. He’s currently cruising around Belgrade with Buddy Hield, recording freestyle rap cyphers on Instagram.
Again it comes down to practicality. Luka never publicly showed any interest in being a King. It’s even possible that behind closed doors he was agitating to land in a big market. His final destination of Dallas at least suggests that possibility. In contrast, what was Bagley’s response on June 11th when asked by the press for his feelings toward Sacramento?
“I love it.”
Coming to Grips with the Choice
I understand the argument for Doncic. In fact, I argued the argument for Doncic. But I also did my best to see the other side as well.
Best player available – that’s the only thing that should matter in many people’s minds. And while Luka may have the advantage there, it’s just not the only thing that’s important to me.
Players have gained more control over their environments than ever. The biggest stars in the league basically get whatever they want now. Just look at what happened with Jimmy Butler and Paul George last year, or what is happening with Kawhi right now. The Spurs have been one of the best franchises in sporting history, and even they look like they’re about to be bent or broken by the whims of a single player.
The truth for the Kings is that they are even more susceptible to being crushed by one set of wandering eyes than the average organization. And upsetting the majority of their current core could be downright devastating. In that way Bagley was a safe pick. And in a city that can’t easily replace their talent, he was a smart pick.
Simply targeting the best player, regardless of fit or position, is a fine strategy for an average to above-average team in an average to above-average sized market. But ignoring other factors means ignoring part of what defines the Sacramento Kings, for better or worse.
In a vacuum, I still believe Doncic is more likely to become a superstar. But more than a superstar, I want long-term, cohesive, team basketball. The surest way to get future draft picks and free agents to be excited about playing in Sacramento is to build on the excitement our current team has for one another.
Most draft boards had Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley close together, though it is true that a few did not. If you felt they were miles apart then I don’t expect the points I’ve offered here to change your mind. But to me, it was close. So I choose to look at it like this:
We had the choice between two potential stars. One seemed more likely to hit their personal ceiling and the other seemed more likely to let our team hit its collective ceiling.
Disagree if you want. Call me a sheep or a shill. Claim that it’s wishful thinking or revisionist history. But don’t pretend that you aren’t going to watch every bit of Bagley’s rookie season. And don’t pretend that you hope I’m wrong.
While it may not be exactly what we wanted, Bagley is still one hell of a gift. And it’s still time to celebrate.