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Marvin Bagley Can Be A Cornerstone For The Kings

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Call him Marvin the Martian, because his offense is out of this world.

NBA: Sacremento Kings-Press Conference Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The dust has settled. The wounds have been wrapped and treated. The ban hammer has been put aside. Almost a week has passed since the drama of Draft Day took place, and after much debate over the decision that was made by our Front Office, it’s time to take a peek at our newest prospect, Marvin Bagley III, and what he can bring to a young roster in need of a foundational piece.

The first thing to note about Vlade’s controversial choice is that he’s one of the most accomplished freshman in recent NCAA history. In his single collegiate year, Marvin scored more points than DeMarcus Cousins, was a better rebounder than Willie Cauley-Stein, and made a higher percentage of three-pointers than Justin Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, Malachi Richardson, Buddy Hield, and Jimmer Fredette were able to in their freshman seasons. As one would expect from the second overall pick, he dominates almost every single category in comparison to former Kings draft picks and current up-and-coming players:

Freshman Year Comparision

Player MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% 3P% PER TRB% AST% BLK%
Player MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% 3P% PER TRB% AST% BLK%
Bagley 33.8 21 11.1 1.5 0.9 0.8 62% 40% 30.6 17.9% 8.8% 2.6%
Giles 11.5 3.9 3.8 0.3 0.7 0.3 58% 0% 19.8 19.1% 5.6% 5.3%
Jackson 26.7 10.7 3.7 2.3 0.5 0.5 48% 30% 17.8 7.5% 15.4% 2.0%
Fox 29.6 16.7 4 4.6 0.2 1.5 48% 25% 22.6 7.2% 28.6% 0.7%
Labissiere 15.8 6.6 3.1 0.3 1.6 0.3 52% 0% 18.5 11.1% 3.6% 10.3%
Richardson 34.4 13.4 4.3 2.1 0.3 1.1 37% 35% 13.8 6.9% 12.8% 0.9%
Hield 25.1 7.8 4.2 1.9 0.3 1.2 39% 24% 14.9 9.8% 14.6% 1.1%
Cauley-Stein 23.6 8.3 6.2 0.9 2.1 0.8 62% 0% 22.1 15.4% 8.0% 8.4%
Stauskas 30.5 11 3 1.3 0.2 0.6 46% 44% 17.6 6.1% 7.6% 8.0%
McLemore 32.2 15.9 5.2 2 0.7 1 50% 42% 23.2 9.4% 12.6% 2.2%
Robinson 7.2 2.5 2.7 0.3 0.5 0.2 49% 0% 16.2 17.1% 6.7% 7.6%
Fredette 18.5 7 1.1 1.7 0.1 0.8 41% 34% N/A 3.2% 18.3% 0.3%
Cousins 23.5 15.1 9.8 1 1.8 1 56% 17% N/A 22.5% 9.2% 7.5%
Evans 29 17.1 5.4 3.9 0.8 2.1 46% 27% N/A 10.2% 30.0% 2.2%

It’s also a well-established fact that conquering the college game doesn’t automatically translate to NBA success. In the chart above, Ben McLemore looks like a future All-Star, while Buddy Hield projects as a G League player at best. Each player is in a different situation with a different coach playing against different competition, but no prospect selected by Sacramento in the past decade accomplished as much as MB3 did in his time at Duke. Our new cornerstone had seven 30-point double-doubles in his 33 career games. The 13 other players appeared in 441 combined contests. They recorded exactly zero 30 point double-doubles. In fact, those 441 games yielded only five 30-point performances: one by Fox, three by McLemore, and one by Evans. While his offensive skill set is undeniable, Bagley is by no means a perfect prospect. Here are three areas of immediate impact and three question marks surrounding our newest draftee’s game.

Aggression

Like the flare of a match as it’s struck, the rookies, sophomores, and third year players of last season often appeared for short, brilliants stretches before suddenly vanishing. De’Aaron Fox showed up for the big moments, and was one of the most clutch players in the entire league, but he also was invisible for much of the year. Buddy Hield is the type of scorer who will turn in one or two or three lackluster quarters before igniting for a barrage of points. Bogdan Bogdanovic is the epitome of balance, rarely taking over, but also rarely disappearing completely, simply helping his team along. Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t seem to realize they were playing basketball half of the time.

Marvin Bagley isn’t about that life. Here’s a sequence against U.N.C in which he uses his aggression and athleticism to buy a desperately needed bucket for the Blue Devils:

His tenacity and aggression were infectious at Duke, often spurring his teammates back to life if things were going poorly, and that same attitude should translate effortlessly to the NBA. He will not give in or give up until the clock strikes zeroes and the game is over. The Kings desperately need an alpha on the court, and Bagley may just fit the role of Batman to our litany of Robins.

Transition Opportunities

The Kings are a team built for the open court, and their newest addition is no exception. Bagley is a fluid athlete whose verticality will present a huge target in transition for De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, but that’s not the only thing he has to offer.

He showed flashes of some wing skills in his single collegiate season, and while that does not mean he can play small forward, those abilities do grant a significant advantage when a long rebound clangs off of the rim or if there is a live-ball turnover. Unlike the other front court players on the roster, who need to surrender the rock to a guard as soon as they corral a board, Bagley can push the ball up the floor in certain situations:

His handle isn’t tight, and he won’t be crossing anyone up anytime soon, but his ability to advance the ball in scramble situations will give the wings time to fan to the three-point line and the ball handler to come and take over if need be. Eventually, there may be instances in which he can run the break himself, an improved version of Magic Cousins.

Rebounding

Sacramento was one of the worst rebounding teams in the league last year, averaging the third fewest boards per game (40.9), and the third lowest rebounding percentage (48.3%). That pill becomes even harder to swallow when studying individual player contributions. The two best rebounders on the team were both veteran players: Kosta Koufos and Zach Randolph. Kosta was able to snag 12.2 per-36 minutes and recorded a rebounding percentage of 19.3%, while ZBo ended the season at 9.5 per-36 and a 15% rebounding percentage. With the expectation that most of the veterans will likely be traded or benched for members of the young core next season, the Kings are going to need someone to fill that gap.

Thankfully, Bagley’s prolific glass cleaning ability will probably earn him a Windex sponsorship. Each of his 30-point games was also paired with at least 10 rebounds, and he also managed to rip double-digit boards in 22 out of 32 full games. On the season, he averaged 11.1 rebounds per game in his time wearing a Blue Devils uniform, right in range or better than all of the bigs taken in the lottery:

Lottery Rebounders

Player RPG
Player RPG
Ayton 11.6
Bagley 11.1
Bamba 10.5
Carter 9.1
Jackson 5.8

Marvin’s talent for gobbling up boards doesn’t only exist on the defensive end, as he also beat out all of his collegiate competition in creating extra possessions, grabbing four offensive rebounds per game. His ridiculously quick second jump allows him to go after boards while other big men are still gathering, another huge advantage for a roster that struggled to score last season.

Shooting

Marvin Bagley’s ability to knock down shots from beyond the arc was a highly lauded part of his game when entering the draft, but that assumption of range needs to be taken with a grain of salt, the size of which depends on one’s belief between the importance of three-point shooting and free throw accuracy. It is an indisputable fact that he nailed 40% of his attempts from deep, and that’s impressive for a player of his size.

Concern arises when studying the number of three-pointers he actually took, as well his poor percentages from the charity stripe. Bagley took only 58 three-pointers on the year, nailing 23 of those, which likely isn’t a solid enough data point for long-term projection. However, those numbers do equal almost one made per game and two taken per contest, not something that can be outright dismissed, either.

The free throw line offers another question mark in his shooting conundrum. Bagley’s explosive offensive skills often forced opposing teams to foul him, as he averaged 6.3 free throw attempts per game, but he was only able to make 63% of those, not an impressive feat. His inability to sink those easier shots may have something to do with how he’s holding the basketball. Film shows him resting the ball on his hand, and possibly palming the ball slightly, rather than letting it roll off of his fingertips. If that’s the case, the coaching staff should be able to adjust his grip slightly, resulting in a higher percentage made.

Hitting 40% of his shots from deep was a remarkable accomplishment for Bagley, but it’s highly unlikely that he will be able to replicate that performance in his rookie season, and he may never hit that mark in his career. That’s okay. If he can eventually work his way up to the 34% range, that should be considered a victory, and would enable him to be labeled as a stretch-4, the new darling of the NBA. Knocking down 34% of three-pointers is equal to the efficiency of making 52% of two-point attempts. Last season, the league averaged just 50.9% on shots inside the arc, and DeMarcus Cousins never made more than 49% of his two-pointers as a King, as a point of reference.

Half-court Offense

Most 19 year olds coming out of the college ranks don’t have a fully developed offensive repertoire, and Marvin Bagley is no exception to that rule. He showed some affinity for low-post scoring, but his portfolio consisted mostly of half hooks and dunks. He relies solely on his left hand when backing down a defender, while also showing a heavy preference for that same side of the basket:

Smart NBA defenders are quickly going to realize that he has no right hand, and that Bagley is uncomfortable operating from the right block. Bigger, stronger defenders will push him out of his comfort zone and Kings fans should expect a couple of years of struggle while he works on his right-handed moves and a counter to his half-hook. The foundation for further advancement has already been laid; it’s now a matter of putting in the work to become a fluid back-to-the-basket option.

Defense

Marvin Bagley may tell you he’s a good defender. He may offer up the fact that he didn’t necessarily get a chance to show off that part of his game at Duke. As much as I can respect confidence and selling yourself, those things simply aren’t true. Coach K spent most of the season hiding Bagley in the corner of a 2-3 zone, leaving Wendell Carter Jr. to try and stave off slashers and post players.

Scrolling back up to the stats comparison above shows the complete opposite of a rim protector. Most of the big men recorded a block percentage in the 7% - 10% range, with Skal Labissiere topping out at 10.3%. Meanwhile, MB3 is hanging out with the guards and wings, showing the lowest percentage of any of the front court players at 2.6%, more akin to Justin Jackson, Ben McLemore, and Tyreke Evans than anyone else. To put that in another perspective, he had almost the same number of blocks (29) as he did made three-pointers (23).

Bagley also wasn’t successful in switching out onto the perimeter, a desired trait in modern bigs. He’s not particularly aware on the defensive end, and is liable to allow cutters to sneak behind him for open buckets or allow guards to drive right by him. The post doesn’t offer much immediate hope, either. Similar to Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauely-Stein, Bagley needs to bulk up to bang against larger power forwards and centers. He’s going to be battling against the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Steven Adams, and Joel Embiid, and he doesn’t currently possess the sheer power needed to defend them.

Marvin Bagley was drafted for his ability to fill several holes on a developing roster that doesn’t possess a first rounder next season. His offensive contributions will most likely come from dunks, layups, free throws, and three-pointers early on, rather than beautiful footwork and savvy moves down low, but that skill set also fits the modern NBA, something the Kings have yet to join. He’s going to play like a rabid demon every time he steps onto the floor, hopefully infecting some of the more lackluster players with his sky-high level of energy. Unlike Willie Cauley-Stein, Bagley is unafraid of the rim and should end most nights with the most rebounds on the team.

There will also be many rookie struggles. His shot may not immediately fall while he adjusts to the speed of the league and the distance of the NBA three-pointer. Bagley is not a particularly skilled defender, and his struggle to contain college players will only be emphasized when competing against best players in the world. Just as with any other first year player, there will be victories and there will be a few awful performances.

Marvin Bagley is the most talented offensive one-and-done player the Kings have drafted during this interminable rebuild. He may not be the player the majority of the fanbase envisioned in a Kings uniform on draft night, but his combination of elite athleticism, undeniable tenacity, and a burgeoning jump shot may be exactly the player this roster needs.