NBA Position: Big
General Information: 19 years old, played for Duke. From Phoenix, AZ.
Measurables: 6’11, 235 lbs, 7’0’ wingspan.
2016-17 Season Statistics: 21.0 PPG, 1.5 APG, 11.1 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 2.3 TOPG (33 games played, 33.8 minutes a contest) – 61.4% FG, 62.7% FT, 39.7% 3P
Summary: High effort and higher verticality define Bagley’s game. He’s a developing scorer who can play in the post and slash to the basket, and is refining a deep-shot that will be critical to his game going forward. He’s also a beast on the glass, and his athleticism begs to be unlocked by a high-paced offense. But his defensive awareness is a huge concern moving forward, and his lack of mass, great length, and blocking instincts will keep him from being a rim protector. While there’s a lot to love about Bagley’s potential, it’d be more difficult to optimize a Bagley-lead team than it would for the other names in the Kings conversation.
Hyperbole exists only to be used by sports writers, but it’s not hyperbole to call Bagley a generational athlete. His functional athleticism is incredible, from his leaping ability (both in the distance he can travel AND in the speed he can get off the ground), fluidity in the open court (he runs like a 6’11 wing), and determination to use these tools to beat over-matched opponents. And while Bagley’s tools are great, his greatest weapon is his on-court fire; few players battle with his level of tenacity, and he’s always getting after the ball on offense.
The best highlight of this was an early March contest against UNC. Duke had already lost on the road against the Heels earlier in the year, and after a quiet 1st half, Bagley showed he wasn’t going to let them lose to their eternal rivals at home.
He’s fearless in the low-post, shooting 53.8% on post-ups (78th percentile, per Synergy) and a whopping 75% on shots around the basket that aren’t post-ups (96th percentile). His effort level also earns him a high level of freebies, a whopping 6.3 FTAs per contest.
But his success has as much to do with his freak athleticism as it does his skill level; he doesn’t have a vast collection of moves yet, and he greatly favors his left hand on post moves, which makes him predictable at times. He’s only scratching at the surface of his creation skills.
There’s concern that he might not be able to add the strength needed to be a mismatch in the NBA post, and he’s a bit of a tweener. Unlike Deandre Ayton, who shot 60.9% against double teams on post-ups (96th percentile), Bagley shot just 40.7% and turned it over 24.4% of the time. Bagley’s confident that he can score on most anyone, but the transition to the NBA may not be an easy one for a guy who is (right now) more athletically gifted than polished.
While his handle isn’t NBA-ready yet, he’s a ferocious driver who can be really dangerous at the next level as a grab-and-go big.
His driving ability may end up being his most dangerous creation skill at the next level. Watch these back-to-back buckets against Rhode Island; he again forces himself to use his left hand, but they’re both crafty moves.
He absolutely loves using a little half-hook with his left-hand; it’s a basic move, but he’s so fluid and bouncy that he can get into his shot before defenders can react.
Bagley also doesn’t need the ball to find buckets; he was in the 90th percentile (75% shooting) in scoring off cuts.
He can overthink when he gets the ball in his hands in the low-post, and end up with a worse look than he originally had. Here, he gets the ball with good separation from Theo Pinson, but instead of going up with his favorite lefty hook or just a normal jumper, he tries a spin move, lets Pinson get back into the picture, and loses the ball.
As with all the bigs not named Jaren Jackson, his shot is a work in progress. He shot 41.2% on 2-point jumpers (according to hoop-math.com), and made 23 threes on the year at a 39.7% clip (33% in conference play). And for all his success getting to the free throw line, he shot a paltry 62.7%. It’s vital that his shot transition at the next level—arguably more important than it is for Deandre Ayton—to unlock the full threat of him on his driving lanes. Take a look at his form.
To round his offense out, Bagley is an alright passer. He had regular cases of tunnel vision, but the crowded lanes and ball-controlling guards probably hid the full extent of his passing instincts. He needs to become better at spotting opportunities when defenses collapse on him, but considering his usage (26.2%), his turnover rate of just 12% is pretty solid.
On an NBA team with better spacing and a less-crowded paint, he’ll hopefully have more room to operate. But at Duke, he showed a tendency to drive hard, get stuck, and trust he’ll be able to pass it out.
The last major boon on offense is his tenacity on the glass, where he earns a ton of put-backs, fouls, and highlights. Strength will again be an issue at the NBA level, but it’s refreshing to see a player with his physical tools attack the ball so consistently... and the elevation that he can pin-point the ball at is insane.
Bagley looks the part of a future high-usage producer, with his combination of diving skill, pogo-stick ability in the post, and incredible effort level. That said, he’s still got to add a ton of offensive moves, and prove that jumpshot is gold, man, before he’ll be tricking NBA defenders. He’s also going to really need to balance his reliance on his left hand, as it makes him predictable once he gets into the paint. Getting top-two value out of a Bagley selection requires him answering a simple question; how is he going to consistently score when guys can stick with him athletically?
Defensive Breakdown: Bagley’s weaknesses on defense are technical and not motivational. He still plays with near-consistent effort and intensity on defense, and clearly wants to make an impact. But his defensive weaknesses were limiting in college, and in the NBA he’ll probably get stuck between two defensive roles that he’s really not good at yet.
Playing next to Wendell Carter and Marques Bolden kept Bagley mostly away from the basket when Duke played their 2-3 zone, but even considering his role, Bagley never showed much as a rim protector or help-blocker. His 3.3% block rate is the lowest of bigs taken in the lottery since 2010, and where the other bigs in the class have mammoth arms (Deandre Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr. at 7’5”, Mo Bamba at 7’10”), Bagley’s is a less insane 7’0. He makes up for some of that with his bounce, but he didn’t show great timing or desire for the role.
He had fine instincts on this almost-block in the play below, but his average wingspan does him no favors. He needs to be incredibly reactionary to snag blocks, and he’s not a great reactionary defender yet.
The second role then would be as a perimeter defender who can provide switchable defensive pressure, but his awareness has never caught up to his physical quickness. It might, someday, but guards are going to attack him constantly until he proves he can handle it.
Mike Krzyzewski had to swap fully to zone defense halfway through that St. John’s game to cover up Bagley’s (and Carter’s, and Gary Trent’s) serious defensive limitations, and Duke stuck with zone the rest of the year. The squad improved defensively, but when Bagley transitions into the NBA and suddenly has to play the hardest defensive position in the sport in the pace-and-space offensive era, it isn’t going to be pretty.
So he’s not a rim protector, not a space defender, and he’s certainly not big enough (235 pounds, and he doesn’t look like a guy who can suddenly toss on the muscle) to defend bigs like Joel Embiid, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, Nikola Jokic, Steven Adams, and so on. He doesn’t have the size Ayton does, nor the instincts of Jackson Jr., or the underrated defensive awareness of Luka Dončić. He’s behind on skill and is going to have to prove he can find a defensive role... not as great a starting point as his offense.
Much like his offensive rebounding, Bagley is a great defensive rebounder (8.4 per 40 minutes). His leaping ability and second jump will still make him dangerous in the NBA, but he’s not going to be strong enough to handle himself against a solid handle of the league’s better bigs.
Intangibles: Bagley wasn’t supposed to be in this draft class. He would have been in high school this year, but he earned his eligibility, came to college early... and got to the Final Four as the primary scorer on a hot-and-cold Duke squad that faced the standard Duke level of scrutiny all year. There have been no public red-flags raised about Bagley off the court, and on the court he’s one of the most entertaining players to watch thanks to that limitless stamina meter and infectious effort.
It’ll be very interesting to watch how his future NBA team handles his intersection of skills and physical tools, because he’s going to need help fitting in to the modern NBA landscape.
Fit with Sacramento: There’s a bunch to like about Bagley’s fit in Sacramento, and a bunch to be concerned with.
On the plus side, the Kings want to be a team that pushes the pace, and Bagley’s athleticism begs to be unleashed in the open court. He’d also instantly be the Kings best rebounder, and we know Dave Joerger would love to have a young, heavy-load post/elbow big man. And with his endless effort and motor, Bagley would mesh in well with the Kings other youngsters like De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Buddy Hield (...and Harry Giles). Enthusiasm, tons of combined hours in the gym, and the right coaching might make that young team a force to be reckoned with.
But at the same time, the Kings can’t afford any more high-effort, low-awareness defenders. It would also continue to leave the Kings without a rim protector, and they’d still lack a young big with any significant bulk. Imagine Ayton going against the Kings lineup of Bagley, Cauley-Stein, and Giles for the next four years... or Bagley suddenly getting constantly attacked by Golden State switches. And unless Joerger accepts that Hield and Bogdanovic need to play together full time, the floor spacing might be less than ideal for Bagley’s driving game.
I think Bagley has the least room for error of the elite bigs. His shot is less of a sure thing than Jackson Jr., and his ability down low is less of a sure thing than Ayton with his enormous frame/post-up skills. If Bagley can’t find efficiency in both of those skills, his driving ability isn’t going to be enough to make him an alpha dog scorer.
With his work ethic, it’s certainly possible he develops a perfect niche offensively and defensively that unlocks his stardom. But I believe that team construct is going to have to be much more specifically tailored to him than for Dončić, Ayton, and even Jackson Jr. Assuming even the most optimistic development—he becomes a legendary slasher/spot-up shooter and a switchable container on defense—he’s going to need to play next to floor spacers who won’t clog the lane, and a rim-protecting big who can bully up to the titans like Cousins, Embiid... and Ayton.
I think it’ll be more difficult to optimize a Bagley-lead team than the other names in the Kings conversation. A smart team with the right pieces around him will figure out how turn him into a positionless-beast, thanks to that eternal flame burning in his engine... but I’m not convinced that team is Sacramento.