A few weeks back, I wrote that Marvin Bagley is the most important player of the young Sacramento Kings. While I said pre-draft that it would be more difficult to optimize a Bagley-led team than the other names in the Kings conversation, taking Bagley 2nd overall should indicate that the Kings have a concrete idea of how they want to utilize him. I’ve already covered his offensive utilization, and his defensive growth curve. Here is the final question that will define how successful Bagley’s rookie season will be.
Marvin Bagley is a confident young man. He thought he should have been the 1st overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He is vocal that he wants to use his platform for more than just basketball, which implies confidence that he’ll build that platform in the first place. And grandest of all, he picked himself to win MVP in this, his rookie season.
Given that an extraordinary number of the Kings rookies from the past decade have struggled with confidence, consistency, or effort, Bagley’s belief in himself is refreshing. Having extraordinary confidence and goals is never a bad thing, as long as it comes coupled with the passion for the work needed to reach those goals. And by all accounts, Bagley’s motor burns white hot. For all the concerns about his still-developing skill set, effort and intensity are NOT question marks for Bagley. He will fight on the court and put in the work needed to get better. When a young man shows you what kind of player he is, believe him.
But Bagley isn’t playing in Durham, North Carolina, anymore; this is Sacramento, home of the NBA’s longest playoff drought. He traded in his Duke blues—the jersey of consistent collegiate contention—for the purples of a Kings organization still a ways off from consistency, let alone contention. And when the unstoppable force of Bagley’s motor meets head-on with the immovable object that is the Kings yearly loss total... is his confidence going to survive, let alone thrive?
Some of this is on Bagley. As I said in June, Bagley is confident that he can score on anyone, but the transition to the NBA will not be a simple one for a guy who is more athletically gifted than polished. He’s got to develop versatility on offense to avoid predictability, and handle a new range of defensive assignments in a league that attacks young big men. He’s got to accept a lower-touch role than he had in college. Will his confidence that he can become an MVP-level player still burn strong when he’s battling nightly against veterans who can keep up with him, out-muscle him, and match his effort level?
Some of this isn’t only on Bagley, and rather on the Sacramento squad as a whole. Bagley is going to have to get used to a Kings team in far more flux than he’s experienced before. He’s not the only King trying to carve out a role in the NBA, and it will take more than his rookie season for the pieces of Vlade Divac’s grand puzzle to fall where they may. The Kings may not immediately figure out how optimize Bagley on offense or defense. There are going to be hiccups when Dave Joerger “takes off the training wheels” on his offense. And the team is going to lose—a lot. Hopefully, on those long plane rides after tough road blowouts, Bagley remembers that the most important step is always the next one.
Marvin Bagley may be the second-best prospect the Kings have drafted in their now 12-year rebuild (the best now plays in Oakland). That fact has been somewhat buried in the debate spawned by Bagley’s selection, because he’s very raw in some very visible areas. But he’s also shown flashes of a wide-range of offensive skills—driving, post-moves, jumpshot, rebounding—that could make him the future star this rebuild so badly needs. But the best thing Bagley has going for him (besides his elite functional athleticism—and yes, I do mean elite functional athleticism) is his confidence. If he stays confident, puts in the work, and is optimized by the right teammates, he can be a driving force for the future of this team... but that confidence will surely be tested in this Kings quagmire. Will he still think himself a future star come April 2019? His rookie season won’t define his career, but it’ll go a long way towards directing it.