Marvin Bagley III is a complex player for the modern era of NBA basketball. At the end of his rookie year, he was developing as a shooter, but not yet a floor spacer. He showed little instinct as a playmaker for others and the ball could get stuck in his hands. He wasn’t a switchable NBA-level defender. He was most creative when he got the ball, a clear driving lane to the basket, and an isolated defender. Compared to many other young stars, it’ll be more of a challenge to optimize a Bagley-led team—something the Sacramento Kings most certainly should have known in June 2018.
But the Kings desperately need Marvin Bagley back. That fact has been someone forgotten in the last month of Bagley-less basketball, but it’s certainly true both now — this rudderless De’Aaron-deficient roster has hit their ceiling without their best players playing and the veterans often forgetting how to offense — and it’s certainly true for the future of the franchise. Marvin Bagley will be a complex player to set as a franchise pillar, but that doesn’t take away from his potential — a ceiling that is still absolutely All-Star level and beyond.
Luke Walton has a difficult task in front of him. Over the last month of waveringly competent basketball, the Kings have certainly been relying on the skills of their journeymen big men. Richaun Holmes’ nuclear motor has earned him massive minutes (and if we’re being fair, big chunks of the contracts his veteran teammates signed this summer), and Nemanja Bjelica provides undeniable gravity despite wavering success. Neither are a picture perfect fit next to Bagley—spacing issues with Holmes, and rebounding issues with Bjelica—but fit concerns can only be tested with extended minutes. Bagley needs to learn to fit with both players, needs to develop both as a floor spacer and as a small-ball center if he’s going to become the versatile, new-age big man that the Kings must have envisioned when they selected him. Holmes, Bjelica, Harry Giles, and please-come-back-Atlanta-Dewayne Dedmon need varying degrees of playing time, a complex puzzle for Walton amid the resent inconsistencies... but after a few games to shake the rust off, Bagley’s minutes should top every other big.
It was somehow lost last year amongst all the hand-wringing over the young man’s game, but Bagley had a semi-historic scoring season as a rookie, and was underratedly-efficient in his Dave Joerger-limited minutes. He averaged 21/10/1.5 blocks per 36 minutes on 56.2% true shooting (solid enough percent for rookie forwards and bigs in the three point revolution era). He shot 39% from distance after the All-Star break while also earning himself 4.9 FTA per contest (6.4 per 36 minutes, highest on the team). Through his combination of his face-up plays, ability to get to the free throw line, and determination on the offensive glass, Bagley is certain to help a Kings team diversify an offense that, as our buddy Tim Maxwell pointed out, has been living and dying by threes.
Bagley’s preseason and 28 minutes of regular season action were not encouraging, and I’m betting that Bagley struggles mightily in his first few games as he gets into shape and adjusts to Walton’s new half-court offense. But as he’s sat on the bench the last month, Marvin has become underrated — partly because of his complex offensive game, partly because of his clear and visible weaknesses as a 20 year old, and partly because of the basketball demigod erupting in Dallas. But Luka Dončić’s future-MVP career arc, no matter how brilliant or absurd, doesn’t limit Bagley’s own All-Star potential. Marvin is a 95th percentile athlete with an undeniable basketball motor and dynamic scoring instincts for his age. The growth Bagley has shown from his time at Duke through his rookie year with the Kings should have everyone excited for the future — his own leap to stardom is just around the corner.