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Marvin Bagley looks like a player destined for greatness

Now entering his second season, head coach Luke Walton has a special player on his hands.

Kimani Okearah

The 2018 NBA Draft was absolutely stockpiled with young, immense talent available for selection all-around. Prior to the draft lottery, Kings fans were debating the merits of guys like Mikal Bridges and Mohamed Bamba. But for the second straight year, the Kings overcame the lottery odds and unbelievably jumped into the draft with the second overall pick, their highest selection since 1989.

There was no way they could mess this pick up. No way. Right? For a franchise who the basketball Gods have seldom favored, they gifted the Kings one of the best picks in a loaded class.

With the Suns seemingly locked in on Deandre Ayton with the 1st pick, many Kings fans and pundits expected the Kings to go after Euroleague star Luka Doncic, fresh off a Euroleague MVP and championship at just 19 years old. But it quickly became clear that the team was infatuated with Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III. By the time it came to pick, the Bagley choice barely registered as a surprise after multiple reports indicating the Kings thought he was their guy.

Flash forward to the 2018 Summer League and Kings fans got to watch Bagley for the first time in a Kings uniform. Excitement grew as Bagley and company would debut against the young squad of the Los Angeles Lakers.

To say it took Bagley a short time to expand the excitement was probably an understatement:

Posterizing the rookie your rival team selected in the first round is definitely one way to make any fan base go nuts, as that was the case with Bagley and Moritz Wagner.

However, Bagley encountered a rough stretch for the remainder of the Sacramento and Las Vegas Summer League games as he didn’t appear equipped to be a NBA player. His numbers in 31 minutes a game in Sacramento were 8.7 points on 31% shooting, paired with 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. In one game in Las Vegas, Bagley tallied 15 points on 39% shooting, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one blocks in 32 minutes. Improvements, but still concerning.

But then came the real deal, the NBA regular season. Approximately seven months of basketball playing against some of the best athletes in the world for 82 games. Bagley’s Summer League and preseason had been discouraging, especially as Luka Doncic got off to a quick start, but Bagley was ready to prove the doubters wrong.

In just his second NBA game, he put up 19 points on 7-10 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists, one block and three steals. He went on to average 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a game in 23 minutes during the month of October, which then grew to 13.6 points and a lower 6.6 rebounds in 24.7 minutes.

Injuries during the month of December affected Bagley’s consistency to stay on the court as he dropped to 11.6 points and 3.2 rebounds in 18.6 minutes a game. When the injury healed, Bagley returned with a vengeance. He went on to score 13.4 points a game and grabbed 7.7 rebounds in January, and had an even better February, where he averaged 17.5 points and 9.4 rebounds in 29 minutes, earning him a spot in the USA vs. World game during All-Star Weekend.

The end of February saw Bagley get hurt in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks and it damaged the Kings’ chances at a playoff spot, as he had become an extremely important rotation player for the team. When he returned this time, Bagley averaged 17.8 points game in the months of March and April along with 9.2 rebounds in 27.1 minutes a game. Bagley scored in double figures every single game during those two months and grabbed at least 11 rebounds in six of those games.

The prospect we once were biting our nails about rose into a player we hope to see in multiple All-Star games throughout his Sacramento career. It’s not just Kings fans that Bagley proved wrong. National pundits also thought the Kings made a poor choice in taking Bagley over Doncic but as the year went on even they started to buy in. The website fivethirtyeight predicts Bagley to be a “great prospect” over the course of his NBA career and also projects his 5-year market value to be at $63.6 million! In 2024, Bagley’s projected value falls at $31.1 million so it’s not risible to suppose that he will be one of the best talents in the years to come.

Where things now lie for the future of Bagley’s career is in the hands of new head coach Luke Walton.

Regarding his plans on using Bagley, here is what Walton said:

“I told him I think he’s going to be a big part of what we do, and we need him to continue to improve and his versatility, him defending multiple positions will ultimately be a big factor in how much success and how many different defensive schemes we can use.”

Walton is 100% correct in his thought process. Bagley unequivocally has to be a big part of the Kings team, both on offense and defense.

Regarding offense, Bagley finished the season with a usage percentage of 24.2%, third most on the team behind Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox respectively.

If Walton really means what he says and uses Bagley frequently, Bagley will have to be in the top three when it comes to usage again, which shouldn’t be a problem unless the Kings max Nikola Vucevic (that becomes tricky).

Bagley’s shot chart shows a player who is most comfortable scoring in the paint, but isn’t afraid to stretch his range out either. The shot chart outside of the paint isn’t pretty, but it’s bound to be get better with practice, and he’s already a fairly decent shooter from certain spots, such as the middle of the floor.

The most glaring factor is his struggles from shooting from the left side of the floor, a side he should be doing good in since he’s naturally a lefty. Until he sorts that issue out, get him shots from the right side of the court.

From the jumpers Bagley has converted for points, dividing the plot in half shows he’s performing better shooting from that side of the floor.

One of the deficiencies among Sacramento’s big men was their inability to score outside from the paint, besides Nemanja Bjelica’s three point shooting and the occasional Harry Giles jumper (he has one, but hasn’t utilized it). Having Bagley on the court was a breath of fresh air, as his mid-range game became smoother every game. Clint Capela tipped the rebound and Bagley was the first to get it. He quickly surveys the floor only to realize Capela was giving him too much room for a shot, and he took advantage of it.

Same game, similar situation. James Harden is giving too much room on this isolation and sooner than later, defenders will realize they shouldn’t be giving Bagley that much space. Harden tries to knock the ball out of Bagley’s hands too instead of forcing a contest and there’s two more points in the bag.

I can go on and on about his jump shots. There’s an abundance of examples but the more Bagley played throughout the season, the more I became comfortable with him doing this. Here he taps Quinn Cook with the elbow screen to establish the pick-and-roll, except Draymond Green didn’t bite. He was 2017 Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. Instead, Bagley finds himself with the ball and Green in front of him. So he casually bangs right into Green’s chest and scores over him with his strong left hand.

Bagley has attacked guys like Steven Adams, Mason Plumlee, Andre Drummond and Dewayne Dedmon to name a few, but the obvious sticks out. Bagley needs to learn to craft his right hand as a weapon. If he doesn’t start doing that, teams will emphasize making Bagley drive right instead of driving left, which is what Jerami Grant attempted here. Grant’s stance is clearly inviting Bagley to go right, but Bagley goes left anyways and is greeted by Steven Adams who contests from behind.

The sooner he develops a right hand, the more dangerous he’ll be but for now, using an iso and still taking a shot with two defenders contesting won’t work. Being able to use both hands means more options at finishing at the rim and giving him iso plays also increases the chance of him using his incredibly fast second jump for an offensive rebound. There’s a plethora of ways to get Bagley active, it doesn’t take long. If both hands become a threat, Walton has an iso play with Bagley’s name written on it and both jumpers and drives to the rim will suffice.

Bagley’s three ball is another big step in his offensive game and allows for more creativity in Walton’s offense if he hits it consistently at 35%. It’s a reasonable figure considering he was at 31% his rookie season. In the month of January, he was 11% from deep on 18 attempts. He only made two. Then in January, when this clip occurred, he was at a much better 27.8%, but not high enough for his potential. He has a good look but puts way too much power on it.

But as the season went along, Bagley’s three started falling at a much more respectable clip. In March and April, he was a combined 14/34 from three, which is good for 41%. That’s a mark we’ll have to wait and see if he’s able to produce at a consistent level, but it’s surely a positive way to end a season.

Chris Bosh comparisons glare when watching Bagley, and it was surely evident on this 25-foot three. He doesn’t drop this three earlier in the season and this is arguably my favorite three of his from the year. Hits a hesitation and shifts to his left for three.

Remember, Bagley shot 14-37 from three in that spot for the entire season and I’m expecting both of those numbers from that spot to rise. Also from threes ranging between 25-29 feet, Bagley was 35.9% on 64 attempts. That’s an effective field goal percentage of 54%!

Another way of getting him more looks from that spot? Use him as a trailer off the inbounds. With Bjelica being the main big man threat from deep, using big men as trailers weren’t the most ideal unless you want to use them for a quick screen as they come up. With Bagley’s developing three, you are allowed to utilize him as a trailer for a open look at three, which happened here and Portland was caught sleeping heavily.

You can prevent trailers from picking up full court or half court press the offense, but Portland opted against that in this possession as they were down 23 with little interest in winning unless it became a possibility, which it did. And of course if you have both Bagley and Bjelica on the floor at once, there’s two options for trailers. Not to forget, Bagley can run the floor at a good pace and there’s a chance for a trailing three there, too.

On the defensive side of things, I am completely on board with playing Bagley at the five. But NBA bigs typically have bigger bodies than Bagley, making it easy for players to out-muscle him to the rim. Bagley isn’t playing the five on this possession as Willie Cauley-Stein is guarding the perimeter, but Bagley locks in with Nugget extraordinaire Nikola Jokic and holds his own for the block.

Here Bagley gets switched onto Rajon Rondo who goes the opposite direction for a reverse layup, but Bagley’s jump is ridiculous. Smaller guards will have a tough time trying to get a layup over Bagley unless they use their body to shield him away. Going at him like this will get you blocked.

Yogi Ferrell gets caught on the switch and has no option but to front Drummond as best as he can and does a good job with the shot clock winding down. However, he has no chance to get the rebound but look who comes from behind with two hands (shoutout Doug Christie) for the rebound. Even Iman Shumpert was hyped in the back. You don’t always need Bagley to be in the paint for him to come challenge rebounds. He just does it and you love the effort.

Bagley’s rebound percentage was only 15.5, which the eye test would say is higher, but given the minutes and time at the five, that definitely goes up. Kosta Koufos had the highest percentage at 18.7 and Cauley-Stein had 15.8.

Marvin Bagley is as versatile as they come and Walton has been quick to point that out. Offensively, Bagley is a right hand and consistent three point shot away from becoming a force. Defensively, he has the potential to guard in the paint and out in the perimeter, the next step is to put in more pounds of muscle, which he has plenty of time to do in the offseason.

He is gradually proving he was the right choice at #2 overall for this run-and-gun team and I, for one, am stoked to see where season two takes him.