The Sacramento Kings finished the first part of the NBA season on a hot streak, winning 13 of their last 20 games, but notably absent from that stretch of play was second-year big Marvin Bagley III.
Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, injured himself in the first game of the season, then came back in December and sprained his left foot after eight games. He re-aggravated that injury four games after returning, and sat out the rest of the season. In a normal year, Bagley would have had no hopes of coming back.
But this season is anything but normal, and Bagley has had over three months to rehab and get himself into shape to contribute to Sacramento’s playoff push when the NBA descends on Orlando later this month.
Even if Bagley is in good enough health to play when the league restarts, that doesn’t mean Luke Walton is ready to count on him to be a part of the team’s rotation, as he told media on a Zoom call Wednesday.
“It’s way too early for that still, I’m thrilled that he’s feeling better and looking good,” Walton said. “But he missed a ton of the season, and that’s just so much room for growth for a young player that needs to happen, you need to play to continue to get better.”
Bagley’s absence has allowed other members of the Kings frontcourt to thrive. Richaun Holmes earned the job of starting center while Harry Giles received extended minutes for the first time in his NBA career. Nemanja Bjelica has also had a productive season at power forward, and Alex Len has been a positive contributor since arriving from Atlanta.
Bagley was capable in his 13 games this season, averaging 14.2 points on 46.7% shooting from the field while making 25-of-31 free throws. But the Kings were outscored by 15 points per 100 possessions with Bagley on the floor. They have the blueprint for a playoff-caliber team without him.
“We’ll take a look at it when we get to Orlando and we’re really scrimmaging, and we’ll see who’s playing well,” Walton said regarding Bagley’s role. “We were playing really well to end the season, so we weren’t really going to mess with what we had going on rotation-wise at that time, and now that there’s been this much time off, we gotta take a look at it again and we gotta see who’s playing well, who’s shooting the ball well, who’s in shape.
“Richaun has had a heckuva year, Alex came over in the trade and really made an impact for us with his physical play and his protection and just his overall size, so there’s a lot of things, playing Harrison and [Bjelica] at the four gave us a lot of spacing that we seem to play well with, so there’s a lot of things we’re going to look at, and like I said, it’s a quick eight games to try to make some noise, so we’re going to go with whatever we feel is going to give us the best opportunity and chance to win.”
Bagley figures to be an important part of Sacramento’s future. But at this moment, with the team making a playoff push, a sophomore who has only played 75 games in his NBA career and was hurt for much of this year wouldn’t appear to be the winning choice. Bagley will have to wow the Kings coaching staff in Orlando in order to meaningfully crack the rotation during the league restart.