In 2018, the Sacramento Kings used the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft to select Marvin Bagley III, a forward out of Duke that they had hoped would be the centerpiece of their exciting young core. Three years later, Bagley isn’t the star the Kings envisioned he’d be— in fact, injuries have limited to 118 games over the last three seasons.
Bagley has shown flashes during that time, but nothing to suggest that he’s on the verge of a super stardom like the player that was taken one pick after him, Luka Doncic, or the No. 1 overall pick, DeAndre Ayton. So what should we expect from the 22-year-old this season?
Let’s take a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for Bagley.
Best-case: Bagley, coming off an extended offseason, looks like a different player to start the regular season. He’s more physical in large part due to the muscle he added over the summer and he’s engaged on both ends of the floor in a way he hasn’t been previously.
The latter of the two scenarios is more important, in my opinion, because the Kings don’t need Bagley to be a bruising big man in order for him to be valuable. It’s actually more likely that Bagley will play out on the perimeter with the likes of Richaun Holmes, Alex Len and Tristan Thompson vacating the center position. What they do need out of Bagley is defensive effort.
It’s no secret that the Kings were the worst defensive team in the NBA last season and although the addition of Davion Mitchell will surely help, Bagley blossoming into an average defender would be an even bigger help. Through three seasons, the Kings have been better on defense with Bagley on the bench.
Obviously the dream scenario would be for Bagley to make a massive leap in his fourth year, but at this point, it’s more realistic to want Bagley to be an above-average rotation-level big man and recoup some of the value he’s lost to this point, whether that’s for a trade at the deadline or next summer’s free agency.
Worst-case: Bagley picks up another injury to start the season and loses all the momentum he had coming out of the offseason — that, or he’s healthy and he still doesn’t move the needle for the Kings.
I’d argue it’s unlikely he doesn’t help the Kings at all because the depth the Kings have at both forward positions is, well, what it is. But Bagley needs to be the best of the group if Sacramento are going to be better than they were last season, or the season before that, or the season before that.
What will that require from Bagley? Defense and perimeter shooting. If he can’t do either at at a respectable level, it won’t just hurt the Kings in the immediate future; it will also make it harder to move him for anything of value in the event that he (or his dad) asks for a trade ... again.
Call me an optimist, but I think the best-case scenario is more likely for a few reasons, with the most important one being that Bagley can enter restricted free agency next summer. The Kings have every incentive to put Bagley in a position to succeed and Bagley has everything to gain from making the most of the opportunities he’s given.
Will that lead to Bagley and the Kings riding off into the sunset together? Maybe not, but the sooner that Bagley is a legitimate asset, the better off Sacramento will be. Hopefully both parties realize that this season.