Forget “What have you done for me lately?” Thanks to our ruined attention spans and the constant news churn, NBA opinions are now formed on the basis of what players have done in the last five seconds…
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Marvin Bagley III’s first make-or-break task is to avoid breaking down.
The No. 2 pick in 2018 has played 75 games over two seasons. Before we even get to the issue of whether he can be a positive contributor on the court, he has to prove he can stay on it. And then, once Bagley shakes the injury bug, he’ll have to prove he can do more than offer empty-calorie scoring.
Bagley’s numbers impresscosmetically anyway. For his career, the 6’11” lefty sits at 21.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. Given the small sample and low-stakes environment with the Sacramento Kings, it’s difficult to maintain the illusion that those stats mean much in the face of other, deeper metrics that say they’re window dressing.
The Kings have been markedly worse with Bagley on the floor in each of his two seasons, logging minus-5.4 and minus-13.5 net ratings, respectively, in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Rookies almost always struggle, and Bagley’s second campaign was so short at only 13 games that we can basically treat it as an extension of his first. Nonetheless, red flags are red flags.
Bagley has yet to demonstrate a reliable jumper, and his work on the defensive perimeter suggests his future is almost certainly at the 5. Exceptionally quick off the floor, Bagley could be a useful rim-protector. Yet despite his penchant for hunting blocks at the expense of operating within a scheme (a common trait among inexperienced frontcourt players), he’s been no more than a middling shot-blocker so far.
So, to date, Bagley has been an oft-injured, non-spacing, non-switching, inefficient big. Forget justifying taking him ahead of Luka Doncic. That’s a profile that might not even belong in the lottery.
To be fair, Bagley’s physical tools are undeniable. He’s instinctive around the rim, coordinated in space and has an innate nose for the ball. His lack of production could be due almost entirely to a combination of bad luck on the health front and the suboptimal growth environment in Sacramento, where losing is the norm.
Anyone writing Bagley off after two rough years is making a mistake, but anyone claiming he has star potential on the basis of those misleading point and rebound averages can’t be taken seriously, either.
This is the season Bagley proves either his believers or his detractors correct.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Salary info via Basketball Insiders.