Remember back in December of 2018 when Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joeger needed a swift backpedal regarding his comments around Luka Doncic? After praising the Dallas Mavericks’ third-overall selection, Joerger needed something positive to say about the guy he coaches, second-overall pick Marvin Bagley III.
The angle he chose? Bagley and De’Aaron Fox are going to be the next Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
It’s not difficult to see why Joerger has such high confidence in Fox. The second-year pro is torching defenses this season with his sheer speed and athleticism, terrorizing teams for 11.3 points scored or assisted in transition. The Kings are above .500 nearing the All-Star break, and Fox could be the first Sacramento guard to make the All-Star Game since Mitch Richmond.
On the other hand, a comparison between Bagley and Durant simply isn’t clicking. Without jumping on Bagley’s often awkward rookie campaign, the comments seem more like blowhard positivity than an actual assessment of his overall impact on either end.
Bagley has (perhaps) the most impressive athletic chops of the entire 2018 draft class. He’s an incredible second-jumper, challenging shots that others cannot; He’s equally an effective finisher after snatching offensive rebounds. The raw athleticism, paired with his length and size, makes him an extremely intriguing frontcourt prospect that can defend multiple positions.
While he shoots the three sparingly, his form is not poor by any means. Defensively, he rates out as average in most metrics, and his positioning backs that up. What he lacks in experience or IQ, he more than makes up for with length and athleticism, both of which swallow up drivers. And experience can come in due time.
The key to any comparison between Bagley and Kevin Durant is in the offensive output, not the similarity of styles. Joerger likely was neither saying that Bagley is a polished scorer, nor the volume shooter in the same fashion. Instead, their production and control of the game due to diverse skill sets will one day command the same type of defensive respect.
Bagley will one day, in Joerger’s estimation, be a top offensive option in the league.
From a scoring arsenal perspective, his prediction very well may come true. Right now, however, Bagley is nowhere near the passer he needs to be as a top offensive option. He’s racked up nearly twice as many turnovers as assists, and the low amount of 31 dimes is worrisome for his development. A player with this much potential already commands double-teams, special attention and collapsed defenses when he operates out of the post or isolations. He has not proven willing or able to read defenses efficiently.
Albeit a fairly small sample, Bagley has a 45 percent turnover rate against double teams in the post, according to Synergy Sports Tech. Such a number is way too high, especially considering the shooting prowess the Kings possess. A simple play would be to recognize the double-team, get the ball away from the focal point of the defense, and let a teammate make a play.
Instead, Bagley forces possessions such as these:
All these examples come from the Kings trying to mismatch isolate Bagley on a smaller guard, especially in transition. Those puny defenders try to front him, as instructed by their coaching staffs, and fend off direct entry passes. The only avenue remaining is to throw Bagley a lob, which gives time for helpers to scurry and swarm him on the catch.
Feeling the double comes with time, but Bagley is only staring at the wing right now, blind to what occurs behind him. Teammates must be trusted to only throw the ball inside if Bagley is in a position to do something positive with it. Yet when they do, he often tries to dribble out of these traps, not away from the defense. That’s where the trouble comes.
Veteran players will probe the double-team by taking one retreat dribble towards the corner. If the defense commits to the trap further from the basket, they get rid of the rock and know teammates have more space and time to operate four-on-three.
Bagley is not even looking to kick against double-teams, though. He’ll try to go one-on-four in the middle of the lane when it’s clear he should pass:
Against one-on-one defense down low, the inverse occurs. Bagley isn’t quite diverse enough to draw extra help often enough, so teams don’t need to crowd the lane when guarding him in single coverage. Instead of scoring in those isolations, he becomes a passer but does so without putting pressure on the help defenders.
He’ll routinely get bumped wide and out of bounds on baseline drives, or be unable to move defenders when probing middle. Since he’s scoring almost entirely with his left hand, he has to no choice but to go to his left. When that fails, opponents begin to retreat back to their assignment, realizing there is no need to help on Bagley.
He will literally throw the ball into their hands:
Bagley is still a teenager. He has nothing but time to improve his feel for the game and learn to read NBA-caliber defenses. But we all know NBA patience doesn’t last forever, and there is a long way to go. Perhaps too far of a gap remains between his natural abilities and his instincts to anoint him a potential superstar down the line.
The Kings front office reportedly loves Bagley and wants Joerger to continue featuring him instead of other frontcourt pieces while they have at least one eye on the future. Bagley’s outright talent is deserving of such a role. It also might be proof that this team is not quite ready for the bright stage of postseason basketball.
Cool the jets on any comparisons of Bagley to All-Stars, let alone former MVPs. He’s an incredibly enticing ball of clay, but it could be years before he’s a work of art.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of NBA.com, basketball-reference, or Synergy Sports Tech, and are current as of January 27, 2019.
Adam is a TBW staff writer and college basketball coach at Dickinson College. He loves watching for offensive schemes while specializing in individual skill development, shooting technique and coach-speak. Born in New Hampshire, Adam grew up as a Celtics fan but now claims to just love “good basketball”, which does not include mid-range jumpers.