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Marvin Bagley Sets Sights on Rising Stars

Kings forward Marvin Bagley III hasn’t received word from the NBA’s front office yet, but teammate Buddy Hield isn’t waiting for the official announcement.

The No. 2 overall pick, Hield predicts, will not only make the trip to Charlotte, N.C. for the All-Star Weekend Rising Stars game, but put up record-setting numbers in the annual rookie-sophomore showcase.

“How are they not going to put this man in the game?” No. 24 chimed in from his adjacent locker, before turning to face the young standout. “You better go for 42 (points)!”

Bagley softly chuckles and shakes his head, but, with good reason, doesn’t shy away from a point total that would put him behind only Kevin Durant (46 points in 2009) in the Rising Stars scoring annals. In a freewheeling exhibition event overflowing with explosive dunks, three-pointers, and bucket after bucket from tip-off to the final buzzer, he certainly has a chance to excel on the big stage.

“From what Buddy is saying, that’s MVP numbers right there,” Bagley said. “I feel like I can definitely get it. If we get out and run and have fun, I think that (style) fits me perfectly. If I get MVP, that’ll make it even more memorable.”

For now though, the Arizona native would simply be honored if he’s among the 10 brightest first- and second-year U.S.-born players picked to battle a Team World squad comprised of the League’s top young talent with international roots – including last year��s MVP, Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be a part of any event at All-Star Weekend,” Bagley said, “so that would be exciting.”

Among qualified American rookies, No. 35 ranks in the top-five in numerous categories, including field-goal percentage (52.7 percent – first), rebounds (6.4 per game – second), points (12.7 per game – fourth), points in the paint (8.2 – second) and fouls drawn (3.5 – second).

One of the most NBA-ready players in a strong Draft class, Bagley has scored in double-figures in 25 of his 34 appearances, and despite being sidelined for 13 games due to injuries, has racked up six double-doubles, trailing only Atlanta’s Trae Young (14) and Chicago’s Wendell Carter (seven).

In his first career start on Tuesday, the 19-year-old scored a career-high 22 points to go along with 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks against the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors. In the process, he became the 12th player to record multiple 20-10 games as a teenager, per basketball-reference.com.

Over the last decade, Bagley is the fifth rookie to average at least 25 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per 100 possessions (min. 15 minutes per game), joining All-Stars Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid. Since 1973-74, he and Davis are the only two to do so before age 20.

“I think he’s going to be special,” said Kings Head Coach Dave Joerger. “He’s extremely talented. He just absorbs knowledge. He has a great natural feel for individual improvement and picking up team schemes as he goes … He’s only going to get better and better. I’m a big fan.”

Sacramento’s regular starting lineup featuring Bagley in place of Nemanja Bjelica is plus-27 in 72 minutes, while an all-reserve unit with the 6-foot-11 big man manning the frontcourt has outscored opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.

When Bagley and De’Aaron Fox have shared the floor, the Kings have been 1.7 points better per 100 possessions.

“We have a lot of athletic guys, but his athleticism is just different,” Fox said. “His skill level is definitely coming along. He’s getting a lot better in the post. He’s bringing shot-blocking, rebounding out of (his) area – that’s probably one of the best things he does in the League. When he starts playing starter minutes and really getting up there, I think he’ll definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the League.”

A gifted, efficient finisher around the basket, Bagley has flourished in the paint thanks to his scoring instincts, sound footwork and soft touch, shooting 71.4 percent in the restricted area and 67.1 percent within five feet of the basket. The Sacramento draftee has not only finished with rim-rocking slams off alley-oops and lefty turnaround hook shots, but used his lethal first step and exceptional body control to catch unsuspecting defenders off guard on face-ups.

The Duke product has also created a significant portion of his offense in post-up situations, scoring a team-leading 2.6 points on 4.8 possessions per game, while drawing 11 fouls.

“Whatever he’s doing right now – energy, athleticism, his talent to score in the post – everything is (off) talent, because he’s a really young and inexperienced player,” Bogdanovic said. “Just by being in the League and getting more minutes, he will turn out to be an All-Star for sure.”

Bagley’s offensive game will only expand as he earns more playing time, and the other strengths that elevated him toward the top of Draft boards – crashing the glass at one of the most prodigious rates in the country and routinely out-hustling his counterparts – have already translated to the NBA.

His exceptional second jump – a penchant for snagging an offensive rebound and immediately elevating above the defender for a put-back bucket – has been as good as advertised, allowing him to rank among the League leaders in second-chance points (3.0).

Among qualified rookies, only Phoenix’s DeAndre Ayton has grabbed more contested offensive boards per game (1.5), and just Ayton and Charlotte’s Miles Bridges have snagged a higher share of contested defensive rebound chances (64.4). An impressive 16 of Bagley’s 75 offensive boards have come against two or more defenders.

Simply put, if the basketball bounces off the iron, odds are, the Kings forward will get a hand on it, regardless of who’s battling him for the carom.

“I’ve played like that ever since I could remember,” he said. “I wasn’t always the biggest guy out there, muscle-wise, but I knew that every time I stepped out on the court, that I was going to play my hardest, no matter who I was going against. That’s just the mindset I have when I go into games. It doesn’t matter who’s on the other team, I’m going to go 100 percent and play like it’s my last game. That’s how I approach every game.”

Bagley has also recovered 0.9 loose balls per 36 minutes on the offensive end – tied for ninth-best in the League among rotation players – and leads Sacramento with one offensive boxout per game.

“It’s about having the heart and the will to go get the ball,” he said. “Not a lot of players fight to get the ball. When they see it bounce whatever way, they don’t give the extra effort to go get it. I think that’s kind of what separates me. It’s just that competitive nature in me.”

Despite question marks about his defensive acumen going into the Draft, Bagley has shown progress as a rim-protector, holding his counterparts 0.9 percent below their cumulative field-goal percentage within six feet of the rim. By comparison, players facing Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the Draft, have shot 0.8 percent above their season-long rate from close range.

The 2018 Consensus First-Team All-American leads the Kings in blocks per game (0.9) and per 36 minutes (1.4), consistently altering shots around the basket by using his length, timing and quick hops, even when he’s unable to come up with a deflection.

Although Bagley recognizes he still has a long way to go to reach his full potential as a difference-making, two-way star, he has no doubt that he’ll soon become a household name.

“I’m learning a lot; I think once I get past that learning curve, I’ll be one of the players in the League who’ll be mentioned a lot,” he said. “I’m definitely confident in my game, that I’ll be there one day.”

The first step in that process might be recognition – if not MVP honors – under the bright lights of All-Star Friday Night on Feb. 15.

But while he’s unabashedly excited for the opportunity to compete against his peers at the season’s midway point, Bagley hopes to play in meaningful games well into the spring.

“Win – it’s that simple,” he said. “That’s all I want to do. Whatever I have to do to help the team win, I’ll go out there and do it … If we just win and play together, everybody shines.”