Why Marvin Bagley III Was ‘Easy Choice’ for Kings
Nearly two weeks prior to the NBA Draft, Marvin Bagley III perched his lanky, 6-foot-11 frame inside CREAM, a local ice cream sandwich shop in the Howe 'Bout Arden retail center, sharing frozen treats and vibrant laughs with future Kings teammates De’Aaron Fox and Harry Giles.
Bagley, at ease alongside two friends on a balmy summer evening, didn’t delve into on-court spacing or pick-and-roll coverages; there would be plenty of time for that. Instead, the Arizona native wanted to know more about his potential new home and the budding basketball culture in Sacramento.
“I’ve known those guys for a long time now, so when I was hanging out with them, I asked a few questions, but it was really more off of basketball and just explaining about what the city was like, the people around the city, how the fans were,” Bagley said. “It really wasn’t basketball-related. We’ve known each other for a while now, so it was a get-together, having a good time and laughing together.”
A day after bonding with two of Sacramento’s franchise building blocks, Bagley’s immense all-around skill set, positional versatility and passion for coaching shined during his individual workout with Kings brass, soon elevating him to the top of the team’s Draft board.
“Marvin is an elite talent in this Draft – a great player, someone who plays multiple positions … a guy who works hard, wants to learn and improve (and is) coachable,” said Kings General Manager Vlade Divac. “It was an easy choice for us … he came here, we fell in love with him and we’re very happy that he’s a part of this team for the future.”
“He’s extremely athletic, he’s a willing learner, and he’s hungry to learn, which is one of the many things that we liked about him and we found out about him throughout the course of the (pre-Draft) process,” echoed Kings Head Coach Dave Joerger. “Whether we were in video (sessions) or out on the court, he has an appetite and a desire to learn, and just soaks stuff up.”
Take one look at any of Bagley’s highlight reels, and it’s easy to see why Sacramento’s front office became enamored by the dynamic 19-year-old, who became the first ACC player since Tim Duncan to lead the conference in points (21.0 per game), rebounds (11.1) and field goal percentage (61.4). Consider that in the last 25 years, only four other players from a major conference – including 2018 No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton – have matched those numbers.
An in-depth look into his scoring efficiency, via Synergy Sports, indicates the ACC Freshman and Player of the Year is an upper-echelon scorer in virtually every situation, comfortable creating his own shot in the paint, beating slow-footed big men down the floor in transition and extending his range out to the perimeter.
The forward-center converted 65.2 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket, and ranked in the 96th percentile in points per shot around the rim in half-court settings (1.487). Taking advantage of his size and nifty footwork, Bagley recorded 0.952 points per post-up possession, placing in the 78th percentile, and finished second in the ACC with 4.2 post-up points per game.
"That's a big part of my game,” he said. “If I have a bigger guy on me, I bring (the ball) on my side, use my quickness and athleticism to get by him. If I have a smaller guy on me (on a) mismatch, I take him to the post and get a bucket on the inside. Being able to do both, I pride myself on that, and I work on that every single day I'm in the gym." The First Team All-American has been equally productive when he’s stepped outside the post, scoring 1.065 PPP on jump shots in the half-court (77th percentile) and knocking down nearly 40 percent from behind the arc.
Praised for his second and third jump, Bagley led the ACC and ranked fifth in the NCAA in offensive rebounds (4.0), converting those loose caroms into a nation-leading 4.2 points per game on put-backs.
His elevation and verticality come as no surprise considering that basketball runs deep in Bagley’s genes. His grandfather, “Pogo” Joe Caldwell, was both an NBA and ABA All-Star who possessed a reported 50-inch vertical leap and cemented a legacy as a pioneering above-the-rim finisher.
“I hear a lot of people compare my second jump to his,” Bagley said. “He used to show me highlights of him playing, and I saw how he used to get up the same way I do. He used to tell me that whenever I do it – whenever I jump and get put-backs and rebounds – that (I) remind him of (himself).”
Bagley’s fluidity and softs hands can be similarly traced to his familial roots.
His father, Marvin Bagley Jr., played professional football as a wide receiver in the Arena Football League and nearly made the New Orleans Saints opening day roster in 1997.
Recognizing his son flashed a hereditary knack for basketball at an early age, Marvin Jr. fixated on developing the fundamentals, from footwork to ball-handling to jump-shot mechanics. The elder Bagley recorded hours of practice and game film on his camcorder, and methodically reviewed the tapes with his son.
When Bagley III was in fifth grade, his father founded his own club team, Phoenix Phamily – now part of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League – and allowed his son to play through the ups and downs of facilitating the offense.
“I could have 50 turnovers, but my dad still trusted me to go out and play and push,” Bagley told SLAM Magazine. “I’m thankful for that—that’s why I’m where I am today.”
While his soon-polished skill set would draw comparisons to multi-time All-Stars Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire, Bagley’s path from high school to the pros came with its share of detours.
“(The journey) was difficult sometimes,” he reflected. “I had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to this point right now. I’m definitely excited that I made it through it all.”
After averaging 19.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game and leading Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, Ariz. to its fourth straight state title, he transferred Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix, where his father was hired as assistant coach.
Several months later, the second-year phenom left for Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth., Calif., only to be deemed ineligible to play when the California Interscholastic Federation determined the move was athletically motivated.
The ruling was later reversed, and when he returned to action as a junior, Bagley didn’t miss a beat, putting up 24.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game on the 27-3 Trailblazers. Over the summer, he continued to turn heads by dominating in Drew League competition stocked with NBA stars including James Harden, DeMar DeRozan and Chris Paul.
“In 44 years, he's had the most impact of any high school player I've witnessed,” Mike McCaa, the Chief Financial Officer of the Drew League, told The Los Angeles Times. “He plays well above his age level and has a very strong sense of maturity.”
Then, in a nearly unprecedented move, Bagley, the consensus the No. 1 high school basketball player in the country, announced he’d reclassify to the Class of 2017 and enroll at Duke, making him eligible for the 2018 Draft.
No. 35 thrived in his lone season as a Blue Devil – just as he had at every level of basketball he’d played – and doesn't expect that to change now that he’ll be donning purple and black.
“I have confidence in my game and I still think I’m the best player in the Draft,” he said. “I put a lot of work into it and I’m glad that I’ll be able to show it with Sacramento … (being taken second) just lit a fire inside me to want to play and compete at a high level. I’m happy it ended up like that, and now all we can do is step out on the floor and play the game.”
Eager to make his Kings debut in next month’s Summer League, Bagley hit the gym immediately upon stepping foot in Northern California, following a six-hour, cross-country flight from New York.
“When I got here, as soon I got to the hotel, I went and got a workout in, just to get locked in a little bit and prepare myself for what’s coming,” he said. “The work is starting. The process is starting. I’m definitely excited to meet my teammates, come together and build chemistry with those guys.”
An explosive athlete with a nonstop motor and insatiable appetite for success, the Kings draftee’s offensive prowess and prodigious rebounding make him a vital piece for a youthful team that ranked near the bottom in the League in both categories. Bagley expects his versatility to allow him to make a seamless transition into the lineup and help expediate the evolution of a nucleus led by Fox, Giles, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
“I think I can bring a lot to a team offensively and defensively, inside and out,” Bagley said. “I’m very confident in my game and my abilities. I know how much work I put into this and how much I sacrificed for it. I’m definitely excited to show the world and my teammates everything I can do.”