Sacramento Kings: The limitations of Marvin Bagley III’s full potential

Only so much of Marvin Bagley III’s game typically translates to winning basketball in 2020, limiting his impact for the Sacramento Kings.

An injury-riddled sophomore campaign halted the progression of Marvin Bagley III. It was his rookie campaign for the Sacramento Kings, however, that checked many of the expectations placed on him heading into the NBA.

A springy finisher and relentless rebounder, he became one of only two teenagers to ever average at least 14 points and seven rebounds per game. The other being Luka Doncic, who did so in nearly seven more minutes a night.

Bagley was fifth among his rookie class in scoring and fourth in rebounds. Nothing of the Doncic or Zion Williamson variety but as good a start as any for the career of a former No. 2 overall pick that landed him on the All-Rookie First Team.

For all Bagley brings to the Kings, there’s plenty left to be desired. Not just in the continuous development of his strengths, but the glaring weaknesses that could affect his ability to aid Sacramento’s future.

The best of the modern NBA big man tend to feature one or some of a list of preferred qualities. You have your lengthy rim runners and elite rim protectors. Floor spacers or focal points with an array of offensive weapons.

Bagley has yet to project comfort in any category. The sample size is small, with only 75 total games in his career. But these deficiencies date back to his days at Duke and project the type of player Bagley is likely to become, much to the detriment of the Kings.

Deriving anything from his shortened sophomore campaign seems frivolous, so we look back at his rookie numbers.

Despite shooting 23-of-58 on threes in his lone collegiate season, the range didn’t translate to the NBA, where he was 30-of-96. What did make its way to the NBA was his poor free throw shooting at 69.1 percent on 4.2 attempts per game.

His form has been critiqued by those who have studied it. Though not unfixable, doing so is no easy feat. In its absence, Bagley’s ceiling faces a hard cap in a league that continues to value shooting more each day.

A mere 7.5” wingspan tacked onto a 6’11” frame does Bagley no favors as an interior defender. A block rate of 3.2 ranked 35th among players 6’11” or taller. Compare that to Jaren Jackson Jr., a fellow big man of the 2018 Draft who placed 10th at 5.1 percent.

If he is more of a traditional post presence, the numbers didn’t show it. Of the players in 2018-19 with more than 3.0 post-up possessions per game, Bagley’s 0.80 points per possession were tied for last.

The absence of shooting would suggest Bagley commits to the center position, where he played 54 percent of his rookie minutes. But an inability to defend around the rim makes it preferable to slot him alongside an able rim protector.

All these questions make you wonder why Sacramento didn’t take Jackson with the second overall pick if the need for a big man usurped the talent of Doncic. Jackson’s fluidity on both sides of the ball makes him a far superior plug-and-play option alongside any other four players compared to Bagley.

A double-double threat at Duke, the 20-10 nights will become regular for Bagley as long as his health holds up. He’s that good at the things that brought him to this point, but how, if at all, will it affect Sacramento’s bottom line.

The Sacramento Kings’ offense was 1.4 points worse per 100 possessions with Bagley on the court and gave up an extra 4.0 in his presence as well. Not exactly the type of impact you’d want, even at an early age, from a player a franchise expects to so heavily rely on moving forward.

Drawing conclusions about a 21-year-old would be ridiculous. Players don’t only grow. They adapt and sometimes even change.

But the facts are what they are. Bagley occupies a slim niche of NBA players. Even if he reaches his full potential, is the foundation with which his talent was built on enough to prove worth anything to the Sacramento Kings?

For the sake of a franchise with the longest active playoff drought in the NBA that continues to face mockery over the pick, let’s hope it does when they most need it to be.