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At Least The Marvin Bagley Disaster Will Be Over Soon

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 27: Marvin Bagley III #35 of the Sacramento Kings watches from the bench during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on October 27, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After three full seasons in the oven, the top prospects of the 2018 NBA Draft have taken on a lovely golden brown hue and distinguished themselves as one of the most remarkable arrays of talent to have joined the league in the past decade. Luka Doncic has more or less solved half-court offense, Trae Young is a tiny, fearless genius with the ball, and Deandre Ayton just anchored a brave Finals challenge as his team’s lone functional big man. Elsewhere, Mikal Bridges is in the process of setting a new high-water mark for 3-and-D wings and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is rounding into a legit franchise cornerstone. The rest of the class is stuffed with useful-to-good players. There is a lot to like.

There is also Marvin Bagley III, who was picked ahead of everyone save for Ayton and has played 28 whole minutes this season despite enjoying the use of all his limbs. The dust kicked up by Sacramento’s infamous selection of Bagley over Doncic has mostly settled at this point; Doncic is who he is, the front office dingdongs responsible for Sacramento’s pick have been fired. Still, people whose justified mockery of the Kings centered around their passing on Doncic might be surprised (and delighted? Or horrified?) to learn Sacramento did so in favor of selecting not only for a worse player, but essentially a non-player. Bagley’s 28 minutes are 28 more than fans probably expected at the outset of the season, which kicked off in earnest when Bagley’s agent released a blistering statement against the team after they failed to trade Bagley, and then told him he wouldn’t see the court at all because he offered nothing to the team. “Marooned on the bench of the team you’ve agitated to leave for three years” is a pretty stunning place for a second overall pick to wind up before his rookie contract even expires, and yet, that is where Bagley is.

As the statement spells out, Bagley’s reps expected him to be traded this offseason. Indeed, the Kings have been trying to unload Bagley for a while, and they used the first part of last season to showcase Bagley for a potential trade, only for Bagley to break his hand 10 days before the trade deadline. Bagley’s camp then continued to agitate for a trade, which never materialized. They chalk that failure up to “value,” which is a self-effacing way of saying, “Marvin Bagley is so bad that other teams are offering scrap metal and expired gift cards for him.” Bagley’s camp has pushed for a trade for years, through bad times and somehow even worse times, but at this point the grim truth has to be setting in. If another NBA team wanted Bagley, they could have him. The Kings are almost certainly not asking for meaningful return for Bagley, but even at what is assuredly an all-time low asking price for someone who is, again, a recent second-overall pick, Bagley is not seen as worth it. Bagley is also unlikely to meet “starter criteria” this season, a provision that will see his qualifying offer halved down to $7.3 million. A trade could materialize once that lower number gets locked in, which will be on or after Dec. 15, the date on which players who signed this offseason can be traded. Either way, Bagley will certainly be gone soon. The only uncertainty left is which team will pay the (low) price of taking a flier on Bagley.

That league-wide apathy stranded Bagley in Sacramento months after he drew a hard line, and things have remained grim since. The Kings’ roster is misconstructed—precisely one wing player earned minutes last night in Detroit—and they have leaned into three-guard lineups that demand a higher level of defense from big men. As the team is not tanking, Bagley has no place in such a scheme, and so he’s seen himself passed in the rotation by Chimezie Metu, Alex Len, Tristan Thompson, and, at points, Damian Jones. He also has not played because he has refused to, which, again, hasn’t been of consequence to the Kings’ record but can still nevertheless be filed under “not what you want.”

It’s worth stepping back here and disentangling Marvin Bagley: Malcontent Disappointment Second Overall Pick Ahead Of Luka Doncic from Marvin Bagley: Basketball Player. He’s mostly considered through the first lens because the dynamic is compelling and because most people don’t voluntarily watch Sacramento Kings basketball. That Bagley is the one who’s become a vessel for Kings fans’ anguish; he is the one who ended Vlade Divac’s front office career, and who is perhaps chiefly famous for being the main character in his weird dad’s relentless and reckless yawping. That Bagley is seen as a useless bust who will be out of the league soon. The former version of Bagley also has center stage because the latter is so frequently out with injury.

Marvin Bagley has played 120 games in his NBA career out of a possible 240, as he’s suffered injuries of varying severity to his foot, knee, hand, groin, calf, back, and thumb. To a certain extent, Bagley’s injury history is a matter of luck. The hand injury that ended his 2020-21 season was a freak thing, though Bagley also has a playing and movement style that lends itself to a concerning amount of crashing around and getting into it under the basket. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that Bagley’s top-line numbers have always been somewhat respectable; he’s notched almost exactly 14 points and seven boards in each of his three seasons, though he only played in 13 games his sophomore year. If you squint at Bagley’s production, you might be able to trick yourself into thinking that he’s a meaningfully productive player. Maybe he’s not the second overall pick, you might think, but maybe there’s a useful player in there somewhere. Then you watch him and you get it.

Bagley is good at the following basketball tasks: rebounding the basketball and running the court. His now-infamous “second jump” allows him to gobble boards, and he is athletic enough to cover more ground than most 6-foot-11 guys. That’s pretty much it. If a modern big cannot either block shots or hit threes, they need to bring something special to the table; see, for instance, Montrezl Harrell’s burly excellence. Bagley’s range has expanded a bit, though he’s not a real floor-spacer, and he remains one of the least willing passers I’ve ever watched. I tracked every Bagley touch during last night’s game against the Pistons (I know! I know!), and he made three passes in 18 minutes, two of which were in the context of two-man actions in which a return pass led to an immediate Bagley miss. The real problem, however, is his abject incapacity as a defender. Poor Bagley actually does try hard, but he simply has no skill on defense. He gets bullied, baited out of position by the least consequential fakes imaginable, and confused by basically anything an opposing offense does. He was so useless even at the college level that Coach K implemented a zone defense just to insulate his team from Bagley’s mistakes. It is for this reason that he has no value around the league. He has no place in any starting lineup, and his ceiling is a bench-energy big who, again, can score in precisely one way, does not and will not move the ball, and gives up oodles of points to anyone who tries him.

This is the core of the Bagley disaster, right there. Not his tweetin’ father, not his surliness on the bench, not even the spot when he was drafted. Whether it’s the Kings’ collective fault or not, Bagley hasn’t been healthy or capable enough to get better at anything he’s really needed to, and so he’s shriveled almost all the way away. I’d like to think a team with a more established player development staff could mold Bagley into a usable player, and certainly, one of those teams will try. But it’s over for Marvin Bagley in Sacramento.