Weight: 234 lbs.
Standing Reach: 8-9
Birthday/Age: March 14, 1999 (nearly 19 years old)
Projected NBA role: Power Forward/Center
Hometown: Tempe, Arizona
School: Duke University
Strengths: Size, Speed, Scoring, Athleticism, Offensive Footwork, Offensive Rebounding
Weaknesses: Defense, Strength, Passing
Thoughts and Comparisons
Bagley’s true floor is probably Michael Beasley. Beasley has caught a lot of flack in his NBA career as a former second overall pick who failed to live up to the hype. While he hasn’t been able to contribute like he did in college, the Beas Knees has made a name for himself in Madison Square Garden, even drawing MVP chants earlier this season.
This comparison goes beyond collegiate dominance, sharing the same initials and left-handedness. It also extends to their major weaknesses. For all of Beasley’s skill as a scorer, he never became a serviceable defender, which should be the biggest fear for teams considering Bagley in the first half of the lottery. Standing 6-9, 240 lbs., Beasley hasn’t proven quick enough to cover wings nor long enough (7-0 wingspan, 8-11 standing reach) to protect the rim. Moreover, in 565 career games, Beasley has averaged 1.3 assists to 1.7 turnovers. Bagley is averaging 1.6 assists to 2.4 turnovers.
For Bagley, operating alongside center Wendell Carter has made the former defensive concern more glaring while maybe masking the latter. Bagley doesn’t spend nearly as much time patrolling the paint as Carter, which speaks to their respective strengths and weaknesses on that end. When I went to Madison Square Garden to see Duke take on St. John’s, the Red Storm ran spread pick-and-roll til the cows came home. Bagley nor Carter nor Marques Bolden could handle Shamorie Ponds on switches, which forced the favorites into zone for most of the game. Bagley picked up some cheap fouls along the way, halting his superb start on offense. Even on a less-than-stellar day overall, Marvin still flashed an exquisite offensive skill set. He’s not slow-footed. There’s reason to believe he can improve on defense. From what I’ve seen though, Duke doesn’t play much man-to-man. Unless that changes come tournament time (doubtful given the team’s youth), the question marks about how he’ll translate on that end in the NBA aren’t going anywhere.
A more optimistic (yet still measured, hopefully) floor for Bagley is a super-sized version of Thaddeus Young. A former Sixth Man of the Year candidate on a yearly basis for the Sixers, the 29-year-old power forward has settled into a starting role for the Pacers, perhaps the most pleasantly surprising team of 2017-18. In his early days, Young Thad was a delight on the fastbreak, an exceptional athlete who bewildered opponents with strong jab steps, furious pump fakes, sneaky spin moves, running hooks and saucy savvy that’s eerily similar to what’s already in Bagley’s bag of Blue-Devilish tricks and treats. A consummate professional, Young has adapted and improved over the course of his career, becoming even more of a threat in the half court by extending his range to the NBA three-point line. Bagley will try to follow in Young’s footsteps, and the freshman is off to a pretty good start from beyond the arc (18-50, 36.0 percent).
But Thad is also a reliable cog defensively. Memphis-raised, he embodies the Grizzlies’ Grit-N-Grind persona, banging admirably against bigger bodies while also being nimble enough to step out and slide his feet against perimeter players. Prior to Sunday’s matchup with the Wizards, Indiana boasted a Net Rating of Plus-4.0 with Young on the court, per NBAwowy.com. Meanwhile, Indy has a Net Rating of minus-3.3 during 954 minutes without him. The team’s offensive rating remains the same (112.2-to-112.1). It’s Indiana’s Defensive Rating that skyrockets (in a bad way) when he sits (108.2-to-115.4). That speaks to their lack of depth at the position, but it also illustrates Young’s defensive acumen.
The most optimistic comparison for Bagley remains one of the most common: Chris Bosh. Bagley’s career should not be considered a failure if he does not reach the same level we saw from the should-be future Hall-of-Famer.
Bosh became a solid stopper and the anchor for Miami’s defense, but that was not his reputation entering the league. An aging Tim Duncan had some famous throwback performances against Bosh in the NBA Finals, but then again we’re talking about a guy who should be in the GOAT conversation. Standing 7-0, Bosh’s length (7-4 wingspan, 9-1 standing reach), agility and hands made him an ideal center for the modern era. It’s a real shame that his career was cut short.
Ideal Landing Spots
Like almost every prospect, where Bagley lands will have a lot to do with whether he looks more like Beasley, Young or Bosh when he reaches his prime. If Marvin lands in Sacramento, brace yourself for the former. If it’s Memphis, maybe he’ll be the middle man. Perhaps Boston’s Brad Stevens could transform Bagley into Bosh-Lite. If I were running an NBA franchise, I might prefer Mikal Bridges over Bagley, but I don’t expect that will happen on draft day.
Based on his size, athleticism and scoring ability, it’s tough to see Bagley falling outside of the top seven picks, and there are eight teams with no motivation to win more games going forward this season. Among those eight teams (Memphis, Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas, Sacramento, Orlando, Chicago, N.Y.), I’d say only two are ideal fits for MBIII.
Memphis and New York already have stud two-way centers who can dominate on the perimeter offensively and protect the rim on defense. Pairing Bagley with Gasol or Porzingis would allow him to operate inside the painted area on offense, crashing the glass and feasting against smaller defenders. The former is an especially gifted passer who used to work the high-low game to perfection with Z-Bo while the latter is more score-first but will be around a lot longer.
Phoenix doesn’t have a reputation for defense. Expecting Bagley to solve those woes as the anchor or develop alongside the young big men already in the fold (Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss) is a recipe for disappointment. Atlanta’s probably not the answer, at least not if that means pairing him with John Collins. Rick Carlisle would almost certainly bury Bagley on the bench behind Salah Mejri. Marvin isn’t the savior for Sacramento either. Flanking Bagley with Aaron Gordon at the 4 and Jonathan Isaac at the 3 is tempting, I’ll admit, but I don’t see it ending happily in Disney. Lauri Markkanen and the Chicago Bulls would be so much better off with Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mohamed Bamba.
Unless a Bosh-esque player is the end result for Bagley, the aforementioned squads, as well as Philly, make little sense. Boston could afford to wait on his development thanks to the presence of All-Star Al Horford. Cleveland would presumably blow it up and build from scratch if LeBron James bolts, in which case Bagley would be an intriguing option. So for those keeping track at home, that’s four clubs (Memphis, New York, Boston, Cleveland). And for those who enjoy old-school ball, Bagley represents a potentially rare blend of both old and new. Can he put it all together?