There was hardly a more dominant player in college basketball this past year than Marvin Bagley III.
It seemed like there was nothing and no one that could stop him (more on this in a minute of why this isn’t necessarily a good thing). Though he played against some of the best competition in the country, his combination of size at 6’11 and superior athleticism allowed him to dominate as he averaged 20.7 points and 11.2 rebounds on one of the most talented teams in Duke’s history. He was also a consensus first-team All-American, the ACC Player of the Year, and the ACC Rookie of the Year.
And he is just 19-years-old.
Even before the season started when some had him as the number one pick, few expected that Bagley would have the impact that he did in his lone season at Duke. He truly exceeded expectations for himself in nearly every way, becoming one of the best players in the country as he did so.
So why has he fallen out of top three in many recent mock drafts (something that I know many Memphis fans will celebrate)? Or better yet, what are the concerns about how his game will fit in the NBA?
First, let’s discuss what Bagley excels at, which is basically everything on the offensive end. His scoring ability was unmatched in college as he led the ACC in both field goal percentage (61.4%) and effective field goal percentage (64%). Even if his shaky jumper never improves (which even with that “concern,” he still shot 39% from three on 1.8 attempts per game), he projects to be an impressive face-up scorer who will be able to score from two levels consistently.
As for the other half of his 20-10 dominance, Bagley’s elite rebounding should also translate well to the NBA level. His 11.1 rebounds ranked 9th in the country and was first in the ACC (the next closest within the conference was North Carolina’s Luke Maye, who averaged over a full rebound less per game). Regardless of what you think his actual ceiling is, his advanced feel for the game as well as his high motor will likely allow him to excel in this area.
And then there is the fuel that makes the whole engine go—his athleticism. Both his scoring and his rebounding greatly benefitted from his physical superiority as he was able to simply overwhelm opponents most of the time. If teams put a smaller player on him, he would simply use his size and footwork to get to the basket at will. If they put a bigger player on him, he would use his sheer explosiveness and quickness to get past them. Because of his physical advantages and ridiculous stat lines, I see a good bit of Blake Griffin in him, even if his athleticism is not quite that pronounced.
There really isn’t any way to defend Marvin Bagley’s defense.
At the heart of Bagley’s issues on the defensive end is the fact that he is a bit of a tweener—he lacks the size and strength to defend true centers and even though he has good quickness for a big man, he still isn’t quick enough to defend wings. These issues affected him all year long at Duke where Coach Krzyzewski made the Blue Devils play a 2-3 zone defense that was designed to cover up for Bagley’s deficiencies. And with his defensive issues being as bad as they were at Duke, they will only be more exposed in the NBA.
Bagley will also not have the physical advantages on offense in the NBA that he enjoyed in college. As I said earlier, his physical superiority allowed him to overwhelm college opponents. However, in the NBA where players are far stronger and more athletic, he will not be able to dominate with ease the way he has his entire life. Will he still be able to excel offensively when he is on a more level athletic playing field?
Should the Grizzlies Pick Him?
I really do hate to burst the bubble of the Bagley faithful, but the chances of Marvin Bagley falling to the Memphis Grizzlies at the 4th pick are not very high, especially with the ESPN report that Sacramento and Atlanta are mainly interested in American front court players (if they are indeed accurate). If he is available, however, most people would agree that he’d be a home run selection for the Grizzlies.
Unfortunately, I am not like most people.
On my own personal draft board, I have Michael Porter Jr. a spot ahead of Marvin Bagley. If Porter’s medical evaluations look good, I believe that he is who the Grizzlies should select with the 4th pick. My reason for this is simple: The NBA is now a league that is led by dominant perimeter play, something Porter could provide if he is healthy that Bagley never could. We saw it with Minnesota this year, and we saw it with Denver: A team can have one of the best big men in the league, but it will only go as far as its perimeter play will take them. It’s also important to remember that many thought Porter could have been the number one pick before his back injury, and he could have the highest ceiling in the draft.
Marvin Bagley will be a very good NBA player and is one of the three guys in this draft that I think are “bust-proof.” If he able to reach his full ceiling, he could become a more athletic Chris Bosh. But if his deficiencies keep from reaching his potential, he could merely be an evolved version of Michael Beasley. If the Memphis Grizzlies pick Bagley on draft night, I will be satisfied about it even if I think there is a potentially better option.
After all, I would be more than happy to be wrong in this case.