SACRAMENTO -- Midway through the first quarter, Kings head coach Luke Walton looked down his bench and called on Marvin Bagley to go to the scorer's table and check-in. It was a big moment for Bagley, who had missed the previous 22 games with a broken right thumb.
Moments later, Bagley faced up his defender and hoisted up an 18-foot jumper. The shot attempt sailed over the rim, missing everything, much to the chagrin of all 16,723 fans at Golden 1 Center.
The moment was a reminder that Bagley is a 20-year-old kid who hasn’t played in seven weeks and will need some time to find his rhythm before he takes the expected leap into stardom.
“He didn’t play his best, he’s trying to get his feet back,” Buddy Hield said after the Kings’ 94-93 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. “His best basketball is yet to come.”
Bagley showed flashes of brilliance and bouts of impatience. He finished the game with 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting to go with six rebounds and a block. He managed to make it through 23 minutes of play without needing an oxygen mask and he ran the floor like a gazelle.
“I had to get my wind back the first three times up and down,” Bagley admitted. “But then after that, I was kind of back to normal. I feel pretty good, I was able to get my second wind and keep pushing, so it was good overall.”
Taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley opened the season as the Kings’ starting power forward. He’ll likely regain that spot, but for now, the team is playing well with Nemanja Bjelica at the four.
Walton used Bagley primarily at center, splitting minutes down the middle with Richaun Holmes. While Bagley has a more advanced offensive game, Holmes is a top-notch pick-and-roll player and a far superior defender at this point in his career.
The combination worked against the Thunder, but there will have to come a time when Walton figures out how to use both bigs on the court at the same time.
What was evident from his time on the floor is that Bagley still has springs in his legs and his ability to get off the floor in traffic is elite.
It will take time for Bagley to completely find his game. A seven-week absence is a long stretch for any player, let alone a sophomore trying to work himself into a new role. The fact that he took 13 shots in his return to the court shows that he hasn’t lost his confidence and he’s ready to step in and being a primary scoring option.
“I mean, I’ll never lose confidence,” Bagley said. “My confidence is through the room no matter what’s going on during the game, no matter who’s coaching, no matter what. My confidence is always going to be there and that’s how I have always been. I know what I’m capable of doing. I know the kind of work I put in. My confidence is sky high so that’s never an issue for me.”
Bagley will get another opportunity to build on his first game back when the Kings host the New York Knicks on Friday. After losing 10 straight, New York held on to beat the Warriors on Wednesday evening for just their fifth victory of the season.
The Knicks are in the bottom of the NBA’s standings, but they have a big, physical, veteran frontline that will test Bagley and the rest of the Kings bigs.