Kings' Marvin Bagley remains confident despite rusty showing in return

Kings' Marvin Bagley remains confident despite rusty showing in return

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.

[RELATED: Kings in position to redeem themselves after playoff stumble last year]

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.

Kobe Bryant soaked up, enjoyed his final game vs. Kings in Sacramento

Kobe Bryant soaked up, enjoyed his final game vs. Kings in Sacramento

With the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant on Sunday morning, it gives us a moment to look back at the superstar in a different light. As a player, he brutalized the Sacramento Kings on so many occasions, but his greatness on the court isn’t what stood out. 

The 18-time All-Star wasn’t always easy to deal with. He clearly didn’t love speaking to the media after each and every game, especially on the road, when the demand for his time came from unfamiliar voices.

This isn’t uncommon amongst NBA players. There is a trust and familiarity that is built with the people who cover you on a daily basis. 

In his final visit to Sacramento on Jan. 7, 2016, Bryant was different. He laughed and smiled as Kings fans booed him one last time. When the noise turned from heckles to cheers, he acknowledged the fans that he had single handedly hurt so many times before. 

Following the Lakers' 118-115 loss to the Kings that night, he held a full press conference, even speaking on Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. 

“I don’t think anything will ever top Game 7,” Bryant said. “Not the end of Game 7, but the beginning of Game 7, the start. The announcing of the starting five, the lights going out and all those cool lights they gave everybody and just waving them around and you just kinda feel the electricity in the building. That was the best part.”

On that night in 2016, Bryant wasn’t the player he had been in past visits, but he still managed to score 28 points, with 18 of those coming in the first half. Bryant sat out the fourth quarter as his Lakers rallied and almost caught the Kings.

This was a kinder gentler Bryant than we had seen in previous seasons. He was on his farewell tour and he seemed to finally be able to enjoy the ride. He even took a moment to stop and take pictures with Rudy Gay and his son that evening, which humanized him in a way that I didn’t believe possible.

There have been very few athletes like Bryant in the history of not only basketball, but professional sports. His work ethic and focus were surpassed by none.

[RELATED: Kings lose their greatest adversary]

He spent a lifetime being in his own moment. It was obvious being around him that his intensity and passion for his craft made him great. Basketball was his obsession.  

In his final visit to Sacramento, it was like he finally found a way to be a fan again. He was able to appreciate his accomplishments and enjoy the moment.

Kings players react to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's death in helicopter crash

Kings players react to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's death in helicopter crash

There never will another Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers star died Sunday morning at 41 years old in a helicopter crash.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were two of nine people who died in the crash on the Calabasas hills. The Sacramento Kings released the following statement to express their deepest regards to the Bryant family and those involved in the crash. 

Bryant had some of his greatest battles with the Kings and forever will be part of the franchise's story. He also helped mentor some of their brightest young players like Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox.

[RELATED: Kings lose their greatest adversary with Kobe's tragic death]

Kings players past and present mourned Bryant's death Sunday with multiple messages on social media. 

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Eternal Respect🙏🏽👊🏽🏀 #RIPKobeGiGi💜

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