Desperate times call for desperate measures.
It’s a mantra that the Kings have known all too well early this NBA season. They’ve hit a rough patch, and now the injury bug has started to hit them hard.
In Sacramento’s 122-114 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night, the Kings were down Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Glenn Robinson III. Marvin Bagley and DaQuan Jeffries were also on a minutes restriction.
Coach Luke Walton did his best to manage Bagley’s minutes early, but with the game in the balance and his team mired in what is now a six-game losing streak, a decision had to be made.
“He was about to take me out and I just told him, ‘I’m good, let me rock out, let me finish the rest of this game, let me play,’” Bagley said in a postgame video conference with reporters. “I wanted to be out there. I wanted to get this win bad, and I just let him know. He trusted me and let me go.”
The 21-year-old bounced back and forth between power forward and center, and the Bulls had no answer. Bagley posted 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting and added 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
“I think he’s attacking rebounds much more aggressively, I think he’s attacking the rim much more aggressively and it’s part of the process for a young player,” Walton said. “It’s a big, strong league and once you feel you can hold your own and push people around as well, it gets a little easier and a little more fun.”
In total, Bagley played a little over 35 minutes, which is just a minute off his season-high. He played 21 and 24 minutes in the Kings' previous two games. The goal was likely to keep him around the 28-minute mark, but with the team short-handed and Bagley finding success, Walton went with his gut.
“I went over the minutes restriction, but I asked him how he was feeling and [he said great],” Walton said. “The way he was competing, we want to get better. When we’re out there and we have a certain group that’s competing that hard and if a player tells me he feels good, I’m going to trust that player unless it’s something drastic, in which the medical staff would let me know.”
The Kings almost always err on the side of caution. He struggled with injury as a rookie, and he played a total of 13 games due to thumb and foot issues last season. The Kings’ medical staff is hoping to keep him healthy and get him the experience on the court that he desperately needs to develop.
But neither they nor Walton could deny what they saw on the court. Bagley was having fun. He was playing above the rim, flying to rebounds and continuing to show improvement on the defensive end.
“He’s continuing to grow both offensively and defensively and that’s what you like to see,” De’Aaron Fox said. “Obviously, you want to win while seeing the growth, but that’s a positive.”
It hasn’t been easy for Bagley. There are a lot of expectations that come with being a No. 2 overall pick and his injury setbacks have allowed questions to creep in. But he’s a confident young man who wants to be a good NBA player and has put in a lot of work to improve on the court.
“I’m just staying with it,” Bagley said. “There are highs and lows in this game. You go through certain things, things you don’t expect to go through. You’ve got to keep fighting to get through those things. I’m at that point, man. I’ve always been a fighter.”
Bagley has missed just two games this season due to injury, and he's as close to 100 percent as we have seen in a while. He finally looks like he’s getting comfortable on the court, which is extremely positive for the Kings.
Can he hold up? Can he continue to produce at a high-level on a nightly basis and stay a fixture in the Kings’ starting lineup?
That is the huge question and we may not have to wait long to figure it out. The Kings hopped a bus to Milwaukee following the game where they’ll take on the Bucks Sunday on the second night of a back-to-back.
Bagley passed a major test against the Bulls, but the NBA's schedule is unrelenting. The Kings are hoping he feels well enough to play major minutes again, especially if Barnes and Holmes continue to miss time.