At some point, Marvin Bagley III is going to force Dave Joerger’s hand with his play. Sacramento’s head coach has been reluctant to start his prized rookie, instead choosing to go with 30-year-old Nemanja Bjelica at the power forward position.
There are reasons you start a player like Bjelica over an unproven rookie, but those reasons are starting to fade. The veteran forward is a high IQ player that stretches the floor with his jumper. He’s seldom out of position and he can stuff the stat sheet.
But over the last few weeks, Bjelica has struggled mightily and Bagley is starting to build momentum to move into the starting lineup with his energetic play.
With Bjelica taking an evening off to rest and recover on Tuesday evening in Toronto, Bagley picked up his first NBA start. The 19-year-old didn’t disappoint.
“I think I played pretty good,” the former Duke star told reporters following the game. “I made a couple of mistakes here and there, but that’s the part of being out there and learning and growing as a player.”
Bagley dropped in a career-high 22 points on 10-of-20 shooting in the Kings’ 120-105 loss to the Raptors. It was first time a Kings player has scored 20 or more in his first NBA start since Omri Casspi achieved the feat in Dec. 16, 2009.
He also added a game-high 11 rebounds to go with a pair of blocks in 38 minutes of action. His double-double was the first 20-plus point, 10-plus rebound double-double in a first career start for the Kings since Nov. 29, 1972, when Mike Ratliff dropped in 20 points and 19 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Bagley continues to say the right things when asked about whether he would prefer to start or come off the bench. But he made it pretty clear with his play that he’s open to bigger role.
“I love playing and being out there,” Bagley said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win. We came up short tonight, but every game I try and come out and play like it’s my last game.”
Taken with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley is a walking double-double. He’s missed 14 games this season with two separate injuries, but his ability to act as a primary scorer in the post adds a new dimension to the Kings’ offense.
Where Bjelica helps spread the floor, Bagley has an advanced offensive game down low. He also has incredible potential as a rebounder and he continues to lead the team in blocks per game.
Joerger’s cautious approach to the development of the talented young big was the right move. Bjelica’s play helped the team get off to a shocking start and he is a valuable piece to what the Kings are trying to do.
But the time is coming when Bagley will step into the starting lineup on a regular basis. It might already be here.