The wait is over. Power forward Marvin Bagley finally is ready to return to the court after breaking his right thumb in the Sacramento Kings’ opening night loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Bagley is listed as probable for Thursday night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, after missing the previous 22 games.
Seven weeks is a long time to be away from live action, but Bagley has been active during the layoff. He was on the court within days of the injury, working with the team’s player development staff and staying in shape.
There is no word on whether Bagley will wear the soft cast that he has sported the last two months, but it’s unlikely he will have a minutes restriction when he enters the game for head coach Luke Walton.
After starting just four games as a rookie, Bagley opened the season with the first team, but a lot has changed since Oct. 23.
Richaun Holmes wrestled the starting center position away from veteran Dewayne Dedmon after only four games. Dedmon currently is out of the rotation after shooting a lowly 40.8 percent from the floor and 22.9 percent from 3-point range.
In addition to Holmes, Nemanja Bjelica has played well filling in for Bagley with the starting five over the last 22 games. Bjelica started 70 games for Sacramento last season and he’s currently averaging 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and shooting a team-best 42.6 percent from long range.
Where does Bagley fit in? Will Walton hand him his starting job back over a red-hot Bjelica? Will Bagley need time to integrate back into the system? What combinations of bigs will work together on the floor?
There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, all while the NBA schedule continues. With Bjelica and Holmes playing side-by-side, the Kings have found a rhythm as of late.
Holmes is a pick-and-roll specialist that brings energy and defensive intensity. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and is second in the league in both field goal percentage and true shooting.
Bjelica is a floor spacer who Walton recently has begun using to run the offense through in certain sets. He’s posting a career-best 2.6 assists per game, including 3.4 assists per game in December.
While Holmes continues to stack up double-doubles, Bjelica has been instrumental in the team’s win in Dallas on Sunday and again in Houston on Monday when he won the game with a 33-footer at the buzzer.
Bagley is the future, and before the injury, the present for Sacramento. The 6-foot-11 big is the team’s best low-post offensive weapon and arguably the Kings’ best rebounder. Like Holmes, he has springs in his legs, but is a more versatile offensive player.
There is a legitimate concern that a Bagley-Holmes pairing would clog the lane and create issues for the Kings’ offense. Neither is considered a distributor, and they both have limited range at this point of their careers, which is why the Kings brought in Dedmon.
But the Kings don’t really have a choice. Bagley and Holmes both are dynamic players who need major minutes. Walton has shown an ability to make adjustments, and he’ll have to find a way for his two best athletes to co-exist on the floor for at least short stints.
In the previous two games, Walton has tightened his rotation to eight players, with Dedmon sitting out both as a healthy scratch. This doesn’t bode well for a player the Kings invested a three-year, $40 million contract in over the summer.
With Bjelica playing well, Walton has his stretch player to play alongside both Holmes and Bagley. Walton also can steal minutes at the four with Harrison Barnes, but will need to figure out how to distribute time amongst a talented group.
Expect Walton to bring Bagley along slowly as they integrate him into the team’s system. The Kings slowly have began feeding the post over the last few games and the balance is needed.
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Eventually Bagley will get back to playing 30 minutes per game. He’ll put up numbers, but Walton has the difficult job of managing the development of a 20-year-old player with unlimited potential who has missed nearly two months of action with a new coaching staff.
After digging out of an 0-5 hole to start the year, the Kings have a soft spot in their schedule and a legitimate shot at making a run at the .500 mark over the next week. Expect Walton to be cognizant of that as he tries to add an intriguing, but inexperienced piece back into the fray.