SACRAMENTO -- There is a plan in place. For the first time in more than a decade, the Sacramento Kings have found success in developing young players. Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein have taken major steps forward and De’Aaron Fox looks like a franchise building block in just his second year in the league.
The idea of developing players doesn’t always work, Sacramento can attest to that. There is no blueprint for success that works 100 percent of the time. The Kings have drafted in the lottery every year since 2007 and they have struggled to find players that can stick in the league, let alone on the Kings’ roster.
Head coach Dave Joerger and his staff have plenty of young, high level selections to work with, but at some point, they have to throw players into the fire and see if they can perform.
Rookie Marvin Bagley is the current project the team is working into the rotation. Taken with the second overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, the 19-year-old old power forward is still trying to break into the starting lineup. Bagley has all the potential in the world, but the patient approach is something Sacramento used last season with Fox and it’s paying off in his sophomore season.
Fox was the focal point coming into last year, but the Kings added George Hill with the hopes that he would mentor the young point guard. Fox wasn’t given the starting job coming out of camp, it was the veteran who took the lumps as the team got off to a slow start.
“It was definitely a help for me last year, some people don’t see it that way, but I definitely think that George helped me a lot, especially being able to practice against him everyday,” Fox told NBC Sports California.
For the first five games of the 2017-18 season, Fox came off the bench in a reserve roll. He picked up two spot starts with Hill missing games, but it wasn’t until game 15 of the regular season that the former Kentucky star moved into the starting group for good.
“It’s just about being ready when your number is called,” Fox said. “I didn’t trip about my role last year. I knew I was young. George was proven. He’d been to the playoffs, played in the big game, so when I came in the game, I just tried to do what they asked me to do.”
Bagley has watched veteran Nemanja Bjelica start through the first 20 games of the regular season, but eventually, the time may come when he’s elevated to the first team.
“Whatever coach and the rest of the team needs from me, I’m willing to do,” Bagley told NBC Sports California. “I’m just ready when my number’s called and just trying to go out and produce everytime I’m out there on the floor.”
Over his last five games, Bagley has made a huge leap in production. The 6-foot-11 leaper has taken advantage of his opportunities, posting 16 points, 10 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just under 29 minutes per game. During the stretch, he’s shot 54.4 percent from the field and his aggressive style has led to 5.4 free throw attempts per game.
“I feel like I’m getting better and better,” Bagley said. “It’s coming along. I just can’t wait to develop some more things to add to my game and one day be one of those guys in this league that people know and people look up to and want to be like.”
The Kings have been impressed with Bagley’s maturity for such a young player. They are slowly feeding him more and more as the season moves toward December.
Before Sunday’s loss to Utah, Coach Joerger pointed to Bagley’s strong family influence off the court for his demeanor and willingness to be patient as he acclimates to the NBA game.
“I think that’s a different kind of dude than the dude who’s the oldest of three kids, his family is all hunkered in here to Sacramento,” Joerger said. “They haven’t let his head get big, they just have high character, high-quality family structure.”
Bjelica is helping to space the floor and he is a high basketball IQ player, but it’s only a matter of time before Bagley steals more of the spotlight in Sacramento. The rookie has an incredible motor and unlimited potential.
“I’m just having fun, man, and not worrying about things that I can’t control,” Bagley said. “It will just stress you out.”
Bagley doesn’t look stressed out at all on the court. The game is slowing down and he’s starting to show teams around the league why he was taken near the top of the draft. Against Utah on Sunday, he posted 18 points and six rebounds. The night before on the road at Golden State, he chipped in 20 points and 17 rebounds.
The Kings have a plan for bringing Bagley along. So far, it’s working out pretty well. The team is competitive and Bagley appears to be building in the same way that Fox did a season ago.