Nemanja Bjelica

What Marvin Bagley injury means for Kings during, beyond NBA restart

What Marvin Bagley injury means for Kings during, beyond NBA restart

His talent is tantalizing. His injury history is growing by the day.

These two ingredients don’t usually mix well.

Kings big man Marvin Bagley did everything right during the NBA’s shutdown. Bagley worked hard with his dad and two brothers. He gained 10 pounds of muscle. The 21-year-old had a workout partner to battle in the post and clearly got stronger knowing that he was likely to play center moving forward.

In the short term, none of that matters now. A bad step in practice Sunday cost Bagley the remainder of the 2019-20 season, however long that will last for Sacramento.

Bagley goes back to square one. He eventually will be cleared to restart basketball-related activities, but it will be well after the season ends. Hopefully, he will be able to continue his workouts with a focus on his upper body and core.

The reality for the Kings is that Bagley’s season ended Jan. 20, when he reinjured his other foot while playing 38 minutes in a loss to the Miami Heat. He played in just 13 games in what now is a completely lost season for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Before the league shut down on March 11, the Kings did not intend to play Bagley another minute down the stretch. He was close to being cleared, but he was going to watch from the sidelines with 18 games remaining on the schedule and the team in the middle of a playoff chase.

With time to heal, the Kings were willing to take a “wait and see approach” to Bagley during the restart. Once Alex Len and Harrison Barnes tested positive for the coronavirus, a door was cracked open. When Richaun Holmes got sent to his room for 10 days, Bagley became one of the few options at center, along with Harry Giles.

Holmes came back to practice Tuesday and should be ready to log minutes by the end of the week. Len is further behind after testing positive for the coronavirus for 24 consecutive days, but it’s possible his workouts can be ramped up before the Kings open their eight-game schedule against the San Antonio Spurs on July 31.

Barnes still is in Sacramento awaiting clearance from the league, but the Kings are holding a roster spot open in anticipation of his arrival in the Orlando bubble in the near future.

Giles has earned a spot in the restart with his strong play in training camp. Nemanja Bjelica also has solidified his job as the starting power forward. Veterans Kent Bazemore and Corey Brewer are ready for action as well at both forward positions.

Finding a spot for Bagley was going to be difficult even with a short-handed squad. It’s not about talent or projecting out a career at this point in the season. It’s about experience and what is best for the team in an abbreviated sprint to the finish line.

Could Bagley have earned a few minutes here and there? Maybe, but Walton would have had the difficult task of putting him in perfect situations to succeed and then hoping for the best.

The Kings’ lineup survived without Bagley for 51 games this season. In fact, they were just 2-11 when he played.

There is no question that the Kings still consider Bagley the future at either the four or the five. But at this point, he is more than a year behind in development and his inability to stay on the floor has to make general manager Vlade Divac nervous.

[RELATED: Fox close to return for Kings, making progress on ankle]

This is a disappointing end to the season for a promising young player, but it isn’t the end of the world. Bagley won’t need surgery and, he reportedly is expected to be out of a boot in a couple of weeks.

Is it bad luck? Is it something more? We don’t know, but Bagley has a few months to get his body 100 percent and try again next season with considerably lower expectations.

Kings' Nemanja Bjelica ready to shoulder load with Marvin Bagley hurt

Kings' Nemanja Bjelica ready to shoulder load with Marvin Bagley hurt

In each of the last two seasons, the Kings have been saved by an underappreciated player.

Nemanja Bjelica isn’t flashy and he isn’t going to win any foot races. He can’t jump over his defender and his physique might say computer programmer more than it does NBA player.

But when the Kings need someone to step in and hit a big shot or fill a void at a position, the Serbian-born big has more often than not come through.

“He’s great for us,” coach Luke Walton said. “One of the things I learned from coaching him this year is how much more he has to his game than just being a shooter. His playmaking ability, he’s a solid rebounder, very intelligent as far as being a team defender. He has got a lot to his game I didn’t know about.”

The 32-year-old seems to be getting better with age. Thrust back into the starting lineup after the opening game of the season when Marvin Bagley broke his thumb, Bjelica is having another career-year in Sacramento.

In 28.5 minutes per game, he’s averaging 11.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists. All of those numbers are career-highs, as is his 42.4 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line.

Bjelica isn’t the most agile player and there are moments when he gets into trouble on the defensive end, but his abilities to stretch the floor and make the right play have helped stabilize the Kings' starting lineup.

“I like shooting 3s, spreading the court, but I also think I can do some other things and also make my teammates better,” Bjelica said.

With the Kings missing Richaun Holmes and Alex Len for much of camp, Bjelica has been asked to shift over and play center as well as power forward. His versatility allows Walton to play small ball, and he can even run the offense through Bjelica for stretches.

“To be honest with you, I like playing sometimes at the five, especially the stretch five,” Bjelica said. “When I need to stretch the floor, with Buddy [Hield] and Bogi [Bogdan Bogdanovic] together, especially with De’Aaron [Fox] on the court. I feel comfortable.”

After logging 70 starts last season, Bjelica started 61 of the Kings’ 63 final games before the current campaign was halted. He has become a reliable asset to the Kings’ rotation and clearly has earned his minutes from the coaching staff.

“It gives you a lot of confidence, especially when coach trusts you,” Bjelica said. “The rest of your teammates can see that and everybody trusts you. It’s a nice feeling when you feel important for the team, that I can do some good stuff.”

A long-time member of the Serbian national team, Bjelica often plays throughout the offseason. The four-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic allowed the 6-foot-10 big man a chance to take a break, heal up and then focus on his body for the upcoming sprint to the finish line.

“I feel really good, I lost some weight and I’m ready for the restart,” Bjelica said.

Finding a reliable stretch four is imperative in the modern NBA. Bjelica ranks second among all NBA power forwards in 3-point percentage on the season and is the Kings’ leader in 3-point percentage.

[RELATED: Kings declare Bagley out for season with right foot sprain]

Sacramento landed Bjelica in the summer of 2018 on a three-year, $20.5 million contract. The third year is non-guaranteed, but at this point, the Kings would be crazy not to pick up the final season at $7.15 million, especially with Bagley’s continued issues with injuries.

The Kings have missed on several free agents over the last few seasons, but Bjelica has been an absolute find. If the Kings have a shot at upsetting the oddsmakers in the Orlando bubble and stealing a playoff spot, they’ll once again need their starting power forward to come up big.

Kings' Harry Giles taking advantage of opportunity, ready to compete

Kings' Harry Giles taking advantage of opportunity, ready to compete

When one door closes, another one opens.

The Sacramento Kings have been hit hard at the center position and it seems to get worse almost every day.

First, it was Alex Len testing positive for the coronavirus. Then Richaun Holmes was put on ice for 10 days for violating NBA bubble rules. With both of these players out of action, coach Luke Walton turned to Harry Giles and then shifted Marvin Bagley over to the five as well.

Monday brought a new challenge for Walton when Bagley underwent an MRI and is once again on the sidelines, this time with a right foot injury.

“We do not have an update,” Walton said about Bagley to open up the team’s Zoom call on Monday. “He is receiving an MRI, he hurt his right foot yesterday in practice on an offensive rebound. He came down on somebody’s foot and that’s all we have.”

With so many missing bodies, Walton has turned to Giles to shoulder most of the load and according to the Kings’ coach, the second-year big has stepped up to the challenge.

“Harry’s been one of our better players throughout camp,” Walton said. “I think Harry did a really nice job of showing up here in Orlando in game shape and ready to compete.”

This wasn’t the case for Giles when the Kings opened training camp back in September. Giles quickly found himself on the outside looking in on the Kings’ rotation when he showed up to camp in less than stellar shape.

While Giles worked himself back in shape, Walton centered on a rotation of Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes at center and Giles was forced to wait for his opportunity.

“As a new staff, we didn’t have time to see him, and then by the time he was ready, we had rotations and everything else going,” Walton said. “As the year’s gone on, we’ve gotten to know Harry and we have trust in him.”

According to Bogdan Bogdanovic, Giles has worked as a point-five during the restart. The Kings are running the ball through the 22-year-old, taking advantage of his advanced passing skills.

“Honestly, in the team we play together, we use Harry as our point guard,” Bogdanovic said. “He can pass so I try not to dribble as much. I hit him as soon as I can and I play off him.”

Giles has shown flashes of brilliance as a passer. He is adept at running the high post and he sees the floor as well as any player on the team.

“Because he’s a passer, they look for him when he’s out there because they know they can get it back,” Walton said. “He’s had a solid camp for us.”

To give the team a second option at center, Walton has shifted Nemanja Bjelica over from his natural power forward spot to eat some minutes. There is a hope that it is a short term solution with a few bigs expected back in the coming days.

Len is slowly working himself back into shape after missing nearly a month with the virus. Holmes is expected to get out of lockdown on Tuesday, which should help matters as well, but he’s been stuck in a hotel room for 10 days.

Giles will likely open the first scrimmage as the starter for Walton on Wednesday. He’s started 17 games this season for the Kings and is a big part of the team’s midseason turnaround.

[RELATED: Kings' first two scrimmage games to be televised on NBC Sports California]

At this point, Giles’ availability makes him one of the most important players on the roster. That may change over the next week as we build toward the eight-game restart and the Kings get reinforcements, but there is something to be said about a player who showed up ready to compete and fight for his spot in the rotation.

Like Len, Giles is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He’s auditioning for all 30 teams and it looks like he might get some major time to show his skill set.