Marvin Bagley’s first appearance in the national spotlight lasted all of 10 minutes. The top-ranked recruit in the country, who had reclassified three months earlier and then enrolled at Duke, was poked in the eye midway through the first half against No. 2 Michigan State in the Champions Classic at the United Center. Luckily for him the eye injury wasn’t serious. And lucky for college basketball fans, Bagley’s next opportunity to play in front of a national audience came less than two weeks later at the PK80 Phil Knight Classic in Portland, Ore.
And it was there that Bagley became a one-man wrecking crew over a four-day period and showed the country – and countless NBA executives watching on TV and in-person – why he’s perhaps the most intriguing player in the 2018 class. In three games, against Portland State, Texas and No. 5 Florida, Bagley averaged 27.3 points and 15.0 rebounds, shot 55 percent from the field and was named the tournament’s MVP for the champion Blue Devils. He sat nine total minutes in three games and had back-to-back 30-point, 15-rebound games; there were 28 of those games across college basketball all season (and Bagley had two more of them later in the year. He accounted for four of the 28 30-15 games).
Monster numbers were commonplace for Bagley is his lone collegiate season. He was the only player in the country to average 21 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 61 percent or better from the field. In fact, he was just the second underclassman to accomplish that feat since 1992. The other? A sophomore named Blake Griffin, who was picked first overall in the 2009 NBA Draft.
On a team littered with individual talent, including Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter and Gary Trent, Bagley topped the Blue Devils in points (21.0), rebounds (11.1), field goal percentage (61.4%), FGA (440) and FTA (209). He was one of four freshmen to reach 440 field goal attempts and 200 free throw attempts, and he did so on a team loaded with offensive firepower that finished the year third in efficiency (behind Villanova and Purdue).
Bagley’s scoring acumen is evident. Pick a game, any game, and you’ll see a blend of explosive athleticism around the rim, a player confident going left off the dribble and using the midrange, and a soft touch in post-up situations. Bagley was born to score, plain and simple. His 1.14 points per possession ranked in the 97th percentile nationally, and his jump shot (77th percentile), pick and roll (97th) and post-up (78th) were all far above average. He shot nearly 40 percent on 58 3-pointers and his stroke looks natural; Duke just simply didn’t need him to make 3s with such a talented backcourt.
His leaping ability also made him a monster on the offensive glass, where he averaged 4.0 per game and scored 137 points on 101 possessions. He’s a quick 6-foot-11 and though his dribble needs some refining, his ability to shoot from 15-17 feet (37 percent on jumpers) allowed him to score off drives. Subsequently, a nasty jab step put defenders on their heels and created room for jumpers. He’s a nightmare on the left elbow and block, and he shouldn’t have any problem averaging 15 points per game as a rookie. He does it all, though he is a bit left-hand dependent.
The Blue Devils switched to a wildly successful zone midway through the season, and that made it difficult to assess Bagley on that end. He also had Carter as the anchor of that zone, which certainly helped. What can be said about Bagley is that he doesn’t let his athleticism and quickness go to waste, or do all the work. He’s a maximum effort player, which is a big reason why Coach K’s zone was able to work so well. His 2.6 percent block percentage was on par with Julius Randle, and his 1.4 steal percentage was higher than Griffin’s (1.0) and Aaron Gordon’s at Arizona (1.0). He drew fewer fouls per 40 than those players, too, though the zone certainly helped in that capacity. He won’t be a rim protector or someone constantly banging inside, but his effort combined with athleticism makes him a pretty sure bet to succeed there. That quickness should help him in pick-and-roll coverage, something we didn’t see much of at Duke.
He won’t ever wind up on an All-NBA Defensive Team, and he likely won’t have Kevin Durant’s handle for a near 7-footer. But Bagley checks just about all the other boxes. He’s the best scorer in the draft class – apologies, Trae Young – and his athletic prowess and effort will allow him, at worst, to be a serviceable defender at the next level. Instead of playing a final year of high school basketball he jumped to college and won ACC Player of the Year and helped Duke to 29 wins and an Elite 8 appearance.
There’s no denying adding Bagley to the Bulls’ frontcourt would instantly improve the 28th ranked offense. Fred Hoiberg’s offense doesn’t need a true center, and giving Kris Dunn multiple options to run the offense to the left (Bagley) or right (Lauri Markkanen) with shooters on the wings/in the corners sounds like a recipe for success. Of course the Bulls would lack defensively with a Markkanen/Bagley frontcourt, but at this stage in the Bulls’ rebuild obtaining the best player possible trumps any need. If Bagley becomes Chris Bosh, no one is going to criticize his defensive shortcomings, and the Bulls can build around him and Markkanen with solid wing defenders.
And it’s not as if Bagley is a poor defender; his offense outshines his defense at this stage in his career, but he’s got the unteachable parts down (athleticism, quickness and effort). He may not have the length of an Ayton/Bamba/Jackson, but it’d hardly be a surprise to see him transform into a plus defender to go with an elite offensive skill set. If the Bulls move into the top 3, third specifically, he’s a player they need to consider to balance the offense, improve scoring/efficiency and perhaps give them in the long run the best two-way player in the class.