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Barely 19 years old, Marvin Bagley is one of the youngest prospects on our draft board, and after a stellar freshman season at Duke, he is likely to be one of the first five selections in the 2018 NBA Draft. One year ago, he was finishing up his junior year at high school, and he probably didn’t expect to be sitting where he is today. At the time, he was regarded as the consensus No. 1 recruit in the high school class of 2018. However, last summer, he was able to do additional class work and meet all of the academic requirements to graduate in August, which allowed him to reclassify to the 2017 class and earn acceptance at Duke.
In his one season with the Blue Devils, Bagley earned a host of honors and compiled some very impressive stats. He was just the third player in ACC history to lead the conference in scoring, rebounding, and shooting percentage in a season, averaging 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game while shooting 61.4 percent from the field. He was only one of four players in NCAA (DI) to average better than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game this season. He led the nation in putbacks with 57, and he finished among the top ten in both offensive (4.0) and total rebounds per game. He also finished in the top ten for PER (28.3), floor impact (total FIC of 594.1), and win shares (7.0). He topped off the season with a number of honors, including first-team All-American, ACC Player of the Year, and ACC Rookie of the year, and he became just the second player in ACC history to win the latter two awards in the same season.
Of all of the prospects in this year’s draft class, Bagley probably has the best combination of height and athleticism, with his incredible jumping ability standing out the most. He was not tested at the NBA Combine, but I would estimate that he has a standing and max vertical of at least 34 inches and 40 inches, respectively. He truly explodes off the floor, even from a standing position, and he can go up multiple times in a row in the blink of an eye. His ability to jump, combined with his length, gives him a huge catch radius for grabbing lobs and rebounds. It also allows him to finish around the rim rather efficiently and emphatically. This past season, he made 77 percent of his shots at the rim, a number of which were in posterizing fashion.
Bagley has a lot of versatility as a scorer. He is a lefty, who can dominate in the paint and make an occasional 3. He is fast up and down the court, and is terrific as a rim runner and a finisher. He can put the ball on the floor, and drive in either direction. He has a quick first step, and can go from the foul line to the rim with one stride. He is effective using spins, Eurosteps, and jump stops off the bounce, and he even has a midrange hop shot in his bag of tricks. On the downside, he is very dependent on his left hand when finishing around the rim, and though it did not hurt him at college, it is something he will want to work on at the next level.
Bagley scored in a variety of ways this past season, but ultimately, the vast majority of his shots (83%) came from within eight feet of the basket. Offensive rebounds alone accounted for 18% of his shots. Another 18% came as a cutter, and he averaged 1.43 points per possession (90th percentile) on those shots. He scored on drives from the perimeter and on rolls to the basket, and he was also dangerous in transition, averaging 1.14 points per possession (67th percentile), and leading all big men in this draft class with 38 fast-break buckets (see table on right).
Post-up situations accounted for the highest percentage of Bagley’s touches (24%) this season, and overall, he was effective, averaging .95 points per possession, and ranking at the 78th percentile. However, his post game is somewhat limited at this point in time, as he relies a great deal on his ability to attack the basket. On the low block, he is somewhat predictable, preferring to turn to his right, and relying a lot on left-hand hooks – shots that he didn’t make with great consistency (45%) this season.
Bagley’s ability to make plays away from the basket is one of the aspects of his game that sets him apart from most other bigs in this class. Fellow big men usually cannot match his athleticism on the perimeter, and he fared well in isolation, spot-up, and pick-and-roll situations this season, showing the ability to both go to the basket and shoot from the outside. In spot-up and isolation situations combined, he averaged nearly a point per possession and made 46 percent of his shots. In the pick and roll, he averaged 1.5 points per possession and ranked at the 97th percentile. In all of these situations, most of his points came from shots attempted while going to the basket, as opposed to jumpers. However, he did show a lot of promise as a jump shooter on his limited attempts, displaying solid shooting mechanics, making more than 37 percent of his shots, and averaging 1.07 points per possession (77th percentile). From beyond the arc, he was especially effective, making 19 of 46 attempts (41%).
With most of his shots coming around the basket, many of which were off aggressive drives, Bagley went to the free-throw line on 19 percent of his possessions. He averaged 6.3 free-throw attempts per game, which ranked 52nd in the country. Unfortunately, he was not overly consistent at the charity stripe, converting on just 63 percent of his attempts. Obviously, this is an area where he needs to improve.
Two other areas where Bagley can improve are ball security and passing. He averaged a respectable 1.5 assists per game, but his efficiency was below average as a passer. For example, in post-up situations, his passes produced 1.03 points per possession, which ranked at the 45th percentile. At the same time, he averaged 2.3 turnovers per game, and he was especially prone to turning the ball over in isolation situations.
Bagley’s most glaring negative stat is that he averaged less than one blocked shot per game (.9). For someone with his height, quickness, and vertical, at lease two blocks per game is expected. Of course, we have to take into consideration that Duke played a lot of zone this season, and Bagley usually didn’t play in the middle of that zone. Between November and January, when the Blue Devils were not exclusively a zone team, he had seven games with at least two blocks, but from February forward, he had just two such games. Even so, less than one block per game is still a big concern. Part of the problem is that he doesn’t have a tremendous wingspan. He also doesn’t display the best timing and awareness to make use of his ability to get off the floor.
Bagley gives good effort on the defensive end, and his overall defensive numbers were very solid. In man and zone combined, he limited opponents to .79 points per possession (74th percentile) and a field-goal percentage of 31.6. When playing man, he did his best work in the post, ranking in the 96th percentile, though his opportunities were very limited. He had some trouble as a man-to-man defender when guarding perimeter shooters who were either spotting up or catching and shooting off screens. In such cases, he typically failed to stay connected with the shooters, off the ball, and that could be attributed far more to a lack of experience and poor decisions than to his physical ability to defend. He also struggled to produce turnovers (.8 steals per game), which, like shot blocking, can be attributed to a combination of a short wingspan, poor timing, and a lack of awareness.
Over the last year, Bagley has taken a lot of heat. He’s been called selfish and a player without a position. There were also rumors about friction between him and the Duke coaching staff. I have observed that he can be testy at times, but not in a way that appears to affect his team. I do believe that he must work on taking better care of the ball and being a more willing passer, but I do not see these as being critical issues. I have never questioned his effort and hustle, and that is a far bigger issue to me.
As for him being a positionless player, I think that is a bunch of nonsense. In the modern NBA, Bagley will be asked to play some at the five spot, and his inability to block shots will undoubtedly be an issue. However, there are plenty of players who currently spend a lot of time at the five spot who don’t block a lot of shots (Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and so on), and they do just fine. Guys such as Griffin and Love also spend a fair amount of time playing at the four spot, alongside rim protectors, and there is no reason that Bagley cannot do the same. At a minimum, he certainly has the athleticism to more than adequately defend on the perimeter, which is typically why big men loose minutes.
In all probability, Bagley will not be an elite NBA defender, but as an offensive player, he has a great deal of potential. We already know that he can run and jump, score around the rim, and rebound at a high level. How much success he has as a pro will likely be determined by how much he can expand his offensive game, mainly from the perimeter. His success this past season from beyond the arc is encouraging, but it’s only a small sample, and his struggles from the free-throw line do curb the enthusiasm. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever be a great ball handler in a Kevin Durant-like way, but Bagley does show the ability to put the ball on the floor. The next step would be to develop a midrange game that involved making some shots off the bounce. It also would be a plus if he further developed his post-up game. In sum, I believe on just his athleticism alone, he will be a solid performer, and if he expands his game, he should be headed for greatness.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports and RealGM, and occasionally from Hoop-Math.com and Sports Reference.