Marvin Bagley III
Marvin Bagley III should be getting more love.

When Marvin Bagley III reclassified and moved up a grade in high school, he overtook Michael Porter Jr. as the # 1 college recruit on most boards. However, despite solid stats in his first season at Duke (21.2 points, 11.4 rebounds per game) it feels like he’s actually losing ground somehow. Rarely do mock drafts have him at # 1 or # 2 right now — some have him as low as # 4 or # 5.

In my mind, Bagley’s actually become underrated at this point in the draft. Despite some concerns about his game, I’d still rank him in the top 3 among prospects. Here are two major reasons why:

He has 20+ point scoring potential

Perhaps one of the reasons we may have overrated Markelle Fultz‘s NBA-readiness in college was because he put up amazing overall stats as Option A, Option B, and Option C on a depleted Washington Huskies team.

Bagley didn’t have that same situation, entering a stacked Duke team that featured several other top 10 recruits as well as a proven scorer like Grayson Allen, a senior who had averaged 20 points per game in the past. Despite that, Bagley emerged as the go-to option among the Blue Devils, averaging a team-high 21.2 points per game.

The big concern with Bagley’s NBA game is that he’s not an excellent shooter right now. He’s shooting a solid 35.4% from three, but only 62.0% from the free throw line. Our recent history tells us that translates to a below average deep shooter at the moment.

That said, the scoring potential is clearly there. Bagley may not be lights out from the line, but at least he’s getting there. In fact, his 6.8 free throw attempts per game outrank all his bluechip peers. In the NBA, the best scorers consistently get to the free-throw line, and Bagley’s shown that ability to draw contact. I expect that his shooting will improve to some degree — making him a serviceable stretch big.

But remember, not every player in the NBA’s sole purpose is to stretch the floor. We talk a lot about 3-and-D guys, but those tend to be the 3rd, 4th, or 5th options on the team. Bagley, on the other hand, projects to be a high-level scorer who can create offense on his own either with his skills or offensive rebounding (4.0 offensive rebounds per game.)

I can see a “Chris Bosh” comp for Marvin Bagley on offense, although Bosh was farther along as a shooter at this stage in his career. Still, Bagley is young for his class, and I suspect he can reach a similar height at some point, emulating Chris Bosh’s scoring ability at Toronto more so than his work as a 3rd option in Miami.

he’s versatile on defense

Another criticism of Bagley that’s emerged is that he’s not a dominant rim protector, as reflected by a pedestrian average of 1.1 blocks per game that lags well behind the dominant big men in the class like Mo Bamba (4.1) or Jaren Jackson Jr. (3.3 in only 22 minutes per game.) Given that, there’s some concern about whether or not Bagley can play the “5” in the NBA and provide that necessary rim protection.

But that said, “rim protection” is not the only function of a big in today’s NBA. In fact, being able to hang on the perimeter may be even more important. Stiff bigs who clog the paint can get abused on switches and allow for open threes. Meanwhile, Bagley’s most distinct and impressive quality may be his fluidity for his size. You wouldn’t want him guarding Steph Curry, but you wouldn’t panic if he draws a switch on an average guard or small forward. The fact that he averaged 1.0 steals per game (higher than his peers) illustrates his ability to roam all over the court.

Another reason Bagley’s defensive issues may be overrated is because “blocks” may be overrated. Contesting every shot may help your block total, but can cause other issues as well: rebounding trouble and foul trouble. Bagley doesn’t have that issue. Right now, he’s averaging 1.8 fouls per game, which translates to under 2.0 fouls per 36 minutes. Conversely, Jaren Jackson Jr. is averaging 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes.

In my mind, Marvin Bagley will be able play the “5” in most matches, with enough strength and rebounding ability to hold up down low, but also the underrated ability to switch if necessary.

overall

I’m really impressed with the potential of this draft class, but I still believe Bagley should be among the top picks among them. He has enough talent to be a first or second option on offense and a solid defensive player. His skill set may not be a perfect prototype for today’s NBA, but it still lends itself to a future star.

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