Here is an insider article on Bagley from "Cleaning the glass".
Originally there were video clips between paragraphs.
When it comes to the NBA draft, “wingspan” feels like an overused term. You hear it everywhere. There’s so much focus on whether a player is long that it turned into a draft night drinking game.
But there’s a reason for all of that focus: because it matters. Perhaps to a degree we still haven’t fully realized. If we look at the 200+ players who measured at least 6-feet 9-inches barefoot at the Draft Combine in the last 16 years, there are 12 players who made the All-Star team at least once. If we sort this group by the ratio of their wingspan to their height, we find something startling.
Of the 50 players with the longest wingspans relative to their height we find 8 of those All-Stars: Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brook Lopez. (Plus six more players who have started the majority of their career games played: Hassan Whiteside, Rudy Gobert, Nene, Brendan Haywood, Myles Turner, and Nikola Vucevic.)
Of the 50 players with the shortest wingspans relative to their height we find one All-Star (Chris Kaman) and three other players who started the majority of their career games (Mason Plumlee, Cody Zeller, and Troy Murphy).
Think about that. All we know about these players is their height, the length of their arms, and that they were good enough to be measured at the Draft Combine. We don’t know how well they played in the past. We don’t know how high they can jump, or how quickly they can move. We don’t know whether they can shoot, whether they can dribble, whether they can think the game, whether they have off court issues, whether they have medical red flags. Yet with one simple rule we can pretty effectively find the ones who ended up All-Stars.
What does this have to do with Marvin Bagley III? Well, certainly not everything. But something.
5 seconds that sum up the potential of Marvin Bagley III:
A 6-11 power forward comes out high and slides easily defending the pick-and-roll, recovers quickly to his man, swims around the post up to get the steal, then gets out in transition, handling the ball with speed and ease, takes off from more than halfway up the paint, and hangs in the air a beat longer than should be physically possible to slam it home with two hands. Whew.
All of the players projected to go at the top of the draft have special qualities: Doncic’s skill and smarts, Ayton’s power and agility, Bamba’s length. For Bagley it’s the easy athleticism demonstrated in that clip. He’s nimble, smooth, fluid, quick, and explosive.
Watch how high off the floor Bagley gets on some of these finishes, and how quickly he achieves that height:
Watch how quickly he jumps multiple times on this rebound (for context, watch the players around him)
Watch how he elevates on his hook shots. This level of elevation is not normal. On this hook he almost has to shoot it down into the rim from his release point:
But Bagley isn’t just a raw athlete. He also has great touch around the rim, with floaters, shots from odd angles off the glass, and the ability to get attempts to drop even after contorting his body through traffic:
That’s why Bagley has converted an absurd 75% of his shots at the rim so far this year, according to Synergy Sports, a FG% that ranks 9th out of the 272 players in Division I who have attempted more than 75 such shots.
At Duke most of Bagley’s offense has come either out of post ups and isolations or playing off of rebounds and transition. Notably, Bagley has only taken 17 shots rolling out of the pick-and-roll all season. That has led some to wonder if he is a member of a dying breed, a post up big man in an NBA era when the post up has never been less important.
But following the rookie season of another ACC double-double machine is instructive: John Collins went from getting 46% of his offense through post ups in his last season at Wake Forest, with only one shot per game as a roller out of the pick-and-roll, to 26% of his offense coming as a roll man with the Atlanta Hawks so far this year (and only 13 shots out of the post all season).
Collins’ college post game told us more than that he could post up. The footwork, athleticism, and touch that Collins displayed in the post are clear in how he scores in the NBA now:
The same is likely true of Bagley, which we’ve already caught glimpses of:
Bagley seems like the type of player where you glance up at the scoreboard near the end of the fourth quarter and think: “wait, when did he get 20 points?” Efficient scoring out of transition, putbacks, rolling to the rim, and playing off the pass isn’t as easily noticed, but it adds up.
To develop into a go-to scorer, though — a player where every one of his 20 points is noticed, a player who defenses have to scheme for, who can create efficient shots both for himself and his teammates — will require growth. Bagley has made some nice passes:
But he doesn’t seem like a natural passer. His instinct is to go to the rim and do what he can to score there, not to draw the defense and find the open man.
Beyond passing, to really put defenses on edge Bagley will need to score outside of the paint. And that is one of two huge questions that surround Bagley and will go a long way toward determining his value. His stroke doesn’t look bad.
But only about 15% of his field goal attempts have been from beyond the arc so far this season, and he’s made just 14 of those 42 tries. Additionally, Bagley has hit just 63% of his 147 free throw attempts, and past studies have found that free throw percentage is a valuable source of information for predicting a player’s NBA three point shooting. That’s been true prior to his time at Duke as well: according to MaxPreps, in 29 games in high school Bagley made 29% of 49 attempts from three and hit 67% of his 169 free throws. So even if Bagley were to catch fire and hit a high rate through the end of the year, we’d still be right to be suspicious of his long-range accuracy.
We don’t even have to look much further than the last few years at Duke for good examples of this. Both Brandon Ingram and Justise Winslow hit over 40% of their threes in college while attempting many more than Bagley is on pace for. But both had free throw percentages in the mid-to-high 60s, and sure enough both have struggled from beyond the line early in their careers. Ingram hasn’t even attempted many threes this season and has made just 30% of his career hoists, and Winslow is in a similar boat. How they develop as their careers continue is of course an open question, but they do illustrate the principle that a player with numbers like Bagley is one that we can’t count on to be able to hit a high rate of threes early in his career.
Which brings us to the second question: how good of a defender can Bagley be? If Bagley could play center, the shot is a moot point — or a bonus if he develops it. He could dive out of every screen and put enormous pressure on the rim with elite finishing. The only measurements I could find for Bagley put him at 6 foot, 9.5 inches without shoes at the age of 15. Even if he hasn’t grown since then, that’s taller than Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Nene, and Larry Sanders measured at the Draft Combine, the same height as DeMarcus Cousins, and in the range of Myles Turner, DeAndre Jordan, and Andre Drummond (who all measured at 6-9.75 barefoot). So he certainly seems tall enough to man the middle in the NBA.
But playing center is about more than height, of course. It’s about using that height to defend the rim and rebound, and that’s where we should have real concerns. If you’ve heard much about Bagley, you know that defense is the main blemish on his resume, and for good reason: there are many examples of plays you’d want someone with his size and athleticism to make that he just doesn’t.
It may be useful to look at Bagley’s defense through the “can’t/won’t/doesn’t know how” lens I laid out in Making the Transition:
I like to divide players’ defensive issues into three categories: “can’t”, “won’t”, and “doesn’t know how”. Some players are negatives defensively due to physical limitations: they might be too small or have short arms or limited quickness. That’s “can’t”. Some players hurt their teams because they just won’t defend: they don’t care enough about that end of the floor or don’t want to deal with the physicality or aren’t in good enough shape. And some players simply don’t have the habits and knowledge to be in the proper spots, to anticipate, to execute.
This framework is helpful because some of these limitations are more changeable than others. A team can’t get a player’s arms to grow. A head coach might be able to impact how much a player cares by emphasizing defense more, and allotting playing time based on performance at that end of the floor, though this doesn’t always work. But a coaching staff at least has a good chance of creating habits through film and practice.
There’s a lot of “doesn’t know how” in what we see with Bagley. Mistakes like this, where he shows a lack of awareness or technique:
But while these are bad plays, Bagley needs to be graded on a curve: he’s a freshman learning the intricacies of complex pick-and-roll defense. Relative to his peers, these mistakes aren’t especially glaring, and there seems to be evidence of improvement as the season has gone on. Growth is possible, and even expected — that’s why “doesn’t know how” is the least [dang]ing of the three categories.
Bagley’s defensive effort also appears fairly strong, so there’s not a ton of “won’t”. It’s hard to find plays in the halfcourt where he appears lazy or uncaring. His transition defense, though, leaves a lot to be desired:
He can run when he needs to, as he shows on the next possession
But he often will pause for a second or two before changing directions, and this has burned his team
This is a habit that will need to be broken. And that’s possible — his effort and improvement defensively in other areas gives one hope — but it’s far from a given.
The biggest concern with Bagley’s defensive struggles, though, is that they might fall mostly in the “can’t” bucket. And that’s where the discussion of wingspan comes in. That list of centers who were the same height as Bagley? Every single one of them measured with a wingspan of at least 7-feet 4-inches. 15-year-old Marvin Bagley measured at 7-foot flat. Even if he’s grown since then, Bagley’s reach doesn’t approach that of most centers, and, as we saw, those few inches really matter.
Bagley has blocked 3% of opponent two attempts so far this season, but it’s not necessarily because of poor positioning or lack of effort. Sometimes it’s just about those extra few inches that make the difference between a block and a whiff:
NBA players who had a similar block rate in college include: Zach Randolph, DeJuan Blair, Carl Landry, Blake Griffin, David Lee, Jared Sullinger, David West, and Jabari Parker. That is not an encouraging list, and points very strongly toward the idea that Bagley cannot provide adequate rim protection at center. It’s possible Bagley could develop his basketball IQ to the point that he could use his lateral and vertical quickness to hold his own, but there’s not much evidence of that right now.
So that’s where we’re caught. Because of the defensive limitations, it feels like Bagley is a stone-cold PF. But without a legitimate three point shot or paired with a rim protecting center who can shoot (a rare breed), that’s a recipe for cramped spacing on offense.
It comes down to this, then: a bet on Bagley is a bet on his shot or his mind.