Marvin Bagley III’s play has helped Sacramento Kings (and their fans) forget about Luka Doncic

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 21: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks talks to Marvin Bagley III #35 of the Sacramento Kings on March 21, 2019 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 21: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks talks to Marvin Bagley III #35 of the Sacramento Kings on March 21, 2019 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Heading into the 2018 Draft, the Sacramento Kings chose Marvin Bagley III over Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic in a move that drastically altered the Kings’ future — but not necessarily in a negative way.

The 2018 Draft was a confusing time for Sacramento Kings fans. After years of swinging and missing on prospects and bad lottery ball bounces, the Kings finally had luck on their side, and moved up in the draft for the second consecutive season, obtaining the second overall pick in what looked, and proven, to be a loaded draft.

Sacramento’s intentions were kept quiet, though there was plenty of speculation about what player the Kings would select. In fact, it was nearly indisputable. European sensation Luka Doncic would presumably be available at #2, and Sacramento seemed like an obvious fit.

The Kings were in need of a star, the culture change that began with the trade of DeMarcus Cousins was still in process and a face for the franchise was badly needed. De’Aaron Fox was also coming off a disappointing rookie season, from which questions arose about his ability to become the alpha leader of an inexperienced Kings team.

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Enter: Doncic. The Slovenian was (and is) viewed as a generational talent, already having three years of professional experience under his belt at 19 years old. He had the size and the strength to translate to the NBA game.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Vlade Divac even made two separate trips to Europe to attend games during Luka’s final season with Real Madrid. Who knew (and loved) European talent more than Divac, a Serbian legend in his playing days?

Kings fans were convinced that Luka would be the pick. Some called it a “prophecy”. Articles were written about how well he would fit in to the rotation and people did everything short of pre-ordering a Doncic jersey.

The Luka Hype Train was full steam ahead, and I was on it.

But, the Kings’ front office dropped a surprise bomb on draft day when they passed on Doncic and, instead, chose Duke big man Marvin Bagley III with the 2nd pick.

Deceived. Bewildered. Bamboozled. Perplexed. Hoodwinked. Led astray.

Emotions in Sacramento ran high on draft night and over the ensuing days. How could we have messed this up? How dare we pass on a sure thing? Fire Vlade, he is obviously not suited for this job. Did he really just say “Super team, just young”? The Kings were still ’Kangz’, and would continue to be Kangz, with the ghost of Luka Doncic poised to haunt us for the next two decades.

Could we ever forgive Vlade and the front office? How average would Luka Doncic have to be in order for us to accept this decision? Just how good would Marvin Bagley have to be for us to believe that the correct choice was made?

As it turns out, the question should have been: ‘How good do the Kings have to be for us to believe?’

The selection of Marvin Bagley acted not only as the drafting of a player with star potential, but also as a vote of confidence for De’Aaron Fox.

Fox’s disappointing rookie year, apparently, did not look so bad in the eyes of the Kings front office. Still convinced that the speedy point guard would live up to expectations, the Kings declined a draft-night offer from the New York Knicks that would send Fox to the Big Apple in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis.

Had Sacramento accepted this offer from the Knicks, the Kings would almost certainly have drafted Doncic to pair up with Porzingis, the duo that is already in place in Dallas.

Instead, Vlade and the Kings stuck to their guns, believing in Fox and essentially handing him the keys to the offense. Fox took those keys and revved up an offense as fast as a brand new McLaren.

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After finishing with the worst pace in the league in ’17-’18, the Kings shot all the way up to second this season, due in very large part to Fox unleashing his speed and quickness. That pace helped the Kings become the biggest surprise in the NBA, winning more than 37 games for the first time since ’07-’08 and remaining in playoff contention until the last week of March.

Sacramento was not just a one man show either,  as contributions came from all over the roster.

Buddy Hield’s improvement was as critical to the Kings’ success as Fox’s. The sharp-shooting Hield set the Sacramento franchise record for three pointers in a season and improved his points average from 13.5 to 21 per game. He along with De’Aaron Fox created a backcourt tandem that proved to be a difficult to contain.

Bogdan Bogdanovic was a key piece in his second season, leading the attack for the second unit and providing a veteran-like presence that stemmed from his professional stint in Europe. When Bogdanovic missed the first ten games of the season, his overseas counterpart Nemanja Bjelica was instrumental in keeping the Kings competitive. Bjelica averaged 15 points on 54% shooting from deep in his 8 starts in October.

Harrison Barnes was a helpful wing addition to a team severely lacking them; Harry Giles ended the season in break-through fashion, and, before he was traded, Iman Shumpert instilled a locker room culture that had been missing from Sacramento for many years.

And then there was Marvin Bagley.

In one of the best rookie classes in recent (or any) memory, Bagley was overshadowed, and forgotten. Rookies like Trae Young and Deandre Ayton broke out quickly, and already looked like franchise cornerstones. Collin Sexton was putting up almost 17 points per game for a lousy Cavaliers team. There was even a rookie, Mitchell Robinson, who will (likely) finish with the 4th most blocks in the entire league.

And there was Luka Doncic. The “Wonder Boy” lived up to his nickname, and became just the 5th rookie ever to average 20/5/5. He has taken the league by storm, finishing with the 4th most All-Star fan votes, behind only LeBron James, Giannis Antetokuompo and Kyrie Irving. Social media was filled with Luka highlights, and he was featured on SportsCenter almost as much as the Warriors were this season.

Luka along with Trae Young will be the faces of this rookie class, and deservedly so, as both have put on spectacular showings in their inaugural seasons. But the year Marvin Bagley had should not be slept on.

The first 3.5 months of Bagley’s season were defined by injuries despite above average production. In the months leading up to February, his 12.6 points and six rebounds per game numbers were mildly impressive. Once Groundhog Day rolled around, Bagley became a different beast.

Over the last two months of the season, Bagley averaged 18 points to go along with almost nine rebounds, and more importantly was able to display the attributes that made him a top-two pick.

Bagley has the rare combination of size, speed, and athleticism. He is 6’11” and has a ridiculous vertical and second jump, which, with added experience, will be a problem for opposing teams to match up with.

On top of his size and athleticism, there is the trait that is the presumed reason that Sacramento selected Bagley: he can run. Bagley is able to rip down a rebound and take the ball coast to coast and finish around the rim with his extensive offensive skill set. Without the ball, he can be similarly effective. When the Kings run in transition, as they do regularly, Bagley is also able to keep pace and be an effective trailing option for De’Aaron Fox and others.

His fast-break numbers from this season do not reflect his effectiveness while on the run, though all rookie numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. With a full year under his belt and an important offseason looming, look for his performance and statistics to rise when next season rolls around.

Sacramento has not only outperformed the Doncic-led Dallas Mavericks this season, they far exceeded any expectations that were set for them. They will finish with the their best record since ’05-’06 — a better year than any they had with DeMarcus Cousins. They have received praise around the league, from well-established players and coaches, for their potential and their style of play.

Picking Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic was about fit. Doncic very well may be the more talented individual player, but putting the ball in his hands would mean taking the ball out of De’Aaron Fox’s. That would have not only stunted the development of Fox, but the development of the players around him as well.

Does Buddy Hield become a deadly sharp shooter if he gets less touches? Does Harry Giles enjoy his late season surge if he plays with a ball-dominant point guard like Doncic? How would coach Dave Joerger manage minutes in a backcourt that features Fox, Hield and Doncic?

Next. Inside De’Aaron Fox’s breakout season. dark

Instead, the Kings have a potential star of their own in Bagley, a team that has developed quicker than anyone thought and a 39-win season. It seems like they made the right choice.