Marvin Bagley III enjoyed a career resurgence when the Detroit Pistons acquired him at the trade deadline this past season.
The Sacramento Kings selected Bagley with the second overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Entering the draft, the Duke big man was touted for his size and scoring ability, while his defense needed a lot of improvement.
Bagley posted good scoring and rebounding numbers with the Kings. He averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his first three seasons. However, the big man never quite found his footing in Sacramento. He is more of a tweener than a true center or power forward. Bagley has the post-scoring of a center, but his frame and defensive limitations fit better at power forward.
Injuries limited Bagley’s development early in his career. After playing in 62 games as a rookie, Bagley appeared in only 13 games in year two and 43 games in year three. By year four, the writing was on the wall for the Duke product. Sacramento stopped featuring Bagley in the offense and actively shopped him on the trade block.
When Pistons’ GM Troy Weaver traded for Bagley, it was a low-risk, high-reward move. Detroit gave up Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson, and a couple of second-round picks in the multi-team deal that landed the team Bagley.
Marvin Bagley III inked a new deal after a hot finish to the 2021-22 season
In 18 games with the Pistons, Bagley established himself as an exciting lob threat both off the bench and as a starter. The 23-year-old’s minutes jumped to 27.2 per game, the most of his career. He posted 14.6 points per game while shooting 55.5 percent from the floor. He collected 6.8 rebounds and dealt out 1.1 assists per contest during that span as well.
Bagley entered restricted free agency this offseason. Weaver and the Pistons’ front office wasted no time re-signing the big man. Detroit signed Bagley to a three-year deal worth $37 million. His base salary and cap hit will be $12.5 million in each of those three seasons.
The Pistons have a logjam in the front court
Alongside retaining Bagley, the Pistons’ front office also acquired the draft rights to Memphis big man Jalen Duren and center Nerlens Noel in two separate trades with the New York Knicks.
The trio joins Isaiah Stewart and Kelly Olynyk in a crowded frontcourt. The departure of Jerami Grant via trade with the Portland Trail Blazers left Detroit with a hole in the starting lineup. With all five players either tweeners or centers, the Pistons have found themselves with a logjam at the center position without a true power forward to replace Grant.
Duren and Noel do not have the versatility to play power forward. In Summer League, the Pistons experimented with Stewart at the four. His defensive switchability and floor spacing potential make him a good candidate to replace Grant. Olynyk is coming off a down year in terms of shooting, but he has the ability to play at the four. Of course, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Livers have the positional flexibility to play power forward as well.
Bagley is a candidate to fill the void left by Grant in Detroit’s starting lineup as well. The 23-year-old provides Cade Cunningham with a springy rim runner to lob the ball up to.
If he is paired with Stewart in the front court, Detroit can maximize Bagley’s strengths on offense while hiding him as a liability on defense. Bagley could effectively play as the center on offense, running pick-and-rolls and playing in the post. Meanwhile, Stewart, who has displayed the makings of a decent shot, could play along the perimeter launching corner three-pointers. Defensively, Stewart and Bagley could switch roles, with Bagley hiding as a help side defender and Stewart playing as the defensive anchor at center.
Can Marvin Bagley III add a consistent three-point shot?
Of course, this arrangement still has its limitations. There is no guarantee Stewart’s three-point shot will be reliable. Everything he has flashed as a perimeter shooter has been in a small sample size. The strongest case Bagley can make to establish himself as Detroit’s starting power forward is if he adds a reliable three-point shot into his own game.
In 18 games with Detroit, Bagley was far from reliable from beyond the arc. He shot 22.9 percent from three-point range on 1.9 attempts per game. His catch-and-shoot numbers were not any better. The 23-year-old shot 21.9 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities with Detroit this past season.
Bagley has shot decently from beyond the arc before. In 2020-21, Bagley shot 34.3 percent on 2.5 three-point attempts per game, both career-highs. Since that season, Bagley’s three-point shot has regressed. Returning to his 2020-21 form would go a long way towards competing for a starting spot.
If Bagley improves his three-point shot, he can establish himself at the front of the starting power forward competition in Detroit. If he is unable to develop a consistent shot from beyond the arc, he may be better suited for a bench role.
Expectations for Marvin Bagley III in 2022-23
Do not expect Bagley to be a mainstay in the Pistons’ starting lineup this upcoming season. The 23-year-old big man is best situated in a role where he can come off the bench and do what he does best: score. With the inevitability of injuries to the starting lineup and players resting, Bagley is sure to get a handful of spot starts throughout the season.
Bagley could thrive in lineups where he is paired with either Stewart or Olynyk in the front court. Their floor spacing opens up more opportunities for Bagley in the paint. The potential pairing with Stewart especially will go a long way towards hiding Bagley’s defensive deficiencies.
With a three-year contract, the Pistons are investing in Bagley, and not at a small cap hit. The team is betting on the former second overall pick to continue developing his game. A fresh start in Detroit helped Bagley rejuvenate his young career. Now, he has an opportunity to be a key contributor for the Pistons this upcoming season.
(Featured Image Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
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