Kings fans waited weeks to see the best of rookie big man Marvin Bagley III. Now they can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
Bagley put up 18 points and 10 rebounds against the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 29 before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with lower back spasms. As he left the floor, television cameras captured Bagley doubled over in the tunnel leading to the Kings’ locker room, apparently in considerable pain.
Bagley, the No. 2 pick in June’s NBA draft, has missed the past two games due to the injury. An MRI taken earlier this week revealed nothing of concern and Bagley is listed as day-to-day, but the Kings have not indicated whether he will return during the current four-game trip.
After beating the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, the Kings (12-11) will face the Cleveland Cavaliers (5-19) on Friday at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavaliers have lost five of six since posting back-to-back victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets. The Kings will play the Indiana Pacers on Saturday before concluding their trip against the Chicago Bulls on Monday.
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Bagley went through pregame warm-ups in Phoenix before he was ruled out. The team is expected to update his status for the Cleveland game sometime Friday morning, but his availability could be a game-time decision.
“(We are) just being smart and working with a young player who’s going through it for the first time and making sure he’s well taken care of, which he is because we have a terrific training staff and sports performance staff, so that won’t be a problem,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said.
Bagley said this is not the first time he has experienced back spasms.
“I’ve had it a few times coming up, but it was nothing like this,” Bagley said. “I’m just being careful, man, and just making sure when I’m ready to go, I’m 100 percent.”
Bagley recently found himself at the center of controversy when reports surfaced suggesting a rift between Joerger and at least one member of the Kings’ front office regarding the allocation of minutes for some of the team’s young players.
When that story came to light Nov. 17, Bagley was averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game, but he has seen a significant increase in playing time since then. In his past six games, Bagley has averaged 16.3 points, 10 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 28.5 minutes per game. He posted career highs of 20 points and 17 rebounds in a 117-116 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 24.
Bagley had a tendency to force things offensively over the first 15 games – occasionally resulting in bad shots and turnovers – but his patience and decision making have been better recently. Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said Bagley was improving quickly before he hurt his back.
“Marv is getting better every single game and I think people are seeing that,” Fox said. “It gives us a deeper team with him playing well. He’s just letting the game come to him and I think he’s executing when his number is called.”
Fox said Bagley’s exceptional timing and athleticism have helped him demonstrate impressive shot-blocking abilities.
“He can jump later and still get blocks because he’s able to time it so well,” Fox said. “Defensively, I think he’s a lot better than some people give him credit for.”
Bagley said scouting reports published before the draft wrongly suggested he is a poor defender.
“I think I’ve always had a knack for blocking shots,” he said. “That rumor about my defense, wherever it came from, that just shows you how people believe what they hear. I don’t let it define who I am because it wasn’t true. I just had to go out and show what I could do.”
Bagley said it has been difficult to sit out after playing so well.
“It’s definitely tough, but everything happens for a reason and I’m just trying to get better,” he said.
Bagley said he’s still adjusting to the demands of a rigorous NBA schedule.
“I’m getting used to it,” he said. “It’s more about taking care of my body now and preventing it from breaking down on me. Stuff like this back thing, just trying to figure out my body. That’s the thing for me, going through this long season, taking care of my body and making sure I stay healthy.”
Joerger said that adjustment is critical for all young players.
“We talked about that the last couple years with our group,” Joerger said. “The number of games we play before Christmas is certainly far and away more than they play in college the whole season. It’s a grind, but he loves to play, so you love that part about him. He wants to be out there and he’ll be back out there as soon as he’s physically confident and so is our staff.”