Marvin Bagley III has made no secret of his belief that the Phoenix Suns made a mistake last summer when they passed on him to select Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Bagley looked like he was trying to prove his point Sunday afternoon at Golden 1 Center.
The Kings’ 19-year-old rookie outplayed Ayton convincingly, coming off the bench to post a career-high 32 points and seven rebounds in a 117-104 victory over the Suns. Sacramento (30-26) concluded a six-game home stand with a 5-1 record, moving within a half-game of the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings.
Devin Booker had 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Suns (11-47). Ayton had 16 points and nine rebounds.
After the game, Bagley did not hesitate when asked if facing Phoenix gave him more motivation than usual.
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“Yes,” he said. “I love playing against the Suns. I don’t know what it is.”
A sly smile creased Bagley’s face as he delivered that last line — because he knows exactly what it is.
Bagley was born in Tempe, Ariz., and spent a year at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, where he teamed with Ayton for one season before transferring to Sierra Canyon High School in Southern California. Bagley went on to become the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and a consensus All-American as a freshman at Duke. Ayton would become the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year and a consensus All-American as a freshman at Arizona.
Their parallel paths intersected again in June on the night of the 2018 NBA draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Phoenix, the franchise Bagley calls his “hometown” team, chose Ayton with the No. 1 pick. Sacramento selected Bagley with the No. 2 pick.
Basketball and fate just keeps bringing them together, and it happened again Sunday in Sacramento.
“It’s always fun to compete against Deandre and the rest of that organization,” Bagley said.
Ayton, a 7-foot-1 center, has impressed in his rookie campaign, averaging 16.5 points and 10.6 rebounds in 31 minutes per game. Bagley, a 6-11 power forward, averages 13.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game.
Their per-36-minute averages are even more closely aligned, Bagley averaging 19.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots while Ayton averages 19.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
Ayton and Bagley matched up in a preseason game in October. Ayton proved to be the more NBA-ready rookie, posting 24 points and nine rebounds on a night when Bagley struggled, finishing with seven points on 2-of-7 shooting with two rebounds.
Bagley did not suit up due to injuries when the Kings played the Suns in the regular season on Dec. 4 and Jan. 8, but he certainly came to play this time.
Bagley entered the game midway through the first quarter and quickly announced his presence, leaking out behind the defense for a two-handed dunk in transition. Moments later, he scored on a pretty hook in the paint and a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
“He did a great job of just finding spots and scoring in the right areas, and that’s what he’s best at,” said Kings guard Buddy Hield, who had 18 points and six rebounds. “His second jumping, being impactful around the rim, and once he puts his right shoulder over you and springs up, he’s hard to stop.”
Bagley continued to show off his entire repertoire in the second quarter. He threw down an alley-oop dunk from Yogi Ferrell and later sank a soft floater in the lane.
Bagley’s biggest highlight might have come early in the fourth quarter. He blocked a shot by Richaun Holmes from behind, dribbled the ball up the floor and drove inside, finishing through contact and drawing a foul for a three-point play to surpass his previous career high of 24 points.
Bagley went 10 of 15 from the field and 11 of 13 at the free-throw line to help the Kings finish with a season-high 44 free-throw attempts, demonstrating his remarkable growth since the season began in a variety of ways.
“He’s getting better at picking and choosing his spots, getting his shoulder down, and it puts the defender in a compromised position,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s got long arms and he’s obviously able to get off the floor, so he’s just learning to maybe take that extra dribble and create more contact, and I think he’s also a little bit more comfortable because he’s better at the free-throw line.”
The Suns noticed, too.
“He played a complete game,” Suns forward Josh Jackson said. “He was rebounding, getting offensive rebounds, getting things easy, getting to the line and knocking down open shots. He had a really good game. He did some of everything. I like his game.”
Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov agreed.
“He’s a good player,” he said. “He’s a talented player, very versatile and it fits in a modern game of basketball.”
Hield said Bagley has come a long way since that preseason game in Phoenix.
“He’s grown a lot,” Hield said. “... I know how special he. I see it and everybody sees it. That’s how special he is. He has special talent. He’s gifted. I just want to see him succeed at the highest level and he’s doing a great job of that.”