Kings forward Marvin Bagley III could be poised for a breakout sophomore season in the NBA. He seems pretty poised in other ways, too.
There was something different about Bagley when he met with the media Saturday as the Kings’ summer league team prepared to play the Golden State Warriors in the first game of the California Classic on Monday at Golden 1 Center. He seemed more confident, more mature and maybe more at ease after his rookie campaign was singed by tension between coaches and executives who are no longer with the organization.
“I feel new,” Bagley said. “I feel like a new person. I remember coming into last season and all of this was so confusing to me. I was just out there playing, trying to play hard, but now – being through a whole year and experiencing different things on the court, learning different things – everything now is slower and I understand.”
Bagley (sore right Achilles) and guard Frank Mason (sore right hip) are listed as day-to-day after being held out of Monday’s summer league game. The Kings said Bagley might be able to play Tuesday or Wednesday, but they won’t take chances with one of the prized young players in the organization.
The Kings acquired Bagley with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He announced his presence with authority when he threw down a resounding dunk against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first game of last year’s California Classic.
“I just dunked it and the fans went crazy, so I remember it like it was yesterday,” Bagley said. “It was exciting. That was my first time seeing how loud Golden 1 could get. It was an exciting moment for me. It was a different feeling.”
Bagley averaged 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in 25.3 minutes per game last season. He improved significantly as the season progressed despite missing time with back and knee injuries, averaging 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range in 20 games after the All-Star break. Bagley was selected for the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend and was recently named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Coaches and teammates marveled at how quickly Bagley adapted to the NBA game after some flaws were exposed in his first summer with the Kings. By the end of the season, he was clearly one of the team’s best players.
Eight of the other top-10 draft picks started at least 44 games. Only Mo Bamba started fewer games than Bagley. Bagley finished fifth among rookies in scoring and fourth in rebounding, but he was 13th in minutes.
Former coach Dave Joerger preferred to start Nemanja Bjelica next to center Willie Cauley-Stein because Bjelica spaced the floor with his perimeter shooting, creating space for point guard De’Aaron Fox to operate. Joerger’s handling of Bagley became a point of contention between Joerger and assistant general manager Brandon Williams, leading to a public feud between them.
General manager Vlade Divac rectified that situation when he fired Joerger and Williams at the end of the season. Divac moved quickly to hire former Lakers coach Luke Walton, who said his first priority would be building relationships with Bagley, Fox and the team’s other young players.
“I talked to Luke the first day he was here,” Bagley said. “Since then, we check on each other. He texts me and I call him. We’re starting to build that relationship with each other, and not only him but the rest of the coaches. … It’s been great. I’m excited about this thing. We have a great team and with a coach like Luke we can take this thing to the next level.”
Bagley and Fox have been invited to training camp in Las Vegas later this summer with Team USA’s Select Team, which features some of the NBA’s brightest young stars. Bagley said he is trying to increase his strength this summer while also working on shooting, ball handling, finishing around the basket and other aspects of his game.
Justin James, one of the Kings’ new draft picks, said he has been impressed by Bagley.
“He’s a hell of a player,” James said.
Kings assistant coach Jesse Mermuys said the new coaching staff has enjoyed getting to know Bagley as well.
“I love Marv,” said Mermuys, who is coaching the summer league team. “As a kid, he’s awesome, and I love his talent level. When you’re coaching from afar, you don’t really know, but that is a talented young man. Sky is the limit. His size, his skill level, the stuff he’s going to be able to do … he has some tools.”