Up Next

NBA

Marvin Bagley III is happy in Sacramento and ready to prove his worth

‘It’s about getting better from here on out. I’m happy I got drafted to the Kings. I have to live up to it.’

SACRAMENTO, California — Marvin Bagley III took a pretty pass from new Sacramento Kings teammate De’Aaron Fox at the top of the key, took one hard dribble and jumped high. Unfortunately for Los Angeles Lakers 7-footer Moritz Wagner, he jumped too. After the rookies hit chests, Bagley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft, reached back with the basketball palmed in his left hand and dunked, in posterizing fashion.

The thirsty, Kings-fan-laden, sold-out crowd at a summer league game — yes, a sold-out summer league game — at Golden 1 Center roared in approval of their possible long-awaited franchise savior while he swung in the air in celebration.

“The aggression came out,” Bagley said after scoring 18 points, grabbing 6 rebounds and blocking 3 shots in the Kings’ 98-93 win at the inaugural California Classic on Monday night. “I just tried to attack the rim and make something happen. I ended up dunking the ball. The crowd reacted to that, and I just fed off of that. It was a great feeling.”

Kings fans have shown they have a great feeling about Bagley too.

There are billboards of the rookie throughout Sacramento. The Sacramento International Airport was packed with Kings fans when the former Duke star arrived in town wearing a Kings Basketball T-shirt. He received a warm welcome when he made his first public appearance onstage at Concerts in the Park on June 22 and addressed the adoring crowd before the rock band Dance Gavin Dance performed. There have been “Secured the Bagley” signs celebrating his arrival.

“It was amazing,” Bagley said. “People were at the airport waiting as soon as I walked off the plane. They were making noise. Screaming. There were posters of me up already. It was a great feeling. I felt welcomed and at home. When I talked to everybody, I had a good feeling about everything and everybody there.

“Everything happened for a reason. I am in Sacramento, and I’m happy that I am in Sacramento.”

Why are Kings fans so excited?

Bagley has the potential to be the best player in this talented 2018 NBA draft. But more important, he offers hope to eventually end a playoff-less streak that has lasted since 2006. He described this daunting challenge as “exciting.”

“I like stuff like that because that is the type of player I am,” Bagley said. “I want to work toward something and get something that I’ve been working for. I’m trying to come here and help the team any way I can. Start to win games and get better gradually. I’m excited about it.

“We’re young. Everybody is young. In time, we will get the chemistry down. Down the road we will definitely be one of those teams that will get talked about in the league more. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a long process. There will be some ups and downs and challenges, but if we go through that together and stick together, through all of it we can get to where we want to get to.”

The Kings garnered skepticism for drafting Bagley over Slovenian guard-forward Luka Doncic. Assuming the Phoenix Suns would take Arizona center Deandre Ayton first overall, as they did, Sacramento considered Bagley, Doncic and injury-plagued forward Michael Porter Jr., who was drafted 14th overall by the Denver Nuggets. The Kings also have several other young big men on the roster in Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and a now-healthy redshirt rookie Harry Giles.

Marvin Bagley III (center) congratulates teammates during the 2018 summer league at the Golden 1 Center on July 2 in Sacramento, California.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

For Kings general manager Vlade Divac, drafting Bagley was not a hard decision.

Bagley averaged 21.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game while shooting 61.4 percent from the field for the Blue Devils as a true freshman. He was the first player since Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in points, rebounds and field goal percentage. The grandson of former NBA player “Jumpin’ Joe” Caldwell was also the 2018 ACC Player of the Year.

“I trusted my gut,” Divac told The Undefeated. “I have good teammates here in the front office. We talked about a lot of different angles, but in the end, we came together as a team with Bagley. I felt pretty confident that he was the guy we should really pay attention to after I saw him for the first time.”

Bagley was ranked as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 by ESPN 100 over Ayton, Porter and other top-10 picks Mohamed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young and Wendell Carter Jr. Bagley also received some buzz when he played in the renowned Drew League pro-am against grown men in Los Angeles last summer. BetDSI Sportsbook also projected that Bagley is the front-runner to win the 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year award.

But even with Bagley’s résumé, buzz, betting odds and Duke connection, on draft night there was more national draft talk about Ayton, Doncic, Porter and Young. Divac and Bagley noticed it and aren’t certain as to why.

“It was quiet,” Bagley said. “I noticed it. But at the end of the day, I can’t control it. I can only control what I can control. I was just making sure I was ready no matter what was being said, making sure I was ready for the time that was coming up with this summer league. I wasn’t worried about it too much.”

Said Divac: “Marvin wants to work, wants to be great. [He’s] very active around the basket and a good teammate. He checks all the boxes that the great ones have. It’s up to him to go to the next level.”

Bagley was 6 years old the last time the Kings went to the postseason. While the Kings are loaded with young talent that also includes guards De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic and forward Justin Jackson, another rebuilding season is expected. But perhaps in Bagley, Sacramento has found the king to lead it back to the postseason and relevance. Step one for the prized rookie began Monday in front of a huge summer league crowd.

“It’s about producing here on this level. That’s all I am trying to do and focus on,” Bagley said. “It’s about getting better from here on out. I’m happy I got drafted to the Kings. I have to live up to it.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.