Sunday Musings: Opportunity knocks, will Marvin Bagley answer?

Has Bagley turned a corner or is it too early to tell?

Tyrese Haliburton flipped the ball with his right hand toward the right corner. Portland’s CJ McCollum got a hand on the pass, but it still made its way to Marvin Bagley, who was anxiously waiting to fire.

Bagley set his feet and let fly with a clean 3-pointer. Timeout Blazers with 30.3 seconds remaining, Kings leading 121-114.

Losers of four straight at the time, Bagley’s triple was huge. It helped secure the win for Sacramento, snapped the losing streak and gave interim head coach Alvin Gentry his first victory.

The moment wasn’t too big for the 22-year-old power forward, at least not this version of the former No. 2 overall pick. 

As Bagley made his way back toward the Kings’ bench, he let out a primal yell. It doesn’t take a lip reader to see the curse words flowing from his mouth. Bagley had his moment and he let anyone within earshot hear it. From accounts close to the action, the celebration was aimed specifically at the doubters within the Kings’ fanbase.

“I was probably talking crazy, I was just hyped, man, the passion came out,” Bagley said following the win. “It was a big play for my team, I was just happy to make it.”

Bagley has every right to be frustrated with the fanbase, which routinely attacks him on social media platforms, but much of his strife is self-inflicted.

One of the primary issues is that Bagley hasn’t dealt with setbacks well and he hasn’t grown at the pace that you would like from a top tier talent. He also asked for a trade during the off-season and his agent dropped a hammer on the Kings’ franchise leading into the season.

Just a week ago, Bagley was completely out of the rotation in Sacramento. When he sat on an exercise bike in the Kings’ tunnel during the team’s loss to the Utah Jazz last Saturday, instead of cheering on his teammates from the sidelines, there was legitimate concern that he had completely checked out.

This was the same player who refused to enter a game against the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 8 and the same player that sat out as a healthy scratch in 13 of the Kings’ first 20 games. 

Due to a series of injuries to Richaun Holmes, Harrison Barnes and now Moe Harkless, Bagley is in line to get an opportunity. So far, he’s proving that he’s up for the challenge.

The fact is, Bagley looks different. The passion has never been lacking, but like so many young players before him, the former Duke star was so focused on trying to be great, he missed the step where he was good. 

For one of the few times in his career, Bagley is starting to look like a basketball player, not a talent. The sample size is incredibly small, but a light bulb seems to have gone on.

Forget the raw offensive and rebounding numbers that he put up in his first three seasons. They are shockingly identical in each year and only tell a small portion of the story. The Kings have been asking for more and Bagley has refused to comply.

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That’s not the player who has stepped on the floor the last two games. Instead of flashing to the key, calling for the ball with his left hand and clogging the lane, Bagley is spacing the floor and crashing hard for rebounds.

While the Kings typically have to hide the 6-foot-11 big on the defensive end, Gentry asked him to guard both LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

There appears to be a new dedication to doing the right thing. That means playing team basketball and making the players around him better. 

Sacramento certainly needed the 13 points and seven rebounds from Bagley in their win over the Lakers, but the four assists were welcomed as well. Despite not having legitimate time to build chemistry with his teammates, Bagley has looked to involve others. The four assists ties his career-high, set in his rookie season.

Maybe it’s Gentry. Maybe it’s a realization that his NBA career is hanging on by a thread. Whatever the change, Bagley is morphing from a stat hunter to a ballplayer in a very short period of time.

There comes a point in every player's career when they hit an impasse. It is at this point when the savvy player comes to an understanding that they may not be the next superstar. For the players who have this epiphany, they move forward and find a way to become a viable piece to the NBA community. 

For those who fail to grasp the concept, they travel the world playing overseas with dreams of someday returning to the league that they cherish. Very few find their way back. Very few deserve a second chance.

Bagley can still be a very good NBA player. That might not be easy in Sacramento, but he has a chance to show the rest of the league that he is not the immature player who refused to go into a game. He can also prove that he is ready to play a role and be part of a team.

There will be people who say that Bagley didn’t get a fair shake in Sacramento, but that’s not true. Dave Joerger wanted him to learn the ropes as a 19-year-old kid against second team players and earn his spot in the starting lineup.

During Luke Walton’s first two seasons as head coach of the Kings, Bagley started a total of 48 out of a possible 56 games where he was healthy. The number would have been higher if Bagley was available.

Injuries have played a role in where Bagley is as a player, but so has ego, immaturity and outside forces. In year four, Bagley isn’t a kid anymore. This is his life and his career. If he wants to be part of the collective of 450 individuals who are lucky enough to play in the NBA, then he needs to be the player the Kings have seen in the last two games.

Bagley needs to quiet the noise from outside, focus on the minutia like defensive rotations, boxing out and setting good screens. He needs to transform himself from want-to-be star to versatile rotational player. 

It takes guts and self-awareness. So many before have failed to grasp this concept. But if Bagley is willing to do the dirty work, there is a place for him in the league.

It’s play or move on time. Injuries have opened a door. Opportunities have presented themselves. If Bagley wants to prove he’s a player and not just empty stats, he may have the chance to carve out his niche in the NBA, be it in Sacramento or elsewhere.  

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