Detroit Pistons hope fresh start can unlock Marvin Bagley III: ‘His game will take off’

Detroit Free Press

Marvin Bagley III needed a fresh start.

With the Sacramento Kings, Bagley did not live up to his 2018 draft position, going No. 2 ahead of Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young. Numerous injuries held him to 13 games played during his sophomore season and 43 games last season. He struggled to find traction in Sacramento’s rotation under several head coaches.

Bagley will attempt to revive his career with the Detroit Pistons, who traded Josh Jackson, Trey Lyles and two second-round picks in a four-team deal Thursday to acquire him. He’ll enter restricted free agency this offseason and has two months to prove his time in Sacramento won’t define his career.

“I’m excited,” Bagley said Sunday in his first remarks since the deal. “It’s a new start. We have a lot of young guys on this team that play hard every night. The couple of times that we played them in Sac, they played hard. That’s something that caught my attention and I’m super excited about finally being a part of it.”

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Bagley, who turns 23 in March, is averaging 13.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on 49.4% shooting in 148 career games. He’s an athletic big man with good touch around the rim, and the Pistons like his upside as an outside shooter who can switch onto smaller players defensively. He fills an immediate need, as Detroit lacks a big man with Bagley’s athletic pop. General manager Troy Weaver is a longtime fan of Bagley.

“He fits our timeline with these other young guys,” Weaver said Sunday. “The one thing we were devoid of, and that’s on me, is some athleticism in the front court. And he will provide that. He’s an athletic big that rebounds, can really run the floor. And he can put the ball in the basket. But he fits. We’re excited about having him and restoring his career. Obviously he’s the No. 2 pick. In Sacramento, he had his ups and downs. But we’re excited to add this kind of person and talent to our ball club.”

It was clear Bagley wasn’t going to remain with the Kings beyond this season. In January 2021, Bagley’s father used his family’s @TeamBagley Twitter account to publicly request a trade for his son, who had been benched at the end of a 102-94 loss to the Houston Rockets despite starting the game.

Bagley’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, also took a public stance against the Kings. In October, Schwartz used Twitter to criticize the organization for not starting Bagley during opening night, and questioned why they opted not to trade him during the previous deadline or offseason.

“Sacramento has informed Marvin Bagley he is not in the opening night rotation, which is completely baffling,” Schwartz said. “It’s clear they have no plans for him in the future, and yet, passed on potential deals at last year’s deadline and this summer based on ‘value.’ Instead, they chose to bring him back but not play him, a move completely contradictory to their ‘value’ argument. This is a case study in mismanagement by the Kings organization.”

Bagley made it clear the negative press he has received doesn’t represent him. He downplayed his dad’s role in his disagreements with the Kings, stating his dad wanted was is best for him. The Pistons don’t appear to have any reservations about Bagley’s character.

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“I’ve heard a lot of people say I’m not a team guy, I don’t do well with my teammates,” Bagley said. “People talk about defense. People always have something to say. If you ask any guy I’ve ever played with or around, they don’t have one bad thing to say because I try to get to know every single one of my teammates no matter what situation I’m in. I try to be coachable. I just try to learn and get better, and like I said, that’s why I’m excited to be able to be in a new situation where I can start fresh and start clean and build something special here. I’m super excited about that. To be able to be with this group of guys, it’s going to be fun.”

The Pistons could’ve pursued Bagley this offseason, rather than sacrificing assets to acquire him before the deadline. It appeared unlikely Sacramento was going to make a qualifying offer to Bagley, which would’ve allowed him to enter free agency unrestricted. But Weaver saw value in getting Bagley acclimated into the Pistons’ system now. They’ll have more information going into the summer, when they will presumably sign him to a long-term deal if he meets, or exceeds, expectations.

“We wanted to bring him in the fold,” Weaver said. “Touch him, feel him, work with him and know how he fits as a person and as a player instead of just waiting for free agency. I always believe in getting guys in-house, similar to what we did with (Hamidou) Diallo. We like guys to come in and get within the walls, assimilate in the locker room, find out who they really are before we take a real investment in them. That was the thought process of trying to get him in here before free agency.”

Bagley will join a front court that includes Isaiah Stewart, Kelly Olynyk and rookie Luka Garza. Coach Dwane Casey will have to figure out how Bagley’s game meshes. Bagley is a career 29.9% 3-point shooter, but he’ll be given the opportunity to show he can shoot well enough to play alongside Stewart, and score efficiently inside when Olynyk is along the perimeter.

The Pistons’ gamble with Bagley is similar to the gambles the organization has taken with numerous former five-star prospects — a list that includes Frank Jackson, Josh Jackson, Jahlil Okafor, Diallo and Lyles. The results have been mixed, but Weaver’s belief is good players will thrive when placed in the right environment. They’ll have 26 games this season to see if the Bagley experiment can pay off.

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“I think it’s been up and down, but I believe the guy has averaged 14 and 7 in his career, and he’s had some good moments and shown what he can do just fighting through injuries, being consistent there,” Weaver said. “They’ve had a number of coaches there. It just hasn’t been a consistent way for him in his first three years there. I think he’s shown it. It’s up to him to be consistent, and what I’m charged with the most is providing the environment where he can thrive. Every day that’s the goal. We’re going to come put him in our environment and hope he can get consistent first, and I think after that, his talent, his game will take off.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has a digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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