It looks like the 18-game audition last season for the Detroit Pistons paid off in a big way for Marvin Bagley III. The former No. 2 overall pick was mostly glued to the bench and had worn out his welcome in Sacramento. But he found new life, and playing time, in Detroit, and now he has a three-year, $37 million deal from the Pistons to show for it.
Bagley averaged 14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in his short stint with the Pistons and provided a much-needed vertical lob threat for young guards Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes.
The terms of the deal, honestly, took my breath away considering the seeming lack of suitors outside of the Pistons. It’s easy to quibble about the salary per year, what’s a few million between friends, after all? But the bigger surprise is that all three years of the deal are guaranteed. There is no early out in case Bagley doesn’t develop into the kind of player Troy Weaver thinks he can be. This seems like a pure upside play, and if there is one thing we know about Weaver, it’s that he trusts his scouting instincts.
I’m skeptical it’s all going to work out because let’s be honest, Bagley was a mess in Sacramento. And while he performed much better in Detroit, he was still limited offensively, lost defensively, and if he doesn’t ever develop a jump shot he maxes out as a reserve undersized center in the NBA.
But Troy Weaver liked Bagley in the draft in 2018, traded a couple of second-round picks to give him that 18-game audition for the Pistons, and now locks him into a lucrative long-term deal.
Welcome to the Marvin Bagley era, who, as of now, is the second-highest-paid member of the Pistons behind Kelly Olynyk. The upside of Bagley is that despite being a four-year veteran on his second team, he’s still just 23 years old and could develop outside of a dysfunctional Sacramento system that did not fit his personality or his game. In Detroit, he had a .585 true shooting percentage and converted an obscene 86.7% of his shots within three feet, and that was 37.5% of all his shots as a member of the Pistons.
The Pistons saw an underutilized big man who was playing out of position and gave him a new lease on life. If you want someone with rim gravity, and a dangerous pick-and-roll partner with Cunningham, well, now you’ve got him.
The downside of Bagley is that there might be no actual upside. We have more than 4,000 career minutes from Bagley, and he has never really shown he is capable of playing winning basketball. I don’t care what team situation you found yourself in, if you can’t play non-horrendous NBA defense in Year 4 that is on you and not your team. If after four years you’re a 29% 3-point shooter from deep, then you might just be a player who never develops a jump shot.
Bagley, even when looking at the good parts of his game is so limited you wonder why it was worth it to Weaver to give Bagley a deal so high for so many guaranteed years. And while we have to wait for Weaver to make all his offseason moves, as of now, it looks like the only way for Bagley to get consistent minutes is as a power forward, and that accentuates his flaws without maximizing his strengths.
I don’t get it.