Who’s the 4? Marvin Bagley’s rim gravity, rebounding key to Detroit’s success

Detroit Bad Boys

The moment Jerami Grant was traded, the big question became, “Who is going to take his place in the starting lineup?” As it stands, the Pistons have zero prototypical power forwards on their roster. As we search for answers, Detroit Bad Boys will be examining five candidates on their potential as the starting 4. In the final piece, we look at Marvin Bagley III


Marvin Bagley III certainly made an impact upon his arrival to the Detroit Pistons in a deadline deal with the Sacramento Kings. After battling through 3.5 seasons of injury, organizational dysfunction and public standoffs, Detroit provided the former second overall selection with a desperately needed change of scenery. The 23-year-old’s intersection of size and athleticism instantly filled a need in a front court rotation devoid of such abilities. Most notably, the bouncy Blue Devil formed a dynamic partnership with the Motor City’s newly instated face of the franchise Cade Cunningham.

The acrobatic forward appeared in 18 games for the Pistons, posting averages of 14.6 points and 6.8 boards in predominately a bench role for coach Dwane Casey. Pistons General Manager Troy Weaver was clearly enamored with the production the former King provided in 490 Piston-minutes and came to terms on a three-year, $38 million contract this offseason.

While the contract value is debatable, Bagley’s addition to the roster helped accentuate many of the skills of Detroit’s young core. His production on offense helped transform a slow-paced, ground-bound attack into an offense with some diverse optionality. And though his game exhibits some glaring flaws, the young big man provides the depth chart a consistently efficient offensive option worthy of a starting role.

New York Knicks v Detroit Pistons

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

In his 18-game cameo with Detroit a season ago, Bagley endeared himself to the Piston faithful with his ability to sky for thunderous lob dunks. As previously mentioned, the duo of Cunningham and Bagley formed instant chemistry on offense.

The mere presence of a vertical spacing big helped unlock Cunningham’s halfcourt craft, further enhancing his manipulative dexterity on offense. Bagley’s effectiveness as a roll man increased dramatically with Cunningham at the controls. Per Synergy Sports, Bagley ranked in the 53rd percentile as the roll man for the Kings. With Detroit, he placed in the 86th percentile, residing in the upper echelon of roll men in the league.

However, even if we put the analytics aside and look at the counting stats, Cunningham played arguably his best basketball with the 6-foot-11 big flanking him:

Even with the addition of 18-year-old athletic marvel Jalen Duren, the springy Bagley offers Detroit’s glut of young guards the most proficient release valve in a Dwane Casey system. It’s no coincidence that the Arizona-native featured in the Pistons most high octane 5-man line-up.

Per NBA.com, the group of Cunningham, Joseph, Bey, Bagley and Stewart averaged the most points per 100 possessions (minimum of 50 minutes played), scoring an estimated 114.4 points when deployed in unison. When you factor in a likely improved outside shot from Stewart and the addition of a dynamic scoring guard in Alec Burks or Jaden Ivey (sorry CoJo), it’s easy to envision Cunningham methodically weaving his way through the teeth of a defense via a Bagley screen, with a plethora of play finishing options in at his disposal.

In addition to his finishing ability, the 23-year-old provides Casey with another player capable of creating a look for himself if the offense breaks down. While Bagley isn’t going to face-up and wow you with spectacular dribble moves out of the post. He is a fluid athlete for a nearly 7-footer, and could develop a useful jump shot over time. In his best games with Detroit, we saw Bagley confidently take one or two dribbles in the mid-post area, before swiftly spinning into a jump hook or fade away jumper in the painted area.

Unlike his counterparts vying for the starting four position, Bagley is a terrific rebounder at both ends of the floor, particularly when operating as the power forward. His willingness to crash the glass after misses creates an abundance of valuable second-chance opportunities. Bagley scored 37 points off putbacks as a member of the Pistons, accounting for a shade under 15% (14.1) of his total points with the team. With a roster that, once again, appears to lack the requisite amount of shooters, any additional possessions will help make up for the lack of perimeter touch.

Now it’s time to stop sipping the Bagley Kool Aid and pop the hood on the downside of Bagley having his name called with the starters on opening night.

Defense and shooting.

Philadelphia 76ers v Detroit Pistons

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

By now, it’s well known that Bagley struggles on the defensive end. The glass half full approach with the 23-year-old’s defensive woes would be that he at least puts in the effort. His struggles are not from indifference. Often, the athletic big is simply late on rotations or aloof to the opponent’s scheme on offense.

However, awareness issues aside, Bagley’s physical tools also don’t lend themselves to high-level rim protection. He doesn’t possess a rangy wingspan and doesn’t have the required girth to keep opponents from barreling through his chest to the front of the rim.

Paring him with Stewart in the front court creates a somewhat limited rim-protecting front line. Though Stewart does a fine job as a defender overall, he simply doesn’t exhibit the vertical pop nor size to consistently deter opponents from scoring at the basket.

To make up for Bagley’s lack of paint deterrence the natural train of though would be to pair him with either of the shot blocking bigs on the roster in Nerlens Noel or Jalen Duren. But, this is where the former Blue Devil’s career 29% shooting from three slams the door on this option. It’s nearly impossible in today’s NBA to feature two non-shooting front court players on the floor.

However, if Bagley is able to use this injury free offseason to work on and strengthen his perimeter stroke, theres no question he can provide Detroit with valuable starting minutes at the power forward position. Bagley with a reliable jump shot changes the landscape of Detroit’s depth chart dramatically, not only does it benefit his own repertoire but, he suddenly becomes a much easier piece to fit alongside Detroit’s abundance of bigs.

Improvement or not, one thing is for certain, Bagley will be put up numbers and provide consistent production for Detroit in whatever role he’s tasked with.

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