Detroit — Marvin Bagley III visualized himself on the court playing alongside his teammates in each of the Pistons’ first 13 games.
Bagley, who’s starting his first full season in Detroit, wanted to get a better idea of where he would fit and how his talents would be utilized best once he was fully healthy. The Pistons big man returned to the floor for the first time in exactly one month in Saturday’s loss to the Celtics.
He played almost 17 minutes off the bench and finished with four points, four rebounds and two blocks. After the game, Bagley said his main goal throughout his recovery was to remain mentally locked in despite being limited by a right knee sprain.
“The day it happened, I didn’t know how long I was going to be out,” Bagley said Saturday, “but I just mentally prepared for it, and now I’m back ready to play. It felt good being back out there.”
Bagley played well in 18 games (eight starts) with the Pistons last season. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists, serving as a focal point of the offense in the pick-and-roll with Cade Cunningham. His brief stint was productive enough for the Pistons to re-sign Bagley to a three-year deal worth $37 million this summer.
At the start of the season, Bagley said he was “hungry” to continue to get better now following his new deal with Detroit. The 6-foot-11 forward reiterated those same goals on Saturday.
“Same goals, same mission. Nothing changes,” Bagley said. “Obviously, getting hurt wasn’t a part of the plan, but that was out of my control. Once I found out what it was and how long I was going to be out, I just attacked every day. Watching film, staying locked in. Nothing changes. I trust the work I put in this summer and the work that I put in while I was out. Now, it’s just about getting into the rhythm of playing and getting back into my groove a little bit.”
Bagley served as a lob threat and a player who can find different ways to score when he’s established inside the paint. His array of jump-hooks and ability to finish with either hand proved beneficial for Detroit when it needed a bucket down low.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey paired Bagley in a lineup alongside Jalen Duren through spurts, the first time the Pistons were able to utilize a lineup with two centers. The rotation paid off in the rebounding department, as Detroit won the battle on the boards, 50-24, but the group lacked offensive cohesion. Bagley said the Pistons just need more time together in order for the lineup to be effective offensively.
“Just doing it more. Just playing on the court and reading each other,” Bagley said. “Big guys can do a lot of different things, so once we’re out there together, we’ve just gotta read each other, and that comes with time. Obviously, I was out. (Jalen Duren) missed a couple of games. He’s back, so it’s just about getting those games in and getting a feel for it.”
The Pistons have dealt with injuries since the start of training camp. Bagley missed 13 games. Cunningham will miss at least five games due to left shin soreness. Alec Burks missed a total of 13 games, 12 of which were due to a left navicular fracture. Duren missed three games because of a left ankle injury. Isaiah Livers missed the first two games of the season due to right hip soreness. Lastly, Jaden Ivey missed one game because of the flu.
When asked about the difficulty of gaining continuity with the team due to the lack of consistency in the lineup, Bagley said the team just needs to stay afloat until everyone is healthy again.
“For me, I was one of the guys so it’s hard for me to say,” Bagley said. “I’m pretty sure that’s messing with the rhythm a little bit. You get a good rhythm and then a guy is out. You got guys coming back and then you have to play with different guys. I don’t think it’s nothing we can’t handle or can’t fix. We just gotta continue to stay together through these games and it’ll come together.”