Suns Squared: How Marvin Bagley would work in Phoenix

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 13: Marvin Bagley III
DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 13: Marvin Bagley III /

Marvin Bagley III’s old school game has battered ACC opponents. But can it translate to the NBA?

At 6-11 and 234 pounds, Marvin Bagley III is a supersized forward. Bagley is averaging (as of January 27), 21.6 points, 11.5 rebound and 1.1 blocks per game. He is also shooting 61% overall including 65% from inside the arc and getting to the line 7 times a game. Bagley has one of the top PER’s (Player Efficiency Rating) in the college basketball at 32.2, a number which would be in the tier of the historic if he was playing in the NBA and putting that stat up.

Bagley is interesting because of his situation and how he plays. His size would likely slot him into the center position in the NBA, but at Duke, he often plays next to one of either Wendell Carter Jr. or Marques Bolden, both McDonald’s All-American centers. This gives Bagley a distinct size advantage over whoever guards him on any given night. This advantage can be seen in his previously mentioned high shooting numbers from inside the paint and his ability to get to the line, where he shoots a somewhat disappointing 62.9%.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

This dynamic also can explain some of his rebounding numbers. Bagley is a high energy big and hits the glass hard. He grabs up 14.2% of Duke’s offensive rebounds which is statistically possible by playing closer to the basket with smaller players trying to keep him off the glass. His defensive rebounding number of 23.5% is lower than you would expect, but is in line with the situation. He often has to play a little further away on defense against a smaller play pulling him away from the basket and thus the rebounds.

Bagley operates almost exclusively in the paint on offense. He has displayed a proficient back to the basket game, as well as the ability to face-up and get a good shot in the paint at close proximity. However, that is where his offensive game seems to stop. His 3-point shooting is nonexistent with a rate of only 14.0% and shooting only 31% from beyond the arc. Bagley’s jumper has been inconsistent all year and will certainly need some work when he gets to the league.

Unfortunately Marvin Bagley’s rate stats for other box score numbers don’t show much. His assist rate is only 8.8% while having a slightly elevated turnover rate of 12.1%. So while he can create his own shot relatively easily, he does have difficulty creating for others and protecting the ball.

One thing to mention about Bagley that is almost impossible to capture statistically is his defense. Bagley has been lackluster defensively which is largely because he has to guard smaller, quicker players. Also teams have found ways to exploit Bagley, mostly in the Pick and Roll which drags him away from the basket forcing him to guard in space. The way we can see this is that despite having a positive defensive box plus-minus, it is only +2.5 whereas his offensive number is +7.5 which shows how heavily he weighs towards offense.

Marvin Bagley’s fit with the Suns would be interesting to say the least. The Suns already have two young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, with Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren as the young small forwards to play beside them. Bagely would need to play 4/5 in the NBA but likely cannot be a defensive anchor.

While he could make it work next to Bender or Chriss as a 4/5 combo, neither Bender nor Chriss has played more than 12% of the time at center so drafting Bagley would require moving on from Chandler, Len, or both.

Next: Suns Squared: Why DeAndre Ayton should stay in Arizona

Bagley does provide similar assets that DeAndre Ayton would, a big down low who has the skills to get a bucket whenever, but Bagley has mainly been feasting against smaller competition and his game doesn’t fit perfectly into the way the NBA is evolving with bigs who stretch the floor, so there would be significant adjustments needed.