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Sleeper Deep Dives: Marcus Bagley
A detailed look at projected second round pick and Sun Devil standout Marcus Bagley, who could be more than just a sleeper for the 2022 NBA Draft.
Marcus Bagley went from Sacramento to Arizona State last season with the hopes of being a one-and-done college prospect. With stellar shooting touch, solid athletic tools, and a brother already playing in the NBA, he had plenty of potential to back up those hopes. Unfortunately, last season did not exactly go as planned.
Bagley averaged 10.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per contest but only played in 12 games (11 starts) for the Sun Devils amid COVID issues along with calf and ankle injuries. He decided to withdraw from the draft and return to Arizona State for another year of basketball.
At the time of his withdrawal from the draft, Bagley was widely considered to be a second-round pick--ESPN had him as their #36 prospect heading into the 2021 NBA Draft, and Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have him at #32 in their most recent Top 100 for ESPN. Matt Babcock recently ranked him as the #32 prospect in his big board for Basketball News. Bagley was #31 in the RSCI Top 100 in 2020 when he graduated high school.
In short, Bagley is exactly the kind of prospect that I hope to cover in detail this year. In my Sleeper Deep Dives series, I will go in depth on some of the prospects in college basketball who are rated as second-round picks by general consensus. These players may not have the highest draft stock at the moment, but they might develop into more than just end of the bench guys in the NBA--whether that happens this season or further on down the line. So...let’s dive deep!
Offense: Shooting and Sprinting
The biggest selling point for Marcus Bagley at the NBA level is his jump shot. His mechanics are clean and repeatable, especially on catch-and-shoot shots. While his proficiency at shooting off the dribble could certainly use some work, Bagley showed that he can get himself open from deep and get his shot off relatively quickly even in the face of a defender. When he gets a chance to rise and fire, Bagley already looks like an NBA-caliber wing from downtown. He can knock down jumpers from well beyond the college three point line:
Bagley’s 34.7% mark from deep last season doesn't really tell the story of his prowess as an outside shooter, and it would be shocking if he does not shoot better than that in his sophomore year. Bagley’s form is very consistent, and he is not afraid to fire away—he averaged six three point attempts per game last season. Teams have to guard him much more closely when he is beyond the arc than they would have to guard a less frequent or less capable shooter.
His shooting frequency from long range also plays a part in why Bagley's 38.7% mark from the field overall does not do justice to his overall scoring ability. Even over a small sample size of games, a staggering 68% of his shots as a freshman came from beyond the arc; that three point shooting frequency was the main reason why his percentage from the field overall looks lower than one would expect for an offensive player of his caliber. Bagley's 53.6% True Shooting Percentage as a freshman isn't exactly staggering, but it tells a more positive story about his offense than his 39/35/72 traditional shooting splits.
The way that he got his shots also bodes well for Bagley’s ability to score efficiently both this year and at the next level. Bagley ranked in the 75th percentile on spot up looks last season per Synergy Sports, and he took nearly three times as many spot ups as he did any other offensive play type (39.3% of his shots were spot ups, compared to 14.1% for transition looks, his second most common type of play).
While Marcus Bagley's most obvious NBA niche is as a spot up shooter, he has the potential to be more than just a catch-and-shoot player on the offensive end. With Josh Christopher moving on to the NBA, Bagley will have a lot more opportunities to shoot and score this season. The clearest way for him to solidify himself as an NBA prospect would be to diversify his looks from long range—Bagley might not be ready to take 30-footers off the dribble quite yet, but he could definitely work his way into a few more points each night by running off of screens. Only 10.4% of Bagley's possessions last season came off screens last season, but Bagley was even better at that than he was at spotting up, ranking in the 85th percentile per Synergy.
While small sample size theater comes into play even more here than it does for his spot up looks, the tape lines up with the numbers here in terms of Bagley’s potential to convert more of those looks—he is quicker than most front court players, and tall enough to shoot over most of the guards trying to fight over screens to contest his shot. He isn’t at James Bouknight’s level quite yet, but Bagley has the shot and athleticism to get more looks by running his defenders around a few more picks this season.
Another obvious path for Bagley to improve on the offensive end would be to cut to the rim more often. Just 5.9% of Bagley’s offense last season came on cuts, per Synergy, but Bagley’s shooting gravity and great hops make him a lethal weapon when he does make a move towards the basket. Teams have to respect his shot, which gives him opportunities to slip past defenses and get to the rim (although he admittedly got some help here from this…imperfect Oregon State defense):
The rest of Bagley's offensive game is murkier in terms of how easily it will port over to the NBA level. Bagley does not have a great handle, and he struggled last season to create good looks for himself with the ball in his hands. While he has the speed and hops to be a threat in transition, he did not show much ability to get to the rim in half-court sets. His passing was even more problematic than his handle—Bagley finished his freshman season with more turnovers than assists, and he dished out just 14 helpers in his 12 games last season.
Marcus Bagley will have more chances with the ball in his hands this season, and with his athleticism he has the potential to blow by opponents (especially if he sees minutes at power forward). However, he would have to make a serious leap in terms of his dribbling and his playmaking for teams to trust him with the ball in his hands even as a secondary playmaker at the NBA level.
Defense and Rebounding: Tools and Timing
If Marcus Bagley works his way into the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft, he will probably do so because of his offensive skillset. However, Bagley's offensive skills are relatively well-known at this point. For him to increase his stock from late first/early second round pick to somewhere higher in the first round, he will have to prove himself as a defender. While defense was not his calling card coming into Arizona State, Bagley showed enough flashes as a defender in his first college season to indicate that he could quickly become a positive defensive contributor—both this season and at some point in his theoretical NBA future.
The place to start with Bagley on the defensive end is his NBA-ready frame. At 6'8" and 215 pounds, Marcus Bagley will be more physically prepared for the NBA than most young wings. His quickness at his size makes it easy for him to slot in as a defender that can switch onto pretty much any player from the two to the four, with the possibility of playing as a small-ball five down the road (or maybe sooner rather than later, in a pinch). Given his three-point shooting, Bagley will be able to fit in as a 3-and-D type on pretty much any NBA roster—that positional flexibility alone should give him plenty of opportunities to find a role at the next level.
The defensive sample size for Bagley is even smaller than the offensive sample size, but the numbers are even more impressive. Bagley ranked in the 93rd percentile defensively last season per Synergy Sports. While the defensive tape does not definitively point to Bagley being in the top 10% defensively, he did show flashes of elite defensive play last season. He is too quick laterally for most guards to blow by him, and too stout physically to be bullied by all but the biggest of big men. Bagley also managed to nab a few steals last year, and any opportunities to run out in transition will boost his offensive value as well. He isn’t someone who has shown particular ability as a weak side shot blocker, but he can move his feet well and pitch in as a help defender outside of highlight reel plays. As long as he can be a little more consistent on the defensive end of the floor, Bagley has everything he needs to develop into at least an average defender at the NBA level.
Marcus Bagley does not share much of his skill set with his older brother Marvin, but the two certainly have one thing in common at the college level: both Bagley brothers have a knack for crashing the glass. While Arizona State was not exactly loaded with big men last season (they did not have a single 7-footer or a true center on the roster), it is still really impressive that Marcus Bagley led the team in rebounding with 6.2 boards per contest.
Rebounding will certainly not be the skill that gets Marcus Bagley drafted; rebounding as a whole (especially offensive rebounding) has become less and less of a coaching emphasis over the past ten years. Still, Bagley's rebounding ability will be useful for his chances to stick in an NBA rotation; he will boost his team's odds of securing possessions when he's out on the wing, and he will be able to at least hold his own on the boards when playing power forward in smaller lineups.
Future Outlook: How High Can He Climb?
Marcus Bagley does have one other major thing in common with his older brother as a prospect, unfortunately: the injury bug. The 2020-2021 college season was an outlier in more ways than one, but Bagley suffered calf issues and ankle issues that caused him to miss more than half of what was already a COVD cancellation filled 25 game campaign for the Sun Devils.
Since I am not a medical professional nor someone with access to any player's medical records, I try to leave health concerns out of the evaluation process as much as humanly possible. Still, given his brother's injury struggles and his own, it is hard not to worry about those issues with Marcus Bagley.
Leaving those medical concerns aside, the largest indicator of Bagley's draft stock will be his shooting. While his form is top-notch, his percentages did not showcase the depth of his shooting talent. If Bagley can put up six or more triples a game this season and knock them down at a 38-40% clip, the odds of Adam Silver calling his name on draft night are quite high.
The real question with Bagley is what else he can do on the floor besides shooting. With center prospect Enoch Boakye joining the Sun Devils, Bagley should spend more time on the perimeter than he did for last year's undersized squad. While it seems doubtful that he will become a high-level playmaker this season (or maybe ever), he will have more chances to show what he can do with the ball in his hands; furthermore, his teammates will be looking to kick out to him far more often this year than they were last year with Josh Christopher in the mix. Bagley will have four games (and one in-conference game) to get himself up to speed before a showdown with #8 Baylor on November 24th; a good performance in that contest could really boost Bagley's stock on the national level.
Marcus Bagley did not crack the Top 30 of his high school class, and he did not crack the Top 30 of most mock drafts last season. However, his 3-and-D skill set and size make him an ideal fit for the modern NBA. He might be a bit of a sleeper now, but he has the potential to be far more than a second-round flyer. If he can be a little more consistent from long range and a little more consistent on the defensive end, Marcus Bagley could make his sleeper status heading into the season look foolish and solidify his status as a clear first-round talent in the 2022 NBA Draft.