Even though he was a late addition, not making his decision to reclassify and join the team this year until mid-August, Duke wasted no time incorporating Marvin Bagley III and making him their center of gravity on offense. He leads the team in usage-rate among rotation players, at 26.8%, and getting him the ball tends to be the Duke’s priority on every other possession.
Though he projects as a center in the pros, the six-foot-11, 234-pounder has played just about every minute this season with another true big man in the lineup. As a result, opponents have matched up their stronger big on the pure center and often designated lighter, smaller types to guard Bagley III, which Duke has consistently viewed as an opportunity to explore getting him to work mostly below the foul line.
They haven’t been proven wrong at this level yet, given they’ve won 11 of 12 games so far and the lefty is averaging 27.3 points per 40 minutes on 63.5% effective shooting.
He hasn’t had much opportunity to dive to the basket in pick-and-roll, though, and a lot of the interest in him as a pro prospect surrounds his potential as both a lob finisher and an outside shooter — which hasn’t advanced much, in large part because he is not asked to space the floor a whole lot.
Defensively, the 18-year-old impresses in instances where activity is required of him, which is what to be expected given his remarkable athletic prowess. His defensive box plus minus is positive.
But he needs to develop in more subtle aspects of the game like being more attentive to his boxout responsibilities, acting as a deterrent as the last line of defense and controlling the action in front of him in the pick-and-roll – areas that will become more important when he moves up a level and can no longer solely rely on his athleticism to make a difference.
Bagley III lacks strength to establish a deep seal in the low post, even against switches, and gets consistently pushed further out to just inside the arc. That hasn’t stopped him from putting up the shots he is best at right now, though, whether it’s facing up or with his back to the basket.
He doesn’t have power moves and hasn’t yet shown much dexterity in terms of being able to work his defender patiently with shot-fakes or head-fakes but his feet are light and his touch is tremendous, so his turnaround lefty hooks, while somewhat simplistic, have been very effective.
That said, his go-to move in college has been looking to drive past opposing big men. He is getting the ball in the elbow a ton. His handle is rudimentary at this point of his development, as he is prone to getting the ball stripped in traffic and hasn’t shown much side-to-side shake. But Bagley III has long strides, a spin move and a euro-step to get all the way to the basket more often than not.
At the rim, he hasn’t yet shown much flexibility to hang or adjust his body in the air but is an explosive leaper off one-foot (even in traffic), uses his length well to over-extend and has great touch to score around rim protectors – converting his 91 layup/dunk attempts at a 79.1% clip, with 32 of his 72 makes unassisted, at a pace of 3.4 unassisted makes at the rim per 40 minutes.
And against defenders who have managed to stay attached to him or prevent him from taking it to the goal comfortably, Bagley III has even flashed a running floater to score from the in-between area and some ability to make a drop-off or a kick-out on the move – assisting on a not awesome but decent 8.3% of Duke’s scores when he’s been on the floor.
OTHER AREAS OF OFFENSE
Duke doesn’t have him diving hard to the basket a whole lot in pick-and-roll but Bagley III has proven he can play above the rim as a target for lobs.
When he has set high ball-screens, almost always slip screens, his priority has mostly been rolling into post position or popping to a spot in the perimeter for a catch-and-shoot jumper, though.
Bagley III is yet to take meaningful steps forward to prove himself a credible threat as an outside shooter, nailing just eight assisted two-point jumpers and eight three-point shots this season.
Some of the types of shots he’s hit sporadically, a step-in three-pointer as the trailer in the secondary break and quick trigger bombs in the pick-and-pop, still make you hopeful for the sort of shooter he could become with some encouragement.
But other than isolating, Bagley III’s most significant contribution has been on the offensive glass, where he puts his explosive leaping ability to work going up to get the ball at a higher point than his opponents, also possessing a quick second jump to go back up strong and fight for tip-ins or 50-50 balls – collecting 13% of Duke’s misses when he’s been on the floor this season and converting his 26 putback attempts at an 81.8% clip.
He struggles to hold ground in the post and isn’t very disciplined attending to his boxout responsibilities, though he’s managed to collect 24.1% of opponents’ misses in his 375 minutes thanks to the same attributes that make him effective on the offensive glass.
But his biggest issue has been in pick-and-roll defense.
Bagley III excels picking up smaller players on switches out in space, as he’s able to get down in a stance and slide laterally well enough to keep pace with them on straight line drives in order to intimidate or effectively contest shots.
But when he is asked to drop back, Bagley III always seems kind of lost. He hasn’t yet learned how to control the action in front of him, in terms of finding the right mix between backpedalling to prioritize preventing the ball handler from getting downhill but not giving away so much space that he has such an easy pull-up that most guys at the highest level of college ball can make. Boston College really succeeded in exploring this gap in his game, as it sought to put him in pick-and-roll time and time again in the second half of last week’s upset.
As the last line of defense, Bagley III is yet to develop into a help-defender who can protect the rim by making preventive rotations that keep the dribble driver from getting to the basket in the first place but has shown in bits and pieces that he has room to become that sort of player down the line, especially given his quickness.
Differently than he had shown in high school, Bagley is yet to translate his athleticism into making an impact as a shot blocker, though, which is putting into question his ability to anchor a defense at the next level, as chronicled by The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks today.
 DOB: 3/14/1999
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara