(First posted at RealGM)
Marvin Bagley, III was the top prospect in the 2017 high school class.
Even though he was a late addition, not making his decision to reclassify and join Duke until mid-August, the 19-year-old adapted right away to the highest level of college basketball and was the number one priority in the offense from day one.
Though he projects as a center in the pros, the six-foot-11, 234-pounder played just about every minute with another true big man in the lineup. As a result, opponents matched up their stronger big on the pure center and often designated lighter, smaller types to guard Bagley, which Duke consistently viewed as an opportunity to explore getting him to work mostly below the foul line.
His 25.9% usage-rate led the team and he proved to be worth of those touches. In his 1,118 minutes in Durham, Bagley averaged 24.8 points per 40 minutes on 64% effective shooting and had the highest offensive rating on a team that ranked third in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.
And yet, so much of the intrigue over him isn’t over his production but the way he looks. Bagley is incredibly smooth for someone his size, which influences how he is often seeking to take opposing big men off the dribble.
He is not the sort of modern prototype who can draw his man to the perimeter and shake him side-to-side but Bagley has a very quick first step for a big man and has proven he can get by his man from the high post down.
On top of that, he is an explosive leaper and figures to be an excellent pick-and-roll finisher, while also flashing a three-point shot that looks very fluid.
The concerns regard the other end, where many people question his ability to protect the rim, which in turn lead to questions over his ability to anchor an above average defense. His shot blocking numbers were underwhelming and he didn’t show particularly impressive instincts anticipating rotations.
Duke’s struggles on defense through the non-conference part of the schedule led to Mike Krzyzewski installing a full time zone during the second half of the season, which was incredible to see, given that team had a handful of players who will be given multiple chances to fail in the pros. Bagley wasn’t the only reason why they eventually resorted to that strategy but he was part of the problem.
If he doesn’t develop and has to play with a center by his side more often than not, Bagley probably won’t be considered as much of a difference maker, though it might end up being the most appropriate end game. Thanks to his athletic prowess, he impressed in instances where activity was required of him and projects as someone who will offer flexibility by picking up smaller players on switches often.
Despite his well-distributed frame, Bagley doesn’t have a lot of toughness trying to set deep position. He is often pushed further away from the low post and is yet to show anything in terms of power moves, even against smaller players on switches.
Bagley also hasn’t yet developed dexterity incorporating fakes to get his man out of position and is very left-hand dependant on his finishes.
But his agility is very impressive, as he’s able to set up turnaround lean-in hooks over his man, scoop shots around him, floaters off jump-stops and explosive dunks off pivot moves in a split second.
He’s shown a stronger preference for facing up his man, though.
Bagley doesn’t have dribble moves and his handle isn’t particularly tight as of now, as he is prone to getting the ball stripped in traffic – averaging 2.7 turnovers per 40 minutes last season.
He is almost always simply trying to drive past his man on quickness and it has proven to be more than enough up until this point. Bagley has long strides, a spin move and a euro-step to get all the way to the basket just about every time. An improvement he should make in the near future is incorporating a no-dribble jumper into this routine, which should force opponents to have to play up on him.
His touch is excellent as well, as Bagley finished his 251 shots at the rim at a 76.9% clip and hit 41.2% of his 131 two-pointers away from the basket, with just 53.8% of his total field-goals inside the arc assisted, which is notable for a big man.
He proved himself able of handling double teams reasonably well, patiently going to an escape dribble to give himself room to pass out of it, even flashing some appealing court vision on cross-court passes to the opposite corner from time-to-time, while also showing to have last-second drop-off passes off drives in him. As his 8.4% assist rate indicates, he is not the next coming of Nikola Jokic but at least he’s proven he is not a black hole without any feel for the game either.
FINISHING & SHOOTING
Bagley didn’t have many opportunities to roll hard to the basket out of the ball-screen because of the way Duke played offense but projects to be a very good pick-and-roll finisher in the pros.
He is not only an explosive leaper going up off one foot sneaking behind the defense but has also proven himself able to go up strong off two feet in traffic. Bagley is also very coordinated and figures to handle well instances where he is forced to catch, take a dribble for balance, and finish around a defender between him and the basket, given he has the touch for it as well.
He also plays with nice energy on the offensive glass. Bagley puts his explosive leaping ability to work going up to get the ball at a higher point than his opponents, while also possessing a quick second jump to go back up strong and fight for tip-ins or 50-50 balls – collecting 13.7% of Duke’s misses when he was on the floor last season and converting his 69 putback attempts at a 74.1% clip.
In addition to his ability to get there off the dribble, all that activity near the rim also led to Bagley living at the foul line, as he averaged 7.5 foul shots per 40 minutes, while posting a 48.6% free throw rate.
As an outside shooter, Bagley impressed with the fluidity of his release and the touch in his jumper – nailing 39.1% of his 58 three-point shots, at a pace of 2.1 attempts per 40 minutes.
He wasn’t given many chances to showcase the versatility of his release, though. Bagley didn’t do any work out of the pick-and-pop or coming off pindown screens, taking his three-pointers on spot-ups (which he didn’t do enough of, by the way) and as the trailer in the secondary break. As is, he can only be considered an open-shot shooter at this point of his development.
And there is also some reason for skepticism over how close to a real 40% shooter he is even in these instances, considering he hit just 62.7% of his 209 foul shots.
Bagley was a disappointing defender in college for the most part.
He struggled in pick-and-roll coverage when Duke played man-to-man during the first half of the season, as he proved to not yet know 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 could make. The game against Boston College was the low point.
Bagley was also an ineffective rim protector as a help defender and stepping up to the front of the basket as the last line of defense. All that explosiveness he showed in lob finishes and putback dunks didn’t translate into blocks or effective contests via verticality on the other end, as he averaged just one block per 40 minutes and his individual defensive rating was higher than the team’s overall.
Even within the zone Duke played in the ACC part of the schedule, Bagley was underwhelming, at times over-helping off the strong-side when Carter already had the middle clogged and never really leveraging his athletic prowess into getting into passing lanes and running shooters off their shots.
The two things he did well on defense were picking up smaller players on switches and finishing possessions on the defensive glass.
Bagley didn’t really bend his knees to get down in a stance and didn’t use his strength to contain dribble penetration but his agility translates into lateral quickness and he proved himself able to staying in front in isolation out in space, though it’s worth mentioning he was a bit too jumpy and prone to biting on fakes.
His effort on the board was a similar story. He was not all that fundamentally sound, often inattentive to his boxout responsibilities, but his athletic prowess was enough for him to make a difference – collecting 21.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.
 According to ESPN
 DOB: 3/14/1999
 According to Duke’s official listing
 According to our stats’ database
 According to Ken Pomeroy
 According to hoop-math
 Defined as number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt
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