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Film Don’t Lie: What can Marvin Bagley III bring the Detroit Pistons?

I go to the film to see what Troy Weaver has acquired in the former No. 2 overall pick

Sacramento Kings v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The lone move made by Troy Weaver and the Detroit Pistons at the NBA Trade Deadline was not the oft-discussed trade of Jerami Grant. It was, however, a move that many fans and media members have also been discussing. Weaver flipped Josh Jackson (on an expiring contract), the surprisingly productive Trey Lyles with a team option for next season, and two second-round picks in a four-team deal that landed Marvin Bagley III.

I can honestly say I am coming into my film review of Bagley with very few preconceived notions as he is not a guy I have watched very closely during his NBA tenure. The one thing I continually heard from fans was that he was not very good defensively so I did go in with a little bit of bias in that regard.

For this breakdown, I used the Nov. 26 triple OT game vs the Lakers, Dec. 11 vs the Cavs, Jan. 5 vs the Hawks, and Jan. 14 vs the Rockets. I went to Bagley III game logs and tried to pick four games with a mixture of results in terms of the box score hoping to give me the best chance at getting the full picture of his game. Also, watching only four full games leaves plenty of chances for blindspots in my evaluation. For the sake of time and getting this article to you before we saw him in a Pistons uniform, I thought that would be good enough to at least get a foundation of the player the Pistons had acquired.

Offense

First and foremost, this may have been the hardest offensive breakdown of a player I have done in my short time with Detroit Bad Boys. The Kings literally stuck Bagley III in the corner for the majority of each game. Most of the time he was on the floor with another big player like Alex Len, Damian Jones, or Chimezie Metu.

Because of this, I do not have a ton of film to show what he is capable of in pick-and-roll situations. I do think we can feel pretty good that as a short roll scorer he can be effective as he showcases a nice mid-range push-floater. The remaining question is what he is capable of as a passer/creator in this situation. I was hard-pressed to find any clips of this in action — which maybe says everything you need to know.

I know the excitement for many around this acquisition was the possibility of Cade and Killian to have a lob threat in PnR situations. Bagley III will have more vertical pop than any big currently on the Pistons roster, and it will be nice to see those guys FINALLY have a teammate who presses the rim in pick and roll (assuming Detroit uses him this way) and even in the dunker spot.

It looked to me like he, as with most players, has a few go-to moves. The aforementioned mid range push-floater along with loving to spin move to get back to his left hand “baby hook”. I do wonder about his ability to use his right hand around the rim as that was not something I saw him utilize much and there were times it could have made for an easier shot.

It is also worth noting that he was playing against some high-level STARTING big men in the games that I watched (Anthony Davis, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Clint Capela) and his best offensive performance was against the Rockets and Christian Wood. If he does slide into the 2nd unit for the Pistons, I think we could see him be highly effective against second-unit front lines. For his ultimate long-term success, I think I want to see just how good he is as a pick-and-roll player in terms of vertical gravity and short-roll passing along with becoming a somewhat reliable catch and shooter that makes the defense respect him.

Defense

As I mentioned earlier, after the trade, I heard over and over how bad Bagley performed on defense. After watching the first film against the Lakers, I was thinking there might be a chance that the narrative was wrong. That is why you watch more than one film on a player, though. As I continued to watch, I repeatedly saw the issues show up on this end of the floor.

The first thing that stood out to me was his lack of awareness off the ball. I am not even sure it is because he is not engaged, but he struggles to see the “full picture” of what is going on and instead tends to zero in on one thing. As Laz Jackson brought up when recording with me on the MCH podcast, he also lacks the quick reaction time and agility to make up for his defensive mistakes away from the ball. Think about Hamidou Diallo who is also not great away from the ball but because of his athletic explosiveness may be able to recover for a steal or block. Bagley III simply does not possess the same ability.

Speaking of shot-blocking, this is an area where you just are not going to get much from Bagley based on the games I watched. This makes me wonder how much he can play at the “5” and anchor the backend of your defense, along with the awareness in general. I think he could probably hold up in isolations at the five against most second-unit post players.

My concerns with him playing power forward goes back to the agility and his ability to guard on the perimeter. He struggles with closing out and is definitely not going to be a switchable defender like what we have seen from Isaiah Stewart.

I know all of this comes off, and is, very negative, but I do want to end on a positive note. I disagree with the narrative that he doesn’t care on that end or doesn’t play hard. I actually was surprised at how engaged and motivated he looked on that end. (yes, I am sure you can find a few clips to counter this, as with any player) He gets in a stance, “looks” engaged, but I simply think he is unsure what he is supposed to do at times and has not yet become a productive player on that end of the floor.

I think it would be a huge win for Bagley III just to become a neutral defender on the defensive end. If there were to happen, I think it would be because of improved off-ball awareness and the ability to see the full picture of the court. But considering how long he’s already been in the league, that feels like a big if.

Rebounding

We won’t spend a ton of time on rebounding, but I immediately like what I saw from him on the boards. Defensively, he attacks the rebound and has the vertical pop to go grab rebounds that many of the Pistons are simply unable to corral. I think he is willing to box a guy out or at least make contact. While he has more reps than I would like where he doesn’t fly in for a rebound from the perimeter, he does do it more than some members of the current roster.

Offensively, I think this is where he can make a huge impact and improve his offensive effectiveness. He has a good motor when going after offensive boards even after spending an entire possession just hanging out in the corner (seriously, it was so frustrating to watch). He even has a little finesse to this as he will utilize a “swim” or “spin” move to get around the box out. At the very least, he is going to put pressure on the defense to find him every time a shot goes up.

I will end this by saying I was 100% on board with this trade and am eager to see what the Pistons can get out of Marvin Bagley III. After some film review, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of who he has been this year on the defensive end and on the boards. Offensively, assuming we see him utilize more as a rim-attacking big man, there is a lot of promise. But in his time with the Kings, I am not sure I got the full picture yet. I am hoping we see him in plenty of ball screens over his first few games with Detroit and we can get the answers to how good he can be.