Entering the season, the general discourse surrounding the potential outcome of Sacramento’s season revolved around development. That development discourse couldn’t be more veracious for Marvin Bagley III, and so far he’s manifesting a propitious three-point shot.
Through 19 games, Bagley is converting on 37% of 2.8 three-point attempts per contest. Conducting deeper dives reveal more intriguing numbers that we’ll discuss later, but this fresh 19-game sample is arguably the best of his young career. The latter months of Bagley’s rookie campaign exhibited the potential of his long ball: 44% on 1.8 attempts in 10 games in March and 37.5% on 3.2 attempts in five games in April.
The third-year big is performing well at the rim (69% on 72 attempts for the season), and though the mid-range struggles are evident (33% on 76 attempts), Bagley proffering a 37% clip with this sample-size cushion is something you snag and run with any day of the week — and we’ve yet to see his best from deep.
Let’s watch some tape:
Corner threes bear the most fruit for Bagley. Per Cleaning the Glass, Bagley is drilling 46% (11/24) of his corner threes, slotting in the 77th percentile, a career-high mark.
Prior to the Miami contest on Saturday, Bagley perched at 40%, a salivating rate nonetheless. But the Duke product concluded the match converting on 7-8 attempts, including 3-4 from three. All four attempts came from the left corner, where Bagley is 10-19 (52%) on the season, per NBA.com’s shot chart data. We’ll delve into how Bagley fares in other regions as we progress, but Bagley has claimed his ownership of the left corner. It’s his territory, and the coaching staff seems cognizant of it.
In the clip, Richaun Holmes is operating in the high post as Buddy Hield comes to collect the dribble hand-off. Hield and Holmes flow into a pick-and-roll but watch how Kelly Olynyk drops the Bagley assignment to construct a wall before Hield. That wall bars two things: Hield’s path to the rim and the roll pass to Holmes.
Throughout the game, you may have noticed how Miami defended Hield, especially on pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs. They would immediately deploy two defenders to blitz him and force Hield into quick decisions. Miami’s scheme against Hield is worthy of its own article, but in this specific play, Hield’s only plausible option is the pass to Bagley, who was situated in that corner from the start. Olynyk contests to the best of his abilities, yet it doesn’t matter.
Before you read any further, play the clip above and observe the top of your screen for the duration of the video. Go.
Now that you’re back, let’s discuss it. It’s another play where Bagley is situated in the left corner for a possession. De’Aaron Fox penetrates the paint but not enough as Jimmy Butler forces him to move the ball. Harrison Barnes bullies the smaller Duncan Robinson from the right corner to the rim in two seconds, forcing the weak side help from Olynyk along the opposite baseline.
Bam Adebayo and Olynyk find themselves in a pick-your-poison sitch. Should Adebayo provide the help and let Olynyk split the difference between Bagley and Holmes? That’s tough because Olynyk might not recover in time to prevent Holmes from deploying his patented push shot.
At the bottom of your screen, Butler is splitting the difference between Holmes and the kick-out pass to Hield, who is roaming the perimeter. It’s all nuance.
Barnes takes advantage of what Miami dealt and delivers the pass. With the shot clock ticking and Olynyk now arriving with a hard closeout, Bagley comfortably drains the catch-and-shoot three. The assist from Barnes is riveting because when Barnes is on the floor, Bagley is shooting 39.5% from deep. When Barnes is off, Bagley’s percentage dips to 31.2, per pbpstats.com.
You’ve viewed Bagley’s finest makes — here’s the miss. Again, it’s from the left corner, and he’s open, so an airball doesn’t seem accurate, right? Well, notice Bagley’s attempts from the first two clips: simple catch-and-shoots. This attempt is similar as Kyle Guy delivers the pass. But carefully watch Bagley’s feet in the first seconds of this clip. He’s relocating to the corner instead of stationing himself there like the other plays.
He gets set, but it’s not in the same vein as the others. He’s still moving during the release, whereas the others required simple up-and-down maneuvers. Little nuances like that illustrate the differences between where Bagley is making strides and where there’s room for improvement.
Bagley’s individual success is permeating throughout the roster, too, as Sacramento pours it on from deep when Bagley steps on the hardwood. When Bagley is playing, the Kings are shooting 54% from corner threes, good for the 98th percentile, which is an 8.5% difference when he’s off the court; Sacramento shoots 37.6% from non-corner threes, supplanting in the 69th percentile, a 6.2% difference when he’s off; and on all three-pointers, the Kings are converting 41.6% with Bagley (93rd percentile), a 6.4% difference when’s he off. All stats courtesy of Cleaning the Glass.
You just inhaled a bunch of numbers. In other words, when Bagley’s playing, the Kings are lighting it up from deep. The problem, however, is that the frequency of those attempts is truncated. Despite the opulent shooting percentages, the Kings are in the 30th percentile and below for attempts in corner threes (30th), non-corner threes (21st), and all threes (21st) with Bagley on the court (all percentiles via Cleaning the Glass). The next step is to augment those attempts while maintaining similar efficiency.
And for Bagley, weaponizing a viable three-point shot is one step in the right direction. He’s playing within the offensive flow, reimbursing his teammates with assists rather than posting up on empty-set isolations and generating feeble looks. Soon, you hope the Kings complicate the playbook for Bagley by involving him in more pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, using him as the pop option off double-drags instead of rolling to the rim, and so much more I can’t incorporate into this piece.
The left corner is fruitful, but Bagley’s also 6-16 (37.5%) on above-the-break threes. However, he’s 1-5 (20%) from the right corner and 3-14 (21.4%) down the middle. Part of Bagley’s progress will rely on the staff to find opportunities for Bagley to attempt simpler looks in these red-light zones, such as the green-light catch-and-shoot attempts from the left corner.
Nonetheless, there’s plenty of untapped potential in Bagley, and the developing long ball is a buoyant sign of that potential. Whether or not the Kings can extract that is a question Kings fans are anxiously waiting to see.