Marvin Bagley III has me perplexed.
What should we do with him?
Should a player that is as talented as Bagley be considered for an all-american team when seemingly everyone on the roster around him, and the team in general, seems to play better when he’s not on the floor?
Let’s start with this: Wendell Carter, in the five games (including Michigan State) in which Bagley did not play, is averaging 15.4 points, 10.4 boards, 2.8 assists and 2.6 blocks. In the 25 games with him, Carter is averaging 14.0 points, 9.2 boards, 1.9 assists and 2.1 blocks. Some of that, however, is simply explainable by the fact that, in Bagley’s absence, Carter is allowed to roam free in the paint.
Grayson Allen’s numbers, however, are drastically different. In the 25 games where Bagley has played this season, Allen is averaging 13.3 points, 3.6 boards, 4.6 assists and 1.5 steals. In the five games without him? 26.4 points, 2.6 boards, 4.2 assists and 2.0 steals.
Perhaps most importantly, Duke is 5-0 without Bagley on the floor, including a win over No. 2 Michigan State on a neutral court and some impressive, blow-out wins over teams in the middle of the ACC pack. With Bagley, Duke is now 19-6 after they lost at Virginia Tech in a game where they scored three points in the final five minutes and change as they blew a 60-51 lead.
Some of those numbers are noisy.
Part of the reason that Duke found a their form down the stretch of the season is that Bagley’s absence crippled their depth and forced Coach K to accept what we all knew was inevitable: That Duke is a 2-3 zone team this season. And that loss at Virginia Tech? It’s a road loss in conference play to a team with a win over North Carolina and at No. 1 Virginia in the last month that might climb up into the top 25 this week.
Put another way, losing at Virginia Tech is not the same as losing at Boston College.
Last night, during Duke’s loss, ESPN’s Dan Dakich made similar points albeit in a much more harsh and critical manner:
To be clear, I’m not calling Bagley selfish or all about himself.
I’m wondering whether or not Duke is better with just one of the two bigs on the floor at once, and even that doesn’t necessarily seem like it makes sense. Bagley has been active on a wing in that zone defense. There may be some validity to the idea that when the ball goes into Bagley it doesn’t come back out, but how often is that a result of the simple fact that Bagley is, you know, awesome? He is shooting 60 percent from the floor this season, and there aren’t many bigs that can stop him on the block.
Honestly, I think the biggest issue is that when the two bigs are on the floor together, the ball doesn’t move as quickly around the perimeter and there is not as much space in the lane for Allen to be an aggressive driver.
Put another way, with Bagley and Carter on the floor together, Duke becomes too predictable.
“We’re playing against teams that have scouted us the first couple games of the year, when nobody had seen half of our team play because we’re all young,” Grayson Allen told the Duke Chronicle. “Now we’re close to 30 games in, so teams have a lot of scouting on us and they know how to defend us, so we have to adjust to that.”
Whatever the case may be, I’ve dropped Bagley off of my first-team all-american list for the time being. As of today, I see there being six first-team all-american candidates that are valid: Jalen Brunson, Trae Young, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III have been there for months, but I also think that right now, Devonte’ Graham of Kansas and Trevon Bluiett of Xavier have to be on that list as well. If you made me pick today, I would ride with Graham and Bluiett over Bagley. They are the superstars of teams that have — or seem likely to — win outright league titles in the two toughest leagues (and only two power conference leagues that play true round-robins) in the sport.
Anyway, I spoke in depth with ESPN’s Dalen Cuff about the Bagley conundrum on a podcast last week. We dive into it in more depth if you are interested:
Here is the full top ten.
1. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova
2. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas
3. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma
4. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona
5. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier
6. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke
7. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
8. JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s
9. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech
10. GARY CLARK, Cincinnati
ALSO CONSIDERED: JAYLEN ADAMS, St. Bonaventure; MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State; JEVON CARTER, West Virginia; CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue; AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA; CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State; CALEB MARTIN, Nevada; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State