One Month In the Bag: Analyzing Duke’s Fantastic Freshman

Each season since the NBA instituted an age limit for players drafted into the league, college basketball has been overrun by talented freshman who are immediately among the best players in the nation. Sometimes it takes time for those phenoms to develop and find their footing with new teammates. Others are good enough to make an immediate impact.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III has made his presence felt in a monstrous way. In the first month of the season, he’s put his name on the short list of candidates for First Team All-American and worked his way onto National Player of the Year ballots. In the young college basketball season, he’s scored the most points of any player in the country (though that stat is aided by Duke playing a game or two more than most teams to date). Bagley is averaging 21.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game in just over 30 minutes of play. His talent, skills, and athleticism have been apparent at every turn.

His game has a variety of dimensions, which have propelled the Blue Devils to an 11-0 start and placed them in the top of the polls. As conference play looms, opposing teams will have their hands full diagnosing the collection of ways Bagley is successful.

Dominating the Offensive Glass

The most impressive area of Bagley’s game so far has been his activity as an offensive rebounder. To date, he’s made 96 field goals on the year, with 25 of those coming as putbacks off the glass. Nearly one-quarter of his makes around the rim come via a rebound and finish. Bagley has snagged the 2nd most offensive rebounds in college basketball so far this season, placing in the top 10 in the ACC in offensive rebounding rate.

Bagley makes a point of not just fighting for position in the post, but finding a way to also be in the right place to track missed shots. He uses his length to track those misses, with his long arms able to snag anything within a wide radius. Best of all for Duke, he knows what to do with the ball once he grabs a rebound. Bagley is a quick jumper, powerful finisher, and aggressive in the paint. Watch this board from Duke’s recent win over Indiana, where Bagley secures the ball before jamming a dunk home without second thought.

Making Plays on the Block

Bagley has shown a crafty ability to score and create from the low block. Most players his age, especially those with his athletic ability in the open floor, don’t prioritize low post moves in their game. Bagley is clearly comfortable playing in and around the paint, with the footwork to find shots.

When the Blue Devils desperately needed a bucket on the road in a brutal environment, they trusted Bagley to score in the post. Watch here as Duke runs a simple down-screen/backscreen to get the ball to Grayson Allen on the wing so he can feed it to Bagley inside.

When he’s not open, the freshman wisely re-posts and establishes better position. Once Allen throws a nice entry pass, Bagley migrates away from a double team and finishes safely on the other side of the rim. In all, it’s a very veteran move for first year player. Plays like that show how he’s making 80 percent of his attempts at the rim.

When he does catch the ball inside, Bagley isn’t a black hole. He keeps his eyes up and finds the open teammate when the defense collapses.

Playing Pick and Roll

On top of everything he’s able to do with the ball in his hands, Bagley has proven to be an excellent screener for his guards to make plays. Setting solid picks, and opening off those picks, is an underrated skill, more complicated than just getting in the defender’s way.

Bagley puts solid contact on the Hoosier defender and breaks for the basket. He gives Grayson Allen time to create space and finds an opening for himself near the rim. Allen zips a nice pass, which Bagley promptly catches and then throws home a dunk.

Bagley’s ability to combine these offensive skills has been remarkable so far. Between his activity on the glass, his paint scoring skills, and his capability to effectively screen on the perimeter, Bagley gives Coach K plenty of ways to score. Every time Duke has been in a close game down the stretch, we’ve seen Bagley not only as part of the gameplan, but we’ve seen him execute efficiently. There are some lingering questions about Bagley’s defense, which is one of the reasons Duke has played tons of zone this season, but overall as a college player and pro prospect, the future is very bright for Marvin Bagley III.

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Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, SALTMoney.org, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “One Month In the Bag: Analyzing Duke’s Fantastic Freshman

    1. That’s a really tough question. He’s pretty unique. My knee jerk reaction would be a combination of Garnett and Amare and Pau? He’s athletic like Amare, smooth like Pau, and active like KG. He won’t defend like KG, nor shoot from 18 feet like he did.

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