What the Marvin Bagley III Decision Means for NCAA, NBA
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Marvin Bagley III #35 of Sierra Canyon School shoots a free throw during the game against Bishop Montgomery High School at the Galen Center on February 24, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

After reclassifying as a member of the Class of 2017, Marvin Bagley III chooses Duke, altering the NCAA and NBA’s collective landscapes.

Live on Sportscenter’s 11 PM edition on Monday night, ESPN’s top high school recruit Marvin Bagley III, mulling UCLA, USC, and Duke University as his college of choice, opted to become a Blue Devil a year earlier than anticipated, reclassifying as a member of the Class of 2017 as part of his decision.

Once Bagley officially signs with Duke (he is listed as “committed” while the NCAA surveys his eligibility and decision to reclassify), he will unofficially unseat Michael Porter, Jr. of the University of Missouri atop ESPN’s list of the 100 high school prospects of 2017. Moreover, Bagley’s commitment will likely make Duke the preseason number one team in the country, one that boasts three other top ten blue chips (Wendell Carter at 4, Trevon Duval at 5, and Gary Trent, Jr. at 7) and two others in the top 100 (Jordan Tucker at 40 and Alex O’Connell at 85).


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The top recruiting class in the country will join senior Grayson Allen and sophomore Marques Bolden in pursuit of Duke’s sixth NCAA championship, all won with Mike Krzyzewski as head coach.  Despite Allen’s issues with poor temperament that effectively cost Duke a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in 2017 (they lost to South Carolina’s pressing defense that halted Luke Kennard and Tatum’s firepower), the former McDonald’s All-American was prudent to forego the NBA Draft and prove himself a player capable of leading Duke to a title in his senior year. Having the top recruiting class, headed up by Bagley, eases the load for Allen to revert to the explosive player he was as a sophomore when he scored 21 points a game on 43% shooting from three-point range.

Along with the departed Harry Giles in 2016, who was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, Bagley becomes Duke’s second straight number one recruit.  He will wear his favorite number 35, formerly worn by 1989’s Naismith College Player of the Year Danny Ferry, who agreed to unretire it for Bagley’s sake (how’s that for a recruiting ploy?).

As Duke alum, Jay Bilas once quipped, “Duke doesn’t rebuild: they reload.”

Should he forgo his final three years of eligibility after his freshman year as many Dukies have before him (including Kyrie Irving, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram, and, most recently, Giles and Jayson Tatum), Bagley likely becomes the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, leading a top-heavy draft class in the mold of the 2003 group that featured LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade in its top five selections.

Although no second coming of King James, Bagley, who played his junior year at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, California, is a unique talent, a 6’11” big man with shooting range and ball handling ability that is tailor made for today’s NBA game, one that has witnessed players like Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jocic revolutionize how big men can stretch the floor, exhibit tremendous passing ability, and become far more involved in scoring the ball from a variety of spots on the floor.  In short, Bagley has the height of a center and tenacity of an interior rim protector but can play like a guard.

Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, lambasted in the press for holding on to his stockpile of picks, was wise to hold on to that coveted Brooklyn Nets pick for the 2018 draft.  With the Nets mired in a lengthy rebuild—they traded away Brook Lopez to the Lakers and returned D’Angelo Russell, a third year player still in need of polishing—a poor season for them could result in another jackpot for Boston (another number one pick, with all eyes on Bagley), who took the 6’8″ forward Jayson Tatum with the third pick in this year’s draft after exchanging the top pick with the Philadelphia 76ers, who drafted Markelle Fultz.  In that trade, the Celtics also received a protected Lakers’ 2018 pick; should that pick fall between the second and fifth selections in the draft, the pick remains Boston’s.  Should it fall out of the top five, the pick is theirs in 2019 instead.

Furthermore, should the Lonzo Ball experiment falter in its first season (the L.A. roster still retains the oft-injured Lopez and Julius Randle, an unfinished product in Brandon Ingram, a shooting guard position that stands on shaky ground, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope slated to start, and bad contracts like Luol Deng’s), the Celtics could very well pair Bagley up with another stud, although the 2018 draft class does not feature very many NBA-ready point guards as the 2017 draft pool had, a position of need for Boston if free agency plays out the way it could in 2018 (more on that later).

Should the Celtics be awarded the first pick in next year’s draft, CBS Sports has them going with Bagley with the top selection.  Although Marcus Morris currently occupies the power forward position on the Celtics’ depth chart, Bagley could easily surpass him with enough polishing at Duke, especially if he is the featured gun that hoists a championship banner.  Although the diminutive scoring dynamo Isaiah Thomas might command a max contract in the summer of 2018, a prospect that could actually oust him from Boston’s future plans, Bagley would still be joining a young and explosive roster that includes Tatum, the newly signed Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, a wing-heavy club that would achieve a greater balance with Bagley aboard.

Given the crumbling state of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving and LeBron could depart this season and next, ushering in Boston as the undisputed top team in the East in the 2018-2019 campaign with or without Bagley (do not forget:  despite Cleveland representing the East in the NBA Finals for the third straight season, Boston overachieved in earning the conference’s top seed in the playoffs), depending on where the two Cavs stars land via trade or free agency.

Although prospects are high for Boston to land the top pick for the second straight year in next year’s draft, the potential to do so is not guaranteed, which could leave Orlando, Phoenix, Indiana (who find themselves rebuilding without a franchise player in Paul George), Chicago (who shed Jimmy Butler from their roster, with Dwyane Wade likely to be bought out), or Atlanta as potential landing spots for Bagley, although Boston would be the preferred landing spot, at least from a fan’s standpoint (especially those bored with LeBron’s assault on the Eastern Conference), as he would join a championship contender on which he would not be expected to start right away.  Although one thing is for certain about Bagley beyond his hardwood acumen—he does a great impression of The Champ:

Alas, the New York Knicks are likely in no position to catapult atop the lottery next season, as trading Carmelo Anthony would amount to no assets in the way of a club’s top pick and acquiring Kyrie Irving would deprive them of any picks (or perhaps even young players like Porzingis, whom the club must build around).  Should the roster remain intact, the Knicks would likely perform too well for a top lottery pick (just not well enough for a playoff bid), with the growth of players like Porzingis, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Willy Hernangomez likely to draw them to greater heights than even last season, which should not be all that difficult.  Now, should the Knicks excise Melo from their roster and facilitate a trade that does not bring Kyrie to New York (only young players and/or assets in the form of a pick or two), then the potential to land Bagley ascends, although the prospect remains rather low.  Besides, who knows how compatible Bagley would be with Porzingis, who would likely occupy the same power forward position the newest Duke commitment plays.

Earlier this year, NBA commissioner Adam Silver alluded to his desire to rescind the “one-and-done” rule, which prohibits players from joining the league straight out of high school, a decree instituted by David Stern in 2006.  Just how good is Marvin Bagley III?  Some project him as a Lamar Odom type player.  Others suggest he is NBA ready now and flat-out worthy of next year’s pick.  In addition to his offensive skill set, he projects as an excellent defender and shot blocker, who already flashed his ability at this summer’s Drew League, playing alongside James Harden many nights.

From what national audiences witnessed on Monday night, Bagley is a family man who is unfazed by the pressure of putting himself out there on the big stage.  His Twitter feed is smattered with Bible verses and allusions to his faith.  His game is two-pronged (unlike Jahlil Okafor’s), and he does not have the chip on his shoulder that the Laettners, Redicks, Allens, and Riverses of Cameron Indoor fame so eagerly exuded. I venture to guess there will not be a 30 for 30 doc on Bagley’s blatant arrogance and dirty hardwood tricks anytime soon.  He might very well be that rare breed of Duke player that hoops fans outside of Krzyzewskiville get behind, a one-and-done.

Regardless, Marvin Bagley III is bound to captivate NCAA hoops fans the world over in a matter of months and just may make his mark in the NBA in a little over a year’s time.

I am an English teacher, music and film aficionado, husband, father of two delightful boys, writer, sports fanatic, former Long Islander, and follower of Christ. Based on my Long Island upbringing, I was groomed as a Yankees, Giants, Rangers, and Knicks fan, and picked up Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, and Tottenham Hotspur football fandom along the way.