With the NBA gravitating more and more to the concept of “Small Ball”, it would seem that the big man is going the way of the NFL running back. In football, playing in the backfield was once a glamour position, with high value placed on the stock of elite ball carriers.
But nowadays, there’s much debate in pro football circles about whether it’s wise to use a top draft pick on one, even for a gifted player such as former Penn State stud and New York Giants rookie Saquon Barkley.
Basketball might be moving away from the classic big man, as evidenced by the fact that in this year’s conference finals, the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics and Cavs got a combined three minutes by a 7-footer. And that was JaVale McGee.
But that’s what makes this year’s Draft so interesting, with power forwards and centers comprising six of the top 10 prospects in DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson, Mo Bomba, Michael Porter and Wendell Carter.
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Of those, Bagley is the one that most intrigues me, because he’s reminiscent of a left-handed teenage version of Kevin Durant.
I’m surprised that the debate over who should be taken with the top overall pick has centered solely around Ayton and Luca Doncic, the youngest player ever to earn MVP in the outstanding EuroLeague.
Bagley skill set, at 6-foot-11, is straight up bananas. His hops and above the rim game are next level, and he complements his explosiveness with an offensive smoothness and fluidity that will translate to easy buckets on the big stage.
He has excellent hands, is a vicious offensive rebounder and operates with immunity in the paint thanks to an advanced understanding of post moves and polished footwork. He can also handle the rock and splashes a very pretty deep ball. His versatility, quickness, agility and motor will translate lovely at the game’s highest level.
As he learns the pro game, he has the potential to develop into a very good defender as well, a la KD.
Duke’s Marvin Bagley III emerged as not only one of the best freshmen in the country but one of the best players in the nation. Bagley led the ACC in scoring and rebounding en route to garnering ACC Player and Rookie of the Year honors and along with being named a consensus First-Team All-American.
Bagley has already separated himself from the pack by signing a surprising 5-year footwear and apparel deal with Puma, rumored to be worth up to $9 million annually, the largest rookie shoe deal since Kevin Durant signed a 7-year $60 million deal with Nike in 2007.
He’s the first NBA player to be sponsored by Puma since Vince Carter signed a 10-year $50 million deal with the company in 1998. Carter eventually backed out of the deal after two years to sign with Nike.
Puma is also rumored to be negotiating with several other rookies including Trae Young as the company takes aim at establishing themselves the lucrative U.S. sneaker market. Nike, including its Jordan Brand, controls 81.3% of the market, and Puma, having surpassed Under Armour, is now third in sales behind Nike and Adidas.
Bagley’s signing with Puma was surprising to many because he’s been associated with Nike, who sponsored the Phoenix Phamily AAU squad run by his father, for the past six years. He went on to play for Duke, one of the Swoosh’s flagship college programs.
It was assumed that given the financial relationship with Nike, which his father admits enabled the family to climb out of bankruptcy to live in a posh California home, Bagley was a “shoe-in” to sign with them.
It’s no secret that most elite ballers sign shoe deals with companies that bankroll their AAU and college squads, so it seemed to be a given that he’d be paid to rock the Swoosh as a pro.
“This will send shock waves through the industry,” said Sonny Vaccaro, via The Oregonian. Vaccaro helped Nike sign Michael Jordan in the 1980’s and was instrumental in Kobe‘s $48 million rookie deal with adidas.
Duke Bound 6’11 Marvin Bagley III Drew League Highlights.
The average fan might not realize it, but Puma has long been a major worldwide player on the footwear scene, mostly due to its presence in soccer. They have a global infrastructure in place that Bagley will immediately benefit from, with more than 600 stores in more than 40 countries. Recent partnerships with Rihanna and Jay-Z have also bolstered Puma’s profile, so it’s not as if he’s signing up with an upstart.
Bagley is a unique talent, one of the best prospects to come along in quite some time. In signing with Puma, he’s already sent a signal. He’s charting his own course and is not content to simply be another horse in Nike’s stable that’s waiting in the wings to take his place among the league’s best behind the likes of LeBron, Durant and Anthony Davis.
On the court, he’s a man on a mission who takes control of his team’s destiny. And now off the court, we see that he’s willing to do the same as a unique spokesman and brand ambassador.
Many are speculating that Ayton and Doncic will be taken with the first two picks in a 2018 NBA Draft that is loaded with talented young prospects. If that’s how it goes down, history might one day prove that Bagley was the most deserving.