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Two Rookie Big Men Walk Onto an NBA Court. One Plays Center. The Other Plays Shooting Guard.

Mo Bamba and Marvin Bagley III made their preseason debuts Monday. Their experiences were … different.

Mo Bamba and Marvin Bagley III AP Images/Ringer illustration

Two rookies diverged on a preseason court. Marvin Bagley III and Mohamed Bamba, two of the most anticipated big men of the 2018 NBA draft, debuted Monday. One lost, one won; both fouled a ridiculous number of times! Let’s examine.


Marvin Bagley III, Kings

Less than a week ago, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger said that only “down the line, in the future” might he be comfortable playing rookie Marvin Bagley III in the same lineup as Harry Giles III. (More pressing question: Will Bagley III, Giles III, Frank Mason III, and Ben McLemore III ever play in the same lineup?)

“There are a lot of guys at those positions,” Joerger said about the Kings’ glut of athletic big men, “so how is it going to work itself out? ... I have them currently not playing the same position. I think they’re different for what we’re trying to do.” Bagley seemed to think he’d play power forward primarily: “I’m more 4. [Joerger] said it’s the 4.” Let’s fast-forward to their preseason opener Monday against the Suns. Bagley didn’t start the game, but at the beginning of the second quarter, he was in the following lineup: Mason, Bagley, Giles, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Four bigs. One 6-foot Mason.

From the moment Bagley became a King, playing small forward was always something that could happen, in the way that Andre Drummond could develop an outside shot. Joerger knows he’ll have to get creative; the extremely frontcourt-heavy roster also includes Nemanja Bjelica, Kosta Koufos, and Zach Randolph. But I can’t knock Joerger for trying something different with his rookie, whose exact position in today’s NBA is still unclear. Like The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks wrote in December, “NBA offenses don’t want anyone in the spots on the court”—a.k.a. the post—”where Bagley operates best.” Putting him at the 3 means sacrificing consistent outside shooting until he can develop that skill himself. On defense, Bagley fits best alongside a center who can forgive his defensive shortcomings at the rim. But if neither he nor his rim-protecting partner can shoot, it limits how much Sacramento can spread the floor.

Still, Bagley flashes the athleticism and quickness that drew the Kings to him in the first place. Figuring out how to fit him into their rotation is a good problem to have. On Monday, he finished with seven points on 2-for-7 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, a steal, and two blocks. Also, to directly contradict what I said earlier about Bagley’s defense, here’s 2018’s second overall pick blocking the first overall pick:

Mo Bamba, Magic

Like Bagley, Bamba didn’t start in the Magic’s preseason debut against Philadelphia. And except for his field goal percentage, his final stat line was a little underwhelming. In 17 minutes, he shot 50 percent from the free throw line (2-for-4), had three boards, two assists, no blocks, one turnover, and … five fouls. Even worse, four of those fouls came in a span of eight minutes.

Bamba put on a show for the crowd with his scoring. His first shot was a made 3. I’m not sure how long into the season it’ll take before seeing Bamba’s skinny 7-foot frame catch, shoot, and swish from behind the arc seems normal, but I do know that Orlando has a way better chance of becoming a League Pass favorite because of it.

Bamba finished 4-for-5 from the floor in the 120-114 loss (what a very warm Magic welcome for new coach Steve Clifford), hit another 3, rolled to the rim, and took on Joel Embiid at the basket. (Come for Embiid getting dunked on; stay for the victim’s face after the fact.) The no. 6 overall pick showed the sort of offensive versatility that was foreshadowed in his predraft scouting reports.

Orlando will also have to experiment with its frontcourt. Bamba won’t have to compete for minutes with as many players as Bagley will, but Nikola Vucevic and Timofey Mozgov are at the center spot, and Aaron Gordon is at the 4 (please, please keep him at power forward, Cliff). Jonathan Isaac, who left Monday’s game early with an ankle sprain, could also see time at the 5 in smaller lineups. The advantage this rookie holds over Bagley is already having a better sense of his role—not only with the Magic, but in the NBA as a whole. While the Kings search for the right way to use Bagley, Bamba has already sunk two 3-pointers on his way to becoming a 3-and-D big.

This post was updated after publishing to reflect that Deyonta Davis is no longer with the Kings.