It’s the holiday season. That means we’re all decorating our homes, and celebrating different pieces of our cultures. Whether we’re celebrating the first harvests to come, lighting candles, or waiting for a fictional bearded man to come down a chimney, we’re in the spirit. And part of that holiday spirit is that of giving.
So we thought we’d go down a rabbit hole to talk about some of the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) gifts given in the history of sports. Today I want to talk about a gift that at the time didn’t seem all that significant. In fact, it seemed like the correct choice to make. That gift?
The Sacramento Kings selecting Marvin Bagley III instead of generational superstar Luka Dončić in 2018.
Hindsight is 20/20, right? Well, in that case, the Sacramento Kings have some of the sharpest eyes in the NBA. In recent years the Kings have been the object of ridicule, and have not done much to change that narrative. Firing Luke Walton, firing Vlade Divac, failing to make the playoffs since Brad Miller was starting for them. But even when taking all of those embarrassments into consideration there’s still one that takes the cake.
The 2018 NBA Draft was headlined by Deandre Ayton, who was an absolute lock to go first overall to the Phoenix Suns. The second pick was held by Sacramento who had two players to choose from. On one hand, there was a Slovenian point guard who had been playing in Europe, and on the other, a big from Duke who could anchor a burgeoning, young tandem in Sacramento.
Luka Dončić came onto the NBA radar after the Knicks took Kristaps Porzingis back in 2015. For years, European draft picks were extremely hit or miss, especially in the early portion of the draft. If you were to take a look at where the majority of Eastern European NBA players have been drafted over the last decade, the answer is pretty clear: second round, unless an absolute stunner.
The Kings know this, as does their Eastern European GM and former NBA star Vlade Divac. When Divac was coming up the ranks of Yugoslavia’s basketball system, the country he called home was in the midst of a civil war. Exacerbated by the fall of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia split up into several nations, one of them being Slovenia. Divac had long been a vocal supporter of Eastern European ballers, and had to know the kind of skills Dončić could bring to the NBA. Similar skillsets have made the jump to the NBA, like Goran Dragic, Toni Kukoč, and Divac’s childhood friend, the late Drazen Petrovic. But Divac had his eye elsewhere.
Securing the Bag-ley
Vlade Divac had a plan, but it had yet to materialize. After sending away the most recognizable player on the Kings in DeMarcus Cousins, Divac had two picks in the top 10 of the 2017 NBA Draft. Divac’s first selection, the fifth overall pick, was De’Aaron Fox, a quick sparkplug of a point-guard fresh off a fantastic season at Kentucky. And with the 10th overall pick, the Kings selected Zach Collins, the 6’11” Gonzaga center, who could replace DeMarcus Cousins.
But Divac then swiveled, sending Collins to Portland in exchange for picks that would become Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. In the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, the Kings had their point guard, small forward, and center of the future.
Or so they thought. Giles would sit out his first season in Sacramento with an injury, and Jackson wouldn’t amount to much, spending the majority of his time going back-and-forth to the G League. With Fox showing his promise, and the Kings heading for a high draft selection, Divac could get the big man he wanted in the first round. All he had to do was pick Marvin Bagley, the big power forward from Duke.
Bagley was ranked the No.1 overall recruit and No.1 power forward in the 2017 high school class before committing to Duke. In fact, Bagley was so good from an early age that he received his first full scholarship offer from Northern Arizona University when he was just 14 years old. After his first and only season at Duke, Bagley was named ACC’s Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year and declared for the NBA Draft after Duke’s NCAA Tournament exit.
Bagley was exactly the kind of player the Kings needed, and Divac knew it.
So with the second-overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings selected…. Marvin Bagley III from Duke University.
Since that moment, Luka Dončić has gone on to become an international phenomenon with the Dallas Mavericks, putting up video game numbers on a nightly basis. Marvin Bagley has spent the majority of his time with the Kings injured or complaining about not getting playing time.
Hindsight is 20/20. It’s important to remember that. Every team has one move, one single transaction that has ended with egg on their face. It’s that one action that can define a team, or it can motivate them. For Luka Dončić, being passed on by the Kings may have been a motivator, but honestly, Luka probably doesn’t care. Why would he? He’s the one that got away.
Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings continue to wander in the desert, looking for salvation and a superstar to take them to the promised land.
- / 12 months ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.