With 11 seconds on the shot clock, Julius Randle received the ball at the three-point line with Marvin Bagley in front of him. He took one dribble to his right before a quick behind the back move to his strong hand that turned Bagley around. He kissed it off the glass, and the whistle was blown – foul on Bagley. After the whistle, Randle turned around and barked, He can’t guard me.
Randle’s claim was valid, and Luke Walton seemingly had come to the same conclusion.
Less than 90 seconds later, Bagley was re-assigned to RJ Barrett and Harrison Barnes was designated to slow down the All-Star caliber forward in the closing minutes. Randle, who has been having a career-year that could potentially land him on the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, was able to barrel through the Duke product anytime he wanted and uncoincidentally slowed down after the change.
From the opening tip, it appeared that attacking Marvin Bagley was a key focus in New York’s offensive gameplan whether that be with him directly involved in the pick-and-roll, posting him up, or as the weakside help man.
Play one for the Knicks, options included posting up Bagley in isolation or a side pick-and-roll with Barrett and explosive big man Mitchell Robinson where Bagley would be responsible for denying the roll.
Bagley was late to the spot, resulting in an easy lob to Robinson as Bagley watched with his hands on the high flyers back.
This was just the beginning of a long and physical night for Bagley.
In this matchup particularly, if Randle got a head of steam headed downhill and used his body to push Bagley around, the Sacramento big man would be caught on his heels and bounce off after supplying little resistance.
Rarely did he beat Randle to the spot and often was caught using his hands to play defense rather than his body, as evident in the offensive foul included — which was incorrectly not called a foul on Marvin — and the fact that he fouled out of this contest.
On a few occasions, including the aforementioned one at the beginning of this article, one quick dribble move would leave Bagley in a position where he stood no chance to recover. He jumped at any convincing fakes and was left with his hips facing the complete wrong direction.
While putting on some weight would be more than useful, I believe this was an unideal use of the strength that Marvin currently possesses. Harrison Barnes was able to slow Randle late in the fourth by utilizing a wide base that leaned towards the offensive player and kept his hands off. Barnes is ten pounds lighter than Bagley and three inches shorter.
Maybe Walton kept that matchup so late into the game as a teaching moment for Bagley, something he can go and watch the tape on later to learn from. Maybe it will serve as motivation to hit the weight room, as Doug Christie alluded to on the broadcast.
Throughout the season, I have been encouraged by the switchability that the former number two pick has showcased. Yet, at times he was assigned to matchups that were unfair expectations such as Kawhi Leonard in the first Clippers game (even though there really were decent moments) or chasing quicker wings through screens.
This seemed to be another one of those nights.
The effort should not be in question, and there were even a few moments of smartly denying the entry pass by fronting, using his overwhelming length, and matching the physicality – even if one did result in a foul.
It would be wrong of me to also not include the monster block that Bagley had on Randle along with the other two charges he drew, one on rookie Obi Toppin. The lateral quickness and anticipation shown agains the Dayton product was encouraging, but Obi will learn not to duck his shoulder into opposing bigs and be more patient.
While the rejection is likely to be featured in a highlight reel, Randle was unconvincing with his lazy in-and-out move and diverted from the physicality that gained him a regular advantage throughout the night. No matter, props to Marvin Bagley for sticking with the play and being in the right place at the right time.
The charge drawn was also more error on Randle’s side by extending his arm rather than proper positioning from Bagley.
Julius Randle attacking Marvin Bagley in isolation almost brought New York back in the closing moments where Bagley had regularly found himself watching from the sideline throughout the season. It was puzzling to me why Walton waited until the lead was cut to two before doubling, or switching one of Barnes or Richaun Holmes onto Randle.
Again, the effort from Bagley is encouraging and should not be overlooked, but this matchup highlighted some of his concerning shortcomings on the defensive end of the ball. While his defensive numbers on the night don’t look bad, most of his playing time came alongside the other starters, and every minute featured him at the four with Holmes (who may be the best defender on the roster) beside him.
Personally, I would have assigned Randle to Holmes and let Bagley deal with a similarly explosive, but not particularly strong or physical Mitchell Robinson.
This would have often left Bagley as the last line of defense, which has its own concerns, but progress is needed to be made there as well that will only come with reps.
Hopefully, Bagley spends the rare extended break that Sacramento has to reflect on some of the film from this game and learn to utilize the strength he already has by slowly working to improve his fundamentals.