Should the Kings have drafted Luka Doncic?

NBA history features a few prominent stories of No. 3 draft picks who made teams that owned the No. 2 pick wish they had a do-over.

Of course there’s Michael Jordan, who went third in the 1984 draft right after the Portland Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie second.

Penny Hardaway was the No. 3 pick in 1993 after the Philadelphia 76ers chose Shawn Bradley second.

Carmelo Anthony went third in 2003 after the Detroit Pistons took a chance on Darko Milicic with the No. 2 pick.

James Harden was the No. 3 choice in 2009 following the Memphis Grizzlies’ selection of Hasheem Thabeet.

Noticing a theme? In a lot of instances where the third pick out-shined the second pick, the No. 3 choice was a dynamic and creative perimeter player that was passed over for a big man whose size was just as or more appealing than his skills.

In the 2018 draft, the Sacramento Kings used the No. 2 pick on Marvin Bagley III, a 6-foot-11 power forward who was dominant (21.0 points, 11.1 rebounds per game) in his freshman season at Duke University.

In the early stages of his pro career, Bagley has shown flashes of greatness. The 19-year-old has been sidelined for the last week with a knee injury, but all signs are showing he could very well develop into a star for the Kings.

But there’s another 19-year-old out there who could eventually haunt the Kings in the foreseeable future, as he has recently become the runaway favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year and looks like a lock to be a bona fide superstar.

That would be Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks’ guard/wing who was the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft — right after the Kings chose Bagley second.

Doncic is averaging 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists through 30 games and is clearly in line to be the face of the Dallas franchise whenever 40-year-old Dirk Nowitzki decides to retire.

Doncic is a 6-foot-7 playmaker and shooter who grew up in Slovenia and played pro ball in Spain before coming to the NBA.

His early-season highlight reel includes a 26-point effort in his second NBA game (a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves), a 31-point showing against the San Antonio Spurs, 24 points in a win over the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, 23 points and 12 assists against the Denver Nuggets, and a 32-point game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But the signature performance of Doncic’s rookie year so far came on Dec. 8 when he scored 11 straight points in the fourth quarter to lead a comeback victory over the Houston Rockets.

Marvin Bagley, meanwhile, has been solid for the Kings. He’s averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game even though he’s still coming off the bench and being brought along slowly by Sacramento coach Dave Joerger.

Bagley put up 20 points and 17 boards in a one-point loss to the Warriors. He posted 15-and-13 with three blocks in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had 20-9-5 against the Nuggets. He tallied 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals against the New Orleans Pelicans, going head-to-head at times with their superstar forward Anthony Davis and holding his own.

But Bagley has not made the impact or captured the public’s attention like Doncic. Bagley has been good, but Doncic has been great.

Which brings us back to the 2018 NBA Draft, and which makes people start to ask: Should the Kings have taken Doncic instead of Bagley? (Should the Phoenix Suns, who had the No. 1 overall pick and used it on 7-foot-1 center DeAndre Ayton, have taken Doncic?)

At the time, the Bagley pick made perfect sense for Sacramento.

The Kings appeared to have their backcourt of the future in place with youngsters De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, plus a couple of solid young guards coming off the bench in Bogdan Bogdanovic and Frank Mason III. Nobody would have objected to Sacramento taking a small forward, though, which Doncic can play. But the team had an obvious need for another big.

Plus, there was plenty of talk in basketball circles that Doncic and/or his people didn’t want to go to the Kings, whereas Bagley said prior to the draft that he was excited at the possibility of starting his NBA career in Sacramento.

For what it’s worth, Kings general manager Vlade Divac said the decision to pick Bagley over Doncic was an easy one.

There’s no need to say Divac was right or wrong at this point in the season.

It would still be too early at the end of this season to make that call. There have been plenty of players who had great rookie seasons, only to either peak there or decline. (Michael Carter-Williams, Mike Miller, Larry Johnson, to name a few.) Just as there have been plenty of players who became all-time greats after a less-than-amazing rookie season. (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, to name a few.)

Bagley could still turn out to be a superstar that the Kings would have zero regrets of drafting. Doncic could still turn out to be lower on the NBA totem pole than Bagley when this draft class is ultimately graded for prosperity.

But with the NBA’s unofficial mainstream reveal approaching on Christmas Day, the early returns say that Doncic is the best player from this group of rookies, and teams that had a chance to get him and didn’t — a.k.a. the Kings — will come to regret that decision.

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It’s time for the Kings to unleash Marvin Bagley III

Marvin Bagley III

In his third season as head coach of the Sacramento Kings, Dave Joerger has shown one consistent preference when it comes to rookies: He likes to bring them along slowly.

The Kings began Joerger’s first season with three rookies on the roster who were first-round draft picks, and added a fourth with a midseason trade for Buddy Hield. The rookies started a combined 30 games, and 18 of those were by Hield, who didn’t join the team until February. Skal Labissiere started 12 games, while Malachi Richardson and Georgios Papagiannis never started.

In Year 2, the Kings took point guard De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 pick. Although he was often their top scorer, he was still coming off the bench until about one month into the season while Joerger stuck with veteran George Hill. From the looks of things, it took an embarrassing 46-point loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks to make Joerger finally pull the trigger on making Fox — who the coach had already said may have the highest basketball IQ on the team — a full-time starter.

That patient approach wouldn’t be a big deal in a place like San Antonio with a coach like Gregg Popovich. The Spurs are a perennially successful franchise that doesn’t often get lottery picks and doesn’t need 19-year-old rookies to make an impact.

The Kings, however, are constantly in search of that next savior and face of the franchise. Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 years. They seem to have a permanent reservation at the NBA Draft Lottery table. So it can be understandably frustrating and confusing for Kings fans when their shiny new rookies aren’t being handed the keys like other top picks around the league.

The latest potential star for this team that is being is being brought along slowly is rookie forward Marvin Bagley III, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft who is by all accounts viewed as a critical piece of the franchise’s foundation.

But one week into the season, Bagley is still coming off the bench, and it looks like Joerger is again taking the slow approach with a standout rookie.

Meanwhile, it has become clear that Bagley is legit and that it’s time for the Kings to unleash him on the rest of the league.

Bagley’s NBA debut was forgettable. He only played 12 minutes in a loss to the Utah Jazz. But even in that cameo, he showed some flashes of brilliance. In his second game, he put up 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in which he was at times matched up with MVP candidate Anthony Davis and more than held his own.

Bagley posted 13 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes during Sacramento’s first victory of the season, last Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In Tuesday’s loss to the still-undefeated Denver Nuggets, Bagley looked like a star: 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists and five blocks while shooting 9-for-11 from the field. He played 32 minutes on the road in Denver’s notorious high-altitude and his motor never appeared to slow down. And again, he came off the bench.

Perhaps the impressive play Bagley made in the Nuggets game — and there were plenty — was on the defensive end. He was being posted up by Denver’s Trey Lyles, who spun into the lane, fooled Bagley on a pump fake and went up to shoot. But Bagley recovered so quickly that he was able to block Lyles’ shot on his second jump.

On another play, Bagley was being posted up by Denver center Nikola Jokic, who was voted the Western Conference Player of the Week and appears on his way to an All-Star Game berth. Jokic, who has about 15 pounds and a couple of inches on Bagley, went up strong right at the rim but Bagley blocked his shot.

Another time, Bagley blocked a shot by All-Star forward Paul Millsap, trailed the ensuing Sacramento fast break, then drove past Millsap to score between him and Jokic at the rim.

Although it’s a short four-game sample size, Bagley is showcasing a skill set that is similar to the likes of established stars Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid. He can score in the paint, from mid-range, and hit 3-pointers. He can handle the ball and run the floor. He can defend multiple positions and block shots.

Bagley (14.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 60% FG) should be starting for the Kings. It may not seem like a big deal, since he’s getting a lot of minutes, but that simple gesture isn’t just about putting the team in a better position to win. It is also a vote of confidence for the 19-year-old that he is one of the building blocks and faces of the franchise.