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Why Marvin Bagley is Duke’s missing piece

Sierra Canyon's Marvin Bagley III #35 warms up against La Lumiere during a high school basketball game at the 2017 Hoophall Classic on Monday, January 16, 2017, in Springfield, MA.. Sierra Canyon won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Gregory Payan/AP photo

As Mike Krzyzewski prepares for his 38th season as Duke’s head basketball coach, the Blue Devils once again find themselves on the national championship radar. But while most Division I teams have finalized their rosters for the upcoming season, the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champions in the coming weeks will have a shot to drastically improve their chances at cutting down the nets next April.

That’s because one of the top talents in the 2018 recruiting class may soon be on the market for 2017. Power forward Marvin Bagley reportedly has filed paperwork to reclassify to the incoming freshman class, and as is the case with many coveted prospects, Duke is involved.

Landing Bagley might just be what the Blue Devils need to become the favorites to win it all.

Krzyzewski already has stocked Duke’s roster with elite-level talent. In addition to returning senior star Grayson Allen and former blue-chipper Marques Bolden, the 2017-18 group will feature a trio of 5-star freshmen — center Wendell Carter, point guard Trevon Duval and shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. A one-and-done hopeful, Bagley wouldn’t just be icing on the cake for the Devils; he could be the final piece to the puzzle in building a championship group.

If there’s one flaw in Duke’s rotation, it’s at power forward. Duval is phenomenal off the dribble, Allen is a scoring machine, Trent adds another outside-shooting weapon and Carter has the potential to dominate the post as a freshman. What’s missing is an inside-out player at the 4.

Sure, there’s a scenario where Carter could slide over to power forward with Bolden at center. But given Bolden’s injury issues and struggles as a freshman a season ago, even that seems like a gamble. Perhaps the Blue Devils would be better off with a second versatile forward in the lineup.

That’s where Bagley would factor into the equation.

The 6-foot-10 standout is a tremendous athlete who can score near the rim and knock down jumpers. He’d be a perfect fit playing what has been arguably the most productive position for Duke over the last four years.

Power forwards on Krzyzewski’s squads have thrived during the one-and-done era. In 2013-14, Jabari Parker shined in that role before becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft. The following season, Justise Winslow’s play as a stretch 4 helped power Duke to a national title. After that? Brandon Ingram. And then Jayson Tatum.

Each of those four players — who, by the way, were all eventual top-10 draft picks — posted a usage rate of at least 22.6 percent, according to KenPom.com. That alone shows just how much Bagley could move the needle for the Devils.

They’ll need to secure his commitment first, though.

Bagley visited Durham, N.C., two weekends ago but continues to flirt with Arizona, UCLA and Southern Cal. Should he successfully reclassify, the next month will spark plenty of fast-paced drama as each of his suitors aims for a last-second splash.

Duke is accustomed to such splashes. If it reels in this particular big fish for the 2017-18 season, it may ultimately collect a trophy for it next April.

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