Nuggets

Bol’s Low-Mile Start on Fumes

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Bol Bol has showcased his wide variety of basketball talents for two years at the high-school, collegiate and professional level.

So why are Michael Malone and the Denver Nuggets storing the 7’2, high-potential center deep on the bench?

The YouTube mixtape era in the late 2010s gave many high-school-basketball phenoms the platform to showcase their hoops portfolio. With the combination of popular basketball social-media pages (Overtime, Bleacher Report, SLAM HS, etc.) and thrilling highlights from young hoop prodigies, high-school basketball became an exciting entity for basketball fans worldwide.

Icons from this mixtape era include the Ball brothers, Zion Williamson, Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young and Cole Anthony to name a few. Despite Zion’s thunderous dunks or LaMelo’s flashy passing, however, there was one player from the mixtape era that has always stood out– the 7’2 center who could seem to do anything on the court, Bol Bol.

Son of the late Manute Bol, Bol Bol has been in the hoops spotlight since his freshman days in high school, but gained media traction while playing for Mater Dei in Los Angeles. Standing at 7’2 with a 7’6 frame, Bol has had the length to dominate on both sides of the floor– defending the rim and scoring interiorly with ease.

Sure, any basketball player with a frame like Bol’s should be expected to be proficient in those areas, but employing traditional center roles is just a fraction of his comprehensive skill set. Weighing just over 200 pounds, Bol can fluidly move his body, unlike other players his size. Bol leads fast breaks like point guards and can shoot off the dribble or in a catch-and-shoot situation.

He is truly as unique as they come and is a pure example of the evolution of professional basketball’s big man.

Unclear Draft Value

Coming into the 2019 NBA Draft, there was a presumed wide range of where Bol would be taken. Some experts predicted teams would select Bol in the lottery, while others thought he would fall to the second round. As the draft slowly progressed, Bol was finally drafted with the 44th pick by the Miami Heat, which later would be traded to the Nuggets. Despite Bol’s high potential and unique skill set, his draft stock crashed due to a severe stress fracture in his left foot, which sidelined him for most of his freshman year at Oregon.

From Denver’s perspective, it was another high-risk, high-reward move that would involve patience while their young core was still developing. After the draft, Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly told reporters that, “[Denver] was very fortunate that [Bol] fell and believed that he was a top-10 player on the draft board”.

Similar to Bol, Denver selected fellow high-school phenom Michael Porter Jr. a year earlier despite his injury concerns.

After being sidelined through the 2019-2020 season, Bol finally made his unofficial NBA debut during an exhibition match in the Orlando bubble. Bol did everything but disappoint in his debut, posting 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.

I reached Nirvana while Bol single-handedly created my favorite moment of 2020. Bol received a little share of playing time throughout the remainder of the bubble (as was expected), but just being able to watch Bol suit up in an NBA uniform — a Nuggets one nonetheless — was an exciting sight to see.

Progression Halted, But Here’s Why

Entering the 2020-21 season, questions arose about how Coach Malone would use Bol. Could he be a consistent rotation player? Could he receive some occasional starts? Those questions were answered pretty early, and to a pretty proportional amount of disappointment, Bol rarely saw the court– in an NBA or G League setting.

Bol made his first regular-season start against Brooklyn after serving as a garbage-time player for the season’s first five games. With veteran bigs Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic occupying the frontcourt, Malone chose Bol to guard Kevin Durant simply from a length perspective.

KD went on to score 34 points, which wasn’t too shocking at all. Bol’s 16 minutes against Brooklyn went on to become his season high, in which he totaled five points. Two days later, Bol made his second career start against Golden State, where he finished with four points.

It didn’t take long to see why Malone was hesitant to deploy the big man. Against Brooklyn, he was unable guard perimeter players. Even the most talented defenders struggle guarding Kevin Durant, but Bol made careless decisions that are routinely taught in high-school basketball. He couldn’t get past simple screens, was late to defensive rotations, and did not move off the ball on offense.

Though he did show some sparks on offense, it was clear Bol was not yet ready for NBA competition. 

Against Golden State, James Wiseman revealed Bol’s lack of strength when matching up in the post and when boxing out.

This play right here didn’t help Bol too much either. For the remainder of the season, Bol only appeared in two games where he reached double-digit minutes.

Despite all of this, however, Bol Bol can be used in zone defenses to maximize his potential. It’s sad to say, but sticking Bol in the paint is his only option of playing manageable defense where he can protect the rim. Unfortunately for Bol, the NBA, for the great majority of possessions, showcases man-to-man defense as zone defenses are relatively easy to break.

Offensively, Bol needs to work on off-ball movement and stop standing on the perimeter for a chance to either shoot or drive. With all the time Bol has spent on the bench, he probably realizes what needs improvement.

But it’s hard to say that when he does this in garbage time.

If there’s one thing Michael Malone hates most, it’s careless and selfish basketball. Bol is well aware of that. It has been noticeable that Bol wants more playing time to showcase his full potential.

One Last Shot?

As the NBA continues to struggle with COVID and Denver having two of their regular starters out with injury, there’s no better time to give Bol one more reasonable wave of rotation minutes. Let’s face it– the Nuggets are not primed for a playoff run this season and it wouldn’t be surprising if Denver gets eliminated in the first round.

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Jamal Murray‘s return will of course sooth things out, but this is not the year to be competing for a championship– especially with Golden State, Phoenix and Utah playing at a terrifyingly strong level. The Nuggets are not at full strength and will not enter the postseason at full strength. Why not experiment with Bol and see what he can bring to the table in a consistent amount of minutes?

I’m not talking about two starts then right back to the end of the bench; how about meaningful rotation minutes? If the experiment fails, then Denver has nothing to lose. If the experiment turns out to be beneficial, however, Malone can finally reliably use Bol even if it means playing zone defense.

On the other hand, Denver could also showcase Bol’s skills enough to where a team can comfortably trade for him without being too hesitant. There’s no point in benching Bol when Malone never uses him for meaningful minutes in a foggy season, especially when he has pretty high potential to be an impactful player.

Ship Bol Elsewhere?

Here are some simple trades if Bol’s minutes remain the same over the next few weeks:

  • Chicago Receives: Bol Bol
  • Denver Receives: Tony Bradley, 2022 second-round pick, 2023 second-round pick

A boring trade to say the least, but Tony Bradley has steadily improved over the course of this past season. He provides rim protection and can play minutes at the five behind Jokic. 

  • Oklahoma City Receives: Bol Bol
  • Denver Receives: 2022 first round pick (via LAC)

Nuggets add a first-round pick to secure two selections in the top 30 for 2022

With LeVert — and seemingly all of Indiana — on the block, Denver should make a move to change up their backcourt. Though LeVert has seemed to take a step back since his time with the Pacers, he is a risk worth taking. The Will Barton era can be moved on from and throwing in Bol along with Howard sweetens the deal for Indiana. 

  • Houston Receives: Will Barton, Bol Bol
  • Denver Receives: Eric Gordon, 2022 second-round pick (via PHI), 2024 second-round pick 

Though it might seem unpopular at first glance, Eric Gordon could be a sneaky-good addition for the Nuggets. Shooting 45% from three-point range, Gordon is one of the NBA’s best long-range snipers. Despite his age and ugly injury history, the former sixth man of the year should be valued highly. 

The jury is still out on Bol Bol and I hope he can turn out to be a valued player for years to come. He needs extensive and consistent minutes to showcase his worth, however, which he has not been receiving with the Nuggets. If the Nuggets aren’t going to use Bol, there has to be a trade fixed soon.

It’s unfortunate Bol’s career had to start off this way, but for now he’s simply trade bait.

About Rex Foster

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