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Bol Bol’s NBA Draft star potential was absolutely worth the gamble for the Nuggets

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Why Bol Bol could be the 2019 NBA Draft’s star hiding in plain sight. A whole round and then some elapsed until the Nuggets took a chance on him.

Bol Bol’s combination of elite size, length, and shooting touch makes him a choice with tantalizing upside by the Denver Nuggets with the 44th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft (via the Miami Heat). At the same time, questions over his mobility, health, and frame threaten to derail his sky-high potential before it ever comes to fruition. Now, the Nuggets must hope Bol is a future star hiding in plain sight instead of a draft bust waiting to happen.

Bol is the son of Manute Bol, the former NBA legend who became a beloved figure during his 10-year career as a 7’6 center who twice led the league in blocked shots. Bol was 10 years old when his father died, but he carries his legacy in his stark physical resemble and evolutionary skill set that feels grounded in the foundation of his father’s talent.

Bol chose to play for Oregon as a consensus top-five recruit in the class of 2019, but he never got to show the full breadth of his ability. A non-displaced fracture of the navicular bone in his left foot ended Bol’s season after just nine games, a small sample, yet one which showed everything that went into making him the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in this draft.

It’s possible Bol’s lack of power and athletic fluidity means he gets run off the floor in a league that’s downsizing faster than ever. There’s an equal chance his incredible shot-making and shot-blocking ability at 7’2 with a 7’7 wingspan helps him develop into a unique weapon for Denver that few teams could match up with.

Was the risk worth the reward? While there’s a valid argument to be made against Bol, this is the case that Denver was right to gamble on his talent.

Bol might have been the best pure shooter in the draft

Bol isn’t just an elite shooter for a 7’2 center. Over his final season of high school ball and his truncated college career, Bol made a case to be one of the best and most versatile shooters in the draft, regardless of position. Here are his shooing numbers on the EYBL and at Oregon.

Bol Bol’s shooting numbers

League 3-point makes 3-point attempts 3-point percentage Free throw percentage
League 3-point makes 3-point attempts 3-point percentage Free throw percentage
EYBL 26 49 44.1 82.4
Oregon 13 25 52 75.7

Don’t question Bol’s range, either: he made an incredible 13-of-19 attempts from NBA three-point distance at Oregon, per The Stepien. He was exceptional as a spot-up shooter, averaging 1.61 points per possessions to finish in the 99th percentile of the country, per Synergy Sports.

Here are seven of Bol’s three-pointers at Oregon that show his potential as a shooter:

Bol doesn’t have the quickest or highest release, but given time, he’s a deadly shooter off the catch. He’s going to be devastating in the pick-and-pop game, especially when playing with someone who attracts attention like Jamal Murray.

He’s also going to give the Nuggets immense gravity simply by standing at the three-point line. Defenders can’t sag off him, whether he’s in the corner or the top of the arc. He’ll be a threat in transition as a trailing shooter, too.

The only real question with Bol’s shot is how often he can get it off. Bol only attempted 2.8 threes per game at Oregon, a number he’ll have to at least double to reach his peak value for the Nuggets. His low and slow release will make high volume a challenge, but being 7’2 gives him an inherent advantage shooting over any switch defender. As long as he cans his open shots, he’s going to bring sizable value just with the threat of his shot.

The first step to Denver unlocking Bol’s pro potential is encouraging him to let it fly.

Bol’s length will be an asset for the Nuggets as NBA defenses continue to evolve, especially in a zone

Big men in today’s NBA defenses are often asked to switch screens on the perimeter and defend guards. How will Bol survive given his obvious lack of lateral quickness and agility?

While Bol may not project as a switchable big, it’s important to remember NBA defenses are always evolving. Bol is currently 19 years old. How will NBA teams defend when he’s 24? What will defensive schemes look like when he’s 27?

These playoffs have proven switch-everything is far from the only defensive concept that works. The Toronto Raptors stifled the Golden State Warriors in crunch-time of Game 2 of the NBA Finals by playing a straight box-and-one around Stephen Curry. Toronto also used a zone heavily against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Zone defense became an emerging trend throughout the league this year, with the Nets, Heat, Spurs, and Celtics among those who used it most successfully.

A zone is one example of a defense Bol could thrive in. He still has some promise on that end, starting with his tremendous length. His 7’7 wingspan and 9’7 standing reach is a game-changer contesting shots around the basket and closing out on shooters. He already showed refined timing as a shot blocker, posting a 12.4 percent block rate at Oregon that would have been top-10 in the country if he played enough games. He also did well to avoid foul trouble, averaging only 2.2 fouls per 40 minutes. His shot blocking and foul avoidance was also backed up in his high school stats, when he blocked 3.9 shots per game on Nike’s EYBL circuit while only fouling 1.4 times per game, per D1Circuit.

Bol’s strength and quickness issues are real, but his length and anticipation as a shot blocker means he should be able to contribute some level of value as a defender for the Nuggets. Those are traits defenses will always covet even as coverages evolve. Bol might not be a perfect fit in the switch-everything defensive schemes of today, but a smart coach like Michael Malone should still find a way to maximize his rare gifts.

Bol adds some versatility on offense

While three-point shooting is going to be the foundation of Bol’s game offensively, he’s not strictly a catch-and-shoot guy. Bol’s shooting touch also extends to his work in the post and on floaters around the rim.

Bol scored 1.04 points per possession on post touches this year, per Synergy Sports, which ranked in the 87th percentile nationally. It’s likely he’ll struggle to score efficiently in the post against the NBA’s biggest defenders, but it will be a weapon against smaller defenders on switches.

Bol also has some potential as a ball handler, especially for a guy who is 7’2. He’s comfortable putting the ball on the floor and knows when to attack a closeout instead of firing the three. He’s starting to develop a floater, which only makes him more dangerous off the bounce.

Here is a cut of Bol scoring off the dribble or on post moves.

On the season, Bol scored 1.15 points per possession, which ranked in the 96th percentile of the country. He was a remarkably efficient scorer.

The NBA has never really seen someone like Bol Bol

Bol’s size and length puts him in elite company. The only players to measure with a 9’7 standing reach at the draft combine since 2000 and play meaningful NBA minutes are Rudy Gobert and Mohamed Bamba. Even if you bump Bol’s 7’7 wingspan down to 7’6, his only additional comps are Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, Ike Anigbogu, and Thomas Bryant.

Look at all of those names above. It isn’t just that Bol Bol has the most shooting potential of anyone in that group at 19 years old. It’s he’s already the best shooter by a mile. No one else with his rare length is even in his zip code as a three-point threat.

Of course, Bol is also the lightest of that group by a significant margin. He weighed in at only 208 pounds at the combine, which is alarming. Even Bamba was 225 pounds. With high hips and skinny legs, Bol’s featherweight frame is an issue. While “motor” has been called Bol’s biggest problem area for much of his life as a prospect, the real issue is his inability to generate power because he lacks strength badly right now and doesn’t even have the frame to theoretically support it.

Regardless, Bol’s stock was curiously low entering draft season and the Nuggets took advantage by selecting him far later than he should have gone. He’s a superior prospect to Bamba by most analytical measures, yet no mainstream draft evaluators saw them in the same tier, as you can see in the table below with each player’s ranking from reputable outlets.

Bol vs. Bamba

Player True shooting percentage Three point percentage Free throw percentage Rebound percentage Block rate Assist rate Standing reach Wingspan ESPN rank Athletic rank SI rank
Player True shooting percentage Three point percentage Free throw percentage Rebound percentage Block rate Assist rate Standing reach Wingspan ESPN rank Athletic rank SI rank
Bol Bol 63.2 52 75.7 17.91 12.4 9.7 9'7.5 7'7 15 32 21
Mohamed Bamba 59.3 27.5 68.1 20.2 13.2 3.6 9'7.5 7'10 3 5 5

The big difference is Bamba was polished off the court, was known as a good teammate, and sold himself well. In addition to Bol’s physical limitations, his character has been questioned by many evaluators.

Still, the impossible combination of knockdown shooting and length from Bol is hard to resist. It would be a miracle if Bamba — who went No. 6 overall last year — ever develops into as good as of a shooter as Bol is right now, and Bol is already comparable or superior in most other on-court metrics. Neither player would be as valued in a league that wanted to pound the ball to its centers in the post, but those days are long gone. Today’s coaches should be happy giving Bol the green light from three and then enjoy all the gravity benefits that come with it.

It was always going to take a leap of faith for any team to select Bol, but if fortune favors the bold, the Nuggets will one day be handsomely rewarded. In a draft light on star power after Zion Williamson, Bol was worth the risk down at 44 overall.