On June 22nd, 2017 the Sixers used the first of their four second round picks to select a 6’10” Australian power forward from the Serbian league, Jonah Bolden.
Before entering the Serbian league, Bolden attended UCLA for two years, and after some academic problems and an overall feeling that he was being underutilized on the Bruins squad, he decided to forgo his final years of eligibility and head to the Serbian league to prepare for the NBA (In case you’re wondering, no, he never played with Lonzo at UCLA. Jonah’s first year abroad was the first year of the Ball era).
While playing abroad, Bolden was awarded the Adriatic League’s Top Prospect Award: an award that has also been given to Nikola Jokic, Ante Zizic, and… Dario Saric.
Heading in to the draft, Bolden had been referred to as “the best player that no one is talking about”, a real dark horse in a potentially loaded 2017 draft class. After he was selected 36th overall by the Sixers, he stayed overseas to develop, while the Sixers’ front-court logjam was resolved. He signed with Macabbi FOX Tel Aviv of the Euroleague and the Israeli Premier League. He teamed up with Forever Sixer Pierre Jackson and the tandem are currently sitting atop the ranks in the Israeli Premier League, and come in at 8th (of 16 teams) in the Euroleague.
The 22-year-old is averaging 6 points, 5 rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block per game in his Euroleague campaign. Nothing eye popping, but he does a lot more that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.
The majority of you are likely already on board with Jonah coming over and are eagerly awaiting his arrival next season. For those of you who aren’t convinced yet, let me take you on a stroll through some video evidence that shows this kid is good. Let’s kick things off untraditionally and start by viewing some defensive highlights from the Aussie.
Bolden’s 6’10” wiry frame with an unofficial 7’3 wingspan make him a nuisance on the defensive end for opponents. In this first clip we can see Jonah using his length to make it difficult for a driving guard to get his shot off and then, after a Norris Cole (yep, he’s alive) turnover, we see Jonah hustle back in transition for a clean block.
How about a volleyball spike on help defense?
In the mood for another block on help?
There are even times when he bites on pump fakes, but has the body control and coordination to stay straight up and disrupt shots.
Besides his Earth-denting blocks, Bolden also offers a high basketball IQ on both ends of the court. This is the greatest example of what Jonah Bolden brings to the table...
And a similar play here, except he ends up getting the bucket.
His long-ass arms (saying length and wingspan feels redundant at this point) make him a pain to shoot over.
Here he is acting like a octopus and denying a pass to the post.
We’ll end his defensive highlights on my favorite play. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Luka Doncic, the prospect projected to go top 10 in this summer’s draft. Well, on this possession, Bolden switches on to Doncic, recovers back to his man, switches back on to Doncic and denies any shot he was thinking of taking, resulting in Doncic passing with two seconds left on the shot clock:
Now let’s take a dive in to Bolden’s offensive skill set.
On the season, Bolden is shooting 60% from 2 point range and 32% from 3 point land. He mainly makes his money in transition as his gazelle-like strides make it easy for him to run the floor and create space between him and other bigs on fast breaks.
Here he is outrunning two defenders down court and punching one home.
One big thing that Bolden needed to improve on after being drafted was his body control and ability to finish at the rim:
He’s going to have to be careful with this finger roll in the NBA, it is prone to get obliterated into the stands; but he cuts through the defense like a hot knife through butter.
The next two plays show his high basketball IQ on the offensive side of the ball. He sets a down screen for his teammate, then diagnoses the defense and cuts right to the basket and finishes at the rim with great body control (He made the free throw too).
Another great cut from the corner, as Pierre Jackson finds him, and Bolden does the rest:
So uhhh, how about a 3-Ball montage?
This last one is clutch too. Under two minutes left and up by four:
Bolden is by no means a knock down 3-point shooter (yet). As I said before, he’s shooting 32% from 3 this season, and he has his fair share of bricks:
But in all of this, what you like to see is Jonah diving right back in the play and getting another scoop layup to fall:
Bolden’s strongest attribute might be his rebounding. He is a tenacious rebounder and his 7’3” wingspan and bouncy nature make it easy for him to sky over opponents for boards. The offensive glass is also an area where he gets a majority of his buckets. He bullies his way in for this And 1 tip-in, and I still can’t comprehend how he got this to fall:
Denied from one rebound, not to be denied again:
He is very conscious of his whereabouts when he pulls down a rebound. He pulls this one down and immediately finds his teammate Michael Roll for a wide open three:
I know defensive rebounds aren’t the most fun thing to watch, but Bolden is a master at it, averaging 4.4 per game, good enough to rank 4th in the Euroleague this season:
He works hard for his rebounds:
There’s that wingspan again:
His positioning on every rebound is instinctual. He may look skinny, but he’s a fairly strong and powerful player. He uses all he has to box out opponents and gain an advantage:
Finally, Bolden’s passing is a very underrated part of his game. He only averages an assist and a half per game, but most of his passes are right where they need to be:
This one is on a frozen rope:
And he can even get a little, flashy:
So what does Jonah Bolden bring?
Hope that the Sixers backup frontcourt can function and not be responsible for blown leads and unwatchable basketball. So just imagine next season, instead of punching your wall while watching Amir Johnson play, we could be crying tears of joy watching another 6’10” Australian run wild.
(I’m a Richaun Holmes homer (“Holmer”) so I refuse to think about a reality in which Holmes and Bolden aren’t our backup forwards next season).