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Jonah Bolden’s Return: Q&A with Liberty Ballers’ Kevin Rice

Liberty Ballers’ own, and Jonah Bolden aficionado, Kevin Rice joins Jake Hyman to cover the talented two-way big man.

NBA: Summer League-Philadelphia 76ers at San Antonio Spurs Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Guess who’s back for Summer League? Jonah, wait for it, Bolden. According to Bolden’s agent, Daniel Moldovan, and later confirmed by Bolden himself, the 6’10”, 229-pound big man is en route to Las Vegas for the Sixers’ 2018 Summer League. The team’s frontcourt looked rather thin after speculation of him staying overseas surfaced, but the team pitched for him to come stateside as he’ll join fellow rookies Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet.

A revelation in last year’s Summer League, Bolden made his mark as a lethal shot blocker and displayed floor-spacing potential at the 5. In a 2017 Summer Sixers frontcourt devoid of talent, Bolden entered the fray and pieced together a memorable stretch.

Bolden averaged 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks in 23.4 MPG last summer. He sprays production across the board and his relentless motor makes him one of the most entertaining big men on the floor at any given time. Bolden is exhilarating and if this is your first live experience watching the 6’10”, 220-pound 2017 second-round pick play for the Philadelphia 76ers’ Summer League team, you’re in for a treat.

Bolden played for famed overseas team Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv last season and put up respectable numbers starting in 52 of 55 games (7.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG). Reports from’s Keith Pompey indicate the Australian big man’s gaze on Philadelphia’s 2018-19 roster has the 22-year-old focused on joining the team prior to Summer League.

One Liberty Ballers writer monitored Bolden throughout this past season and can be denoted the title of “aficionado” when it comes to scouting the talented big man. Kevin Rice might be the biggest Jonah Bolden fan and wrote extensively about him throughout the regular season as part of his overseas series for Liberty Ballers. He’s probably the preeminent source when it comes to evaluating Bolden, and I talked with Kevin about some storylines revolving around Bolden prior to his Summer League appearance tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET against the Boston Celtics on ESPN.

Jake Hyman: Do you see Jonah Bolden primarily playing the 4 or 5?

Kevin Rice: I see him guarding mostly 5s in the SL. There’s only one pure center listed in the roster so expect him to match up on a lot of Centers in preparation for the regular season. And on offense it’ll be interesting to see where he lurks. On Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv he played a lot of 4 and hung around the perimeter while crashing the glass hard on shots. So final answer... the 5

JH: During last year’s Summer League, Bolden attempted more than half of his shots from distance (35 of 68). Did you see any noticeable changes during Maccabi’s regular season?

KR: It was quite obvious that Bolden was making a much more conscious effort to shoot more 3s and improve his outside game as he prepared to come to the states. However, it was hard for him to get consistent looks when he was on a team with 3 ball dominant guards in Pierre Jackson, Norris Cole, and Deshaun Thomas. While there wasn’t a notable improvement in his outside numbers, his form is there and many of his misses were “good misses.” The video that just emerged of him hitting nine threes in a row from the corner obviously reiterates the fact that he still has time to perfect that shot.

JH: Yeah, he’s entering his rookie year and has ample time to hone the jumper. A lot of Sixers fans might recall his shot-blocking ability playing a significant part in his game last summer, whether it was from the weak side or helping. Despite a dip in BPG, he sported a 101.8 DRtg throughout Euroleague and the Israeli BSL. What were some of the notable defensive areas he excelled in?

KR: Reading the passing lanes are one area where Bolden is absolutely excellent at. He always has his eye on his man and an eye on the ball and without telegraphing anything, he does a great job at exploding towards the ball and uses his length to disrupt the pass, and many times he comes away with a steal. His switching on PnR is also a solid strength; Bolden stands at 6’10 with a wingspan exceeding 7 feet and is a very mobile and feather footed for a big. He does a phenomenal job at switching and hedging screens on some of Euroleage’s most elite guards. That’s something the Sixers desperately needed against the Celtics in their playoff series. Too many times we saw bad switches that resulted in an easy bucket for Tatum, Brown, Rozier, and others. Instead of clawing your eyes out watching Sixers guards defend PnR, get excited to watch Jonah Bolden fly around on the defensive end and make nothing easy for either ball handler, or roller.

JH: If he can provide that in May, and maybe June, he’d be a crucial bench option for Brett Brown. With a jump in talent alongside him and already one SL stint under his pocket, what are some arbitrary numbers you’re looking for from the 6-10 big?

KR: Just for reference here, in the 2017 SL he averaged 9/6/2/2/1. All I’m looking for is him to maintain those numbers or exceed them. Last SL he played kind of a wild card role, switching positions and really doing all he could to showcase his variety of skills on the court. This SL I imagine he’ll be hanging around the perimeter on offense a lot more to keep working on his outside shot. One big thing mentioning about Bolden is that he does a lot of small things that don’t necessarily show up on the traditional stat sheet. He has a nonstop motor and a short memory; I remember one play in particular where he turned the ball over in transition on a pass ahead and immediately whirled around and started back the other way for a chase down block. On every shot that goes up, he finds a way to get a piece of the ball to deflect it out to a teammate, or tip it up to himself for a second jump rebound. Point is, a lot of his contributions go beyond what you see on paper but, a 10/6/2 line would be great.

JH: Pick-and-pop settings with Landry Shamet and Demetrius Jackson: can he provide the outside touch this SL that was absent last SL?

KR: Again, that video that just emerged of him training in LA gives me confidence that he’ll be a viable option in the pick and pop with great shooters alongside him in Shamet and Furkan.

JH: With an athletic group, compare Bolden’s mobility to a current NBA 5 and how he’ll fare in transition?

KR: Ohhhhh man, Jonah Bolden in transition is something else. He loves to grab boards and GO GO GO. His usual outlet target was former Sixer Pierre Jackson, but with a lineup featuring the freight train Ben Simmons and the high flying Zhaire Smith, the Sixers could be running a West Coast offense in South Philly. Jonah should fit in flawlessly with the Sixers system in transition.

JH: I dig the football reference in regards to an offensive NBA system. Is he a springboard type athlete like Richaun Holmes where you can lob it up and he’ll grab it for the flush?

KR: Besides Zhaire Smith, I’m not sure if there’s anyone AS springy as Richaun Holmes but, he’s extremely capable of catching and finishing lobs. While he doesn’t have the vertical that Richaun does, he has a wingspan two inches longer, which helps him go up high to come down hard. Bolden is more of a graceful athlete than he is explosive. He’s very light on his feet and fluid in almost every aspect of the game.

JH: In terms of growth on either end, what area sticks out to you that’s a really intriguing part of his approach?

KR: One thing that I was also surprised at was Bolden’s passing ability. He has the height to see over top of players while on the perimeter and he makes it count with great skip passes to wide open 3 point shooters. He also looooooves to use the bounce pass, which is always refreshing to see; especially in transition and on backdoor cuts, he has become a bit of a maestro in leading players to the basket for easy hoops. We saw flashes of his passing ability last summer and he continued to show off his excellent vision in the Eurloeague season.

JH: I saw he didn’t have any problems switching onto guards along the perimeter. How essential will that be in a setting where he’s playing with rookies who might be pressed in PnR situations?

KR: While the NBA generally has quicker athletes than Euroleague does, Jonah did a phenomenal job at switching on to Euroleague guards and contesting their outside shots, and staying with them on the drives. In a game against Real Madrid, he switched on to Luka Doncic twice in one possession and forced him to pass with the shot clock winding down to 0. While he might not be able to consistently switch on to and defend the quickest of NBA guards like Kemba Walker, he should be able to hold his own and do everything he can.

JH: He has pretty adept vision for a big man on the break. Will we see a Bolden-Smith alley-oop combination and vice versa?

KR: A Bolden to Smith alley-oop is the more likely of the combos as Jonah uses his long strides to make his way up the court and find cutters/flyers around the rim. But with the likelihood of Jonah, TJ, and Zhaire all playing in the 2nd unit, expect to see some fast paced basketball.

JH: Bolden has the capability to open up real estate in the paint on offense through five-out sets. How vital is that floor-spacing threat for an offense?

KR: It’s incredibly important for the Sixers stars in Embiid and Simmons to have the most time and space to operate. The more that Jonah demands teams to respect him from the outside, the more that lane opens up for post ups, cuts, and space to crash the glass.

JH: He seems to have terrific hands that play on both ends of the floor. This is a two-part question: Is he an auto lob target and can he initiate fast breaks via steals?

KR: Yes and yes. While playing for Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv, he didn’t catch a ton of lobs but he was great at catching passes in the post and showed his great hands on rebounds. Most of his self-led fast breaks came off of steals; right when he gains possession he looks up the floor and uses his dribble to find open space and draw in defenders. He has precise timing on his passes that leave transition defenses scurrying back and chasing the ball.

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