Following splitting time between the Philadelphia 76ers and Delaware Blue Coats, Sixers big man Jonah Bolden is competing on NBA courts in Brett Brown’s rotation for the foreseeable future. Philadelphia’s roster clamored for a contributing frontcourt option, with Mike Muscala’s inconsistency developing into an alarming issue, and the 23-year-old rookie is delivering on both ends of the floor.
Bolden’s niche isn’t limited to thriving on offense, rather than defense, and vice versa, as he manifests his two-way label. After a December slate mired in a stretch where he didn’t play in seven games and recorded nine minutes or less in three other games, it’s a new year and a new Bolden in January.
Averaging 15.5 minutes per game over his past two outings, Bolden is averaging 6.5 points and 5.0 rebounds over that span while shooting 85.7 percent (6-of-7 FG). Bolden earned his first start Wednesday against Phoenix on his 23rd birthday and we experienced Bolden’s versatility. Bolden looks more controlled offensively than his early play this season. Also, he’s been a board cleaner on the offensive end to provide Philadelphia with extra possessions.
Liberty Ballers’ Tom West logged some of Bolden’s highlights against the Los Angeles Clippers and Bolden’s activity is ever-present.
Jonah Bolden probably had his best game for the Sixers yesterday, with some solid defense and good positioning/instincts on the glass.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) January 2, 2019
He finished as a +7 with 9 points (4/4 shooting), 6 rebounds (5 offensive) and 1 block in 15 minutes. pic.twitter.com/JMNyRJ4aqV
Outside of Ben Simmons and Wilson Chandler, periodically, Philadelphia drops many of their players back when a shot is released to limit opponents’ transition opportunities. Bolden’s voracity on the glass provides an element Philadelphia could utilize as a second opportunity big man. As Embiid commands defensive attention on the block, Bolden can be a beneficiary collecting weakside rebounds.
Also, Bolden is a rim-running big man who glides to the rim with acceleration and shows promising touch around the basket. Against Phoenix, Bolden finished an alley-oop off a screen from Embiid. Mikal Bridges runs into Deandre Ayton and Bolden’s path to the rim is unabated.
Off-ball again, Bolden darts for the basket and Ben Simmons rewards the cutting big man. Coupling his agility with 6’10” size, Bridges is helpless when Bolden beats him to the rim.
Bolden rimmed out a three to nearly go a perfect 2-for-2 from deep in January, but he’s more functional as a rim-running big man than a floor spacer at this juncture of the season and his career.
On the defensive end, Bolden is capable of recovery blocking and latching onto wings. When he played a smaller T.J. Warren, Mikal Bridges and De’Anthony Melton, the onus was on him to deter drives to the basket. Bolden stood out with his lateral quickness.
On the clip below, Bolden is late when recovering to stymie Melton. Luckily, Embiid’s intimidating presence forces Melton to reset and Bolden catches up. Then, Bolden’s footwork allows him to faze Melton into deferring and a subsequent turnover. Melton is a 6’4” guard, which would typically provide a quickness disparity against the 6’10” Bolden.
When Bolden switches onto 6’7” wing Mikal Bridges, his footwork also pops on film when defending in space. Bolden matches Bridges’ crossover dribble and step-back jumper by mirroring Bridges foot patterns to the best of his capability. This is an exceptional defensive sequence from the rookie big man.
Finally, we get to witness how Bolden fares against one of the Suns’ primary scorers, or secondary depending how you interpret third offensive options, in T.J. Warren. Warren struggled to a tune of 2-of-8 shooting. On one of his attempts, Bolden plastered him on a drive and Warren forced up a low-efficient runner. While the Phoenix game is a small sample of Bolden’s defensive potential, his footwork, coupled with his 7’3” length, can play against different guards and forwards.
The Sixers are pressed for a backup power forward, following Dario Saric’s departure, and Brett Brown features Bolden at PF with Joel Embiid or Mike Muscala plus can double as the team’s center. Given the Sixers’ bench’s uncertainty provides on a game-by-game basis, Bolden illustrating he can provide value on both ends is refreshing. Bolden is an emerging presence in Brown’s rotation and could follow in teammate Landry Shamet’s status as a role player part of the nucleus on a contending Sixers team.