Prior to suffering a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his left foot nine games into his college season, Bol Bol was on track to becoming a top-ten pick in the draft, even threatening to push into the top five thanks to a productive start to his freshman season at Oregon. Son of former 76er and the tallest man in NBA history, Manute Bol, the junior Bol will enter a league vastly different than the one his father played in, with an offensive game that wouldn’t even seem feasible for a 7-foot-2 center in his dad’s heyday.
After missing most of his lone season at Oregon, Bol has emerged as one of the most enigmatic prospects in the draft — with teams asking whether he’s the next step in the evolution of the big man or an oft-injured giant with baggage to match.
Entering his shortened lone college season, questions arose as to whether Bol would be able to score at the collegiate level, and while we’re left with a small sample to project Bol’s performance to the NBA, no one can question his productivity in those nine games at Oregon. With Bol on the court, the Ducks scored 118 points per 100 possessions, while Bol proved to be able to hurt teams in a multitude of manners.
Per Synergy Sports, Bol graded out as “Excellent” in both Post-up production and as a Spot-up shooter — landing in the 99th percentile for all Spot-up shooters, by nailing 10 of his 18 catch-and-shoot jumpers. He was also a 52 percent shooter from beyond the arc in college, but the small sample size and common sense suggest that Bol will struggle to continue to make over half his 3s. Bol did enter college with a bit of a reputation as a shooter, so while these numbers are likely not Josh Jackson levels of misleading, it’s unlikely that he starts his NBA in the same flamethrower fashion he did during his time in college.
Additionally, Bol’s shot can be slow and lacks the high release point commonly seen with successful shooting bigs in the NBA.
In the clips above, Lopez and Horford were able to shoot over longer and taller defenders than Bol is used to facing. Bol’s release is not only low, but he keeps the ball extended away from his body — a combination that could lead to his jumpers easily being blocked or stripped on the way up. For a player as long and with as big of a hand size as Bol, jump shooting can be a delicate art — meaning that tweaking his shot could also lead to a bit of a falloff in production.
As stated above, Bol was also highly productive out of the post, netting 1.04 points per possession on post-ups. In college, Bol was able to use his quickness and 7-foot-8 wingspan to overwhelm smaller post defenders — something he won’t be able to do in the NBA.
In the clip above, Bol has a smaller defender in the post and opts to shoot a turnaround jumper, a shot that will become much more difficult against NBA 4s and 5s.
Bol played very few games against high level competition with Oregon, but even when he did, he was able to put up big numbers. In a loss against a very strong Houston team, Bol was impressive, scoring 23 of the Ducks’ 61 points. However, it was clear in that matchup that while no one on the Cougars could challenge Bol vertically, he struggled with their level of physicality, often being thrown off his spot in the post. To continue to be a threat in the post at the next level, the 235-pound Bol must add strength.
While the NBA has long moved away from the post-up as an offensive centerpiece, teams now instead place their bigs in multiple pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop actions, something that Bol struggled with at Oregon. In 9 games, Bol was the screen man in a PnR just 15 times, but the Ducks scored just 12 points on those possessions, placing him in the 23rd percentile for that action.
Although it’s an extremely small sample, Bol has stick legs and high and small hips. Look at the clip above and how effortlessly an active defender can avoid his screen. For him to become an effective screener and dive man, he’s likely still going to need to pack on the pounds. He also seemed to lack a bit of spatial awareness, often popping to the spot on the court where his guard with the ball was moving.
While his offensive game might be futuristic, Bol’s defensive upside is that of a traditional rim protector. With his 7-foot-8 wingspan and good instincts, Bol was phenomenal in that role at Oregon; his 24 blocks on the season were good enough for 15th in the Pac-12 despite only playing nine games. Bol showed good timing and instincts when contesting shots not just at the rim, but also stepping out to the middle of the Oregon zone to challenge the jump shooters choosing to pull up rather than face him at the rim. Jump shooters were just 7-of-24 when guarded by Bol.
While Bol has shown the ability to guard the rim like his late father, he will face challenges that Manute never had to during his time in the NBA. Bol struggles moving his feet laterally and will be tested by defenses that drag him away from the rim. While the need for a big man to switch onto guards is likely overstated (DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol were the starting centers in this year’s Finals), the ability to move laterally and cover both the rolling big and probing guard will be essential if he is to be able to stay on the court late in close games. Sixers fans should know from their experience with playoff Boban how quickly a slow footed 7-foot-3 center can get played off the court.
Bol entered college a polarizing prospect, and his injury-shortened season did nothing to help evaluators come to a consensus. He is tantalizingly talented and has some wonderful physical tools, but he also comes with questions about how translatable his game is, along with an injury history, and according to some sources, question marks about his work ethic and drive. All these skills and red flags together have led to speculation over where Bol will end up being drafted, with some mocks having him land in the top ten, while NBATV had him being selected by none other than the Philadelphia 76ers at 24th overall.
One thing that stood out to me during Kevin O’Connor’s recent appearance on the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast is that while talking about PJ Washington (someone with similar personality red flags to Bol), O’Connor stated that he was told by a scout that if a player as talented as Washington were to fall, it’s likely that some of those red flags flared up during the pre-draft process. That being said, if Bol Bol falls to the 24th pick, there is a chance that some teams were unwilling to take a risk on a player whose heart they questioned. In such an important draft for the team, I do find it unlikely that the Sixers would take a big swing on a high risk, high reward player whose ceiling with Philadelphia would be backing up their best player.