Denver Nuggets Friday Film Study: Can Bol Bol be the ultimate 3&D center?

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

If you were tasked with describing Bol Bol’s game in one phrase, you may opt to use what many have commented across Bol’s highlight videos on YouTube: “he’s the KD of centers.”

Obviously, the expectation isn’t that the 20-year-old center will turn into Kevin Durant, one of the greatest players of all time and perhaps the most unstoppable scorer in NBA history.

However, compared to other big men who have come before him (with the exception of some of the rising stars at the position such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Bol’s teammate Nikola Jokić), Bol’s ability to shoot from deep, protect the rim, handle the ball in transition and put a soft touch on his jumpers and floaters allows him to stick out at the position.

When it comes to the second round of the NBA Draft, the chance of players panning out and carving out successful careers dramatically decreases, hence the desire that front offices may have to draft based on potential and ceiling rather than a player’s floor.

Although the Denver Nuggets didn’t have a draft pick heading into the 2019 draft, with Bol falling well into the second-round, the team’s decision-making process was almost decided for them.

“With Bol, at 44 it’s almost laughable at how much of a no-brainer it was,” Nuggets VP of Strategy & Analytics Tommy Balcetis told Nuggets.com last August. “He’s a tremendous talent and from what we’ve seen, a very good guy. We all collectively had him very high. Layne’s (Senior Analyst Layne Vashro) model had him high, while our scouts and basketball people had him high as well. It was shocking to us how far he fell.”

As Bol continued his recovery from a foot injury throughout the 2019-20 season while on a two-way contract, the young big man received 154 minutes of action in the G League across eight games. These eight games, when combined with the nine that Bol played at Oregon, paint a good picture of his skill set and potential.

With that being said, let’s take a closer look at some of the film from Bol’s G League performances this season and how they might look on an NBA court in the future.

Impressive shooting touch

Perhaps no skill will be more important early in Bol’s NBA career than his ability to consistently knock down shots from beyond the arc. As his body continues to develop (Bol is currently listed at 220 pounds), being a threat from downtown will allow Bol to both space the floor for teammates and avoid the physical battles with opposing big men around the basket.

Luckily for Bol and the Nuggets, the signs have been extremely promising throughout his time at Oregon and stint in the G League. During his nine games with the Ducks, the 20-year-old shot 52 percent from beyond the arc and 76 percent from the charity stripe, which can be a useful tool in projecting a player’s ability to shoot from deep.

Bol followed up that performance in Oregon with 36.4 percent 3-point shooting in the G League, which although that isn’t a truly elite number, the versatility in shooting off catch-and-shoot or dribble-handoff situations is the truly exciting aspect of his shooting abilities.

In the below video, Bol receives a dribble handoff from a guard (a staple of Denver’s offense) and confidently takes and makes the 3-pointer. Big men simply aren’t used to opponents attempting such shots, while Bol’s height allows him to get them off against unsuspecting guards even if the defense switches off screens.

Of course, Bol will be a prime candidate to receive plenty of looks coming out of pick-and-pop situations or in transition, when opposing big men will likely retreat to defend the paint. In the video below, you can see Bol comfortably receive catch-and-shoot opportunities from beyond the arc and nail the jumpers.

Given his shooting ability, It’s easy to see a theoretical situation in which Bol shares the floor with Nikola Jokić, as such lineups wouldn’t suffer a decrease in floor-spacing offensively, while Bol’s ability to defend the rim (which we’ll get to shortly) wouldn’t force pressure on Jokić defensively.

Finally, as it relates to Bol’s shooting touch, it can also be useful in the mid-range and on floaters, which the rookie center showcased several times during his time in the G League this season. In the video below, you can see Bol’s smooth jump shot serve him well in the mid-range, where he can still get shots off over defenders due to his height.

Bol shot 62 percent inside the arc in the G League, with nearly 19 percent of his points coming from the mid-range and 58.3 percent of his points coming inside the paint, where he isn’t afraid of rising up for dunks around or through defenders.

Defensive impact around the rim

Early in Bol’s career, it would be safe to expect his contributions to come in the form of a 3&D big man, with the defense mainly coming inside the paint in the form of his shot-blocking.

During his brief college experience, Bol averaged 2.7 blocks per game (3.6 blocks per-40 minutes), which he actually improved upon in the G League. In those eight games with the Windy City Bulls, Bol averaged 2.3 blocks per game (which translated to 4.2 blocks per-36 minutes).

Of course, when you are 7’2” with a 7’8” wingspan, you will be able to get your hand on a lot of shots, which Bol continuously showcased in college and the G League. As a result of that height and length, Bol doesn’t have to always be attached to the opposing shooter, thus making him a prime help defender, especially around the paint.

In the video below, you can get a glimpse of how Bol’s elite shot-blocking abilities impacted his defensive performance in the G League.

In the 2019-20 season, the leading shot-blocker for the Nuggets is Jerami Grant, who averaged 0.8 per game. An elite shot-blocker and rim protector would provide a significant boost for Denver’s defense and potentially fuel more transition opportunities for the offense. Bol projects to be such a defensive player in the frontcourt, and when coupled with his impressive footwork to defend on the perimeter, makes his potential on that end of the floor truly tantalizing.

Another impressive aspect of Bol’s defensive film from the G League was his positioning around the rim to block or alter shots. In the video below, Bol is initially tasked with guarding the corner 3-point shooter but properly slides down to the paint while a pick and roll is developing on the opposing wing, which put Bol in the exact position to block the shot from the rolling big man.

It is clear from the film and numbers that Bol has accrued, throughout the past two years, two NBA-ready skills—shooting and shot-blocking. Although the 3&D description is typically reserved for wing players, there is no reason that if he stays healthy, Bol can’t carve out a role in the NBA using his 3&D skill set in the frontcourt.

Playmaking is still developing

At 20 years old and with only eight games in the G League under his belt, there is certainly plenty of room for growth in Bol’s game. While continuing to refine his shooting and defense should certainly be at the top of the list, rounding out his game with playmaking would also go a long way in helping him etch out a role with the Nuggets in the near future.

Throughout his college and G League games, Bol struggled with creating for others at Oregon, posting nine assists compared to 18 turnovers in his 268 minutes of action. That rate actually decreased in the G League, as Bol didn’t register an assist in his 154 minutes, while he committed 9 turnovers.

What should make fans and the Nuggets feel better about Bol’s playmaking is his noted desire to improve that aspect of his game.

“Towards the end of the season, I started watching a lot of Jokic highlights because of his great passing ability, and that's something I want to add to my game,” Bol told the Denver media after being drafted last June. “I watched a lot of his highlights and he's a great, great player.”

Well, luckily for Bol, there is no better big man to learn and develop playmaking skills from than Jokić, who has established himself as not only the best passing big man in the league today but perhaps of all-time.

Although it may take several years for Bol’s passing to become a difference-making skill in Denver’s offense, he will have plenty of quality resources around to help develop in that area, from Jokić’s expertise to Denver’s offensive structure, which emphasizes ball and player movement.

There is plenty of room for growth in Bol’s game and physical makeup. Most of that will come with more experience over the next couple of seasons, but his shooting and shot-blocking abilities should excite the Nuggets and their fans given how important those skills can be in earning a consistent role in today’s NBA.

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