Draft preview: Bol might be the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in ’19 NBA draft class

Oregon’s Bol Bol was considered a sure-fire lottery pick before the college season began, but a foot injury that limited him to nine games is one of the questions that now cloud his draft status
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Toronto is one win from ending Golden State’s reign atop the NBA for one overriding reason: the 15th pick. If it hadn’t been the Raptors, it would have been Milwaukee in position to do so and for the same reason: the 15th pick. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo were both 15th picks two years apart, Leonard in 2011 and Antetokounmpo in ’13. Two-time MVP Steve Nash was the 15th pick in 1996.

Nobody else comes close to their class, though, among the 65 players drafted 15th overall since the NBA began seeding rosters via an amateur draft. Perhaps Al Jefferson
is the next most accomplished player, though he never made an All-Star team.

The Pistons have had the No. 15 pick four times in their history. Rodney Stuckey (2007) made the most immediate impact and probably wound up having the best career, though Phil Hubbard (1979), a great college player at Michigan before a catastrophic knee injury after his sophomore season, has a case.

The others taken with the 15th pick by the Pistons are Al Eberhard, back in 1974, and Austin Daye in 2009.

Last year’s 15th pick was Troy Brown, who played sparingly for the Washington Wizards. Brown profiles as the type of player most likely to be the pick of the Pistons this year: a teen with one year of college experience and little expectation of offering significant immediate help.

The four No. 15 picks prior to Brown were Justin Jackson, traded from Sacramento to Dallas in February, who shows promise as a rotation player heading into his third season after a three-year career at North Carolina; Juan Hernangomez, who’s shown flashes of promise but has yet to establish himself as part of Denver’s rotation in three NBA seasons; Kelly Oubre, who’ll be a restricted free agent after being traded from Washington to Phoenix at the trade deadline; and Adreian Payne, out of the NBA after being drafted by Minnesota out of Michigan State.

Our draft preview series continues today with a profile of Oregon freshman Bol Bol.

FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: Bol Bol

ID CARD: 7-foot-2½ center/forward, Oregon, 19 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 15th by ESPN.com, 32nd by The Athletic, 21st by SI.com

SCOUTS LOVE: Crazy length and shooting touch are an enticing combination and Bol brings those qualities in the extreme. The son of NBA folk hero Manute Bol, Bol measured at 7-foot-2½ at the NBA draft combine with a 7-foot-7 wingspan. Though limited to nine games as an Oregon freshman due to injury, he shot 52 percent from the 3-point arc on three attempts per game. Bol isn’t just a 3-point shooter, either; in fact, less than 20 percent of his shot attempts were triples. He averaged 21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. Bol shot 56 percent overall, hitting 76 percent of his free throws – all indications of his shooting touch and scoring potential. His right-hand hook shot is a weapon and Bol displays uncanny touch with his virtually unblockable turnaround jump shot. With his elite reach, Bol figures to present an inviting target for lobs to help create driving lanes and open shots around him. Bol was generally considered a top-10 recruit in the class of 2018, finishing his high school career at a Las Vegas prep school, choosing Oregon over the likes of Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona.

SCOUTS WONDER: Bol underwent surgery on his left foot, which he broke nine games into Oregon’s season, before Pac-12 Conference play began. In addition to costing NBA talent evaluators the chance to see him in another 25 or so games, the mere fact of a foot injury for a big man is a potential red flag. Teams presumably will have full access to his medical records to gauge the status of his recovery, but whether that eases concern of future issues is another matter. Bol was listed at 235 pounds by Oregon, but weighed just 208 last month at the draft combine – a frightening number given his height. If he can’t come close to holding his ground, the appeal of Bol’s length becomes greatly diminished. It’s not necessarily surprising that Bol doesn’t have a polished post repertoire, but it requires another layer of projection to consider him a worthwhile pick in the middle of the first round. There are also questions about how Bol will manage defensively in pick-and-roll situations. Lateral mobility isn’t the issue, but lack of core strength will make it difficult for him to change direction with the type of force necessary in read-and-react situations. Questions about Bol’s motor have dogged him since his high school days.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 9-foot-7½ – Bol’s standing reach makes him a lob and shot-blocking threat in every situation. With even modest strength gains, he should be able to snatch rebounds above the crowd, be a consistent threat on tip-ins and dissuade dribble penetration.

MONEY QUOTE: “He’s unique at 7-2 to do the things that he can do. You saw that soft touch, those jump hooks, and the ball just lays on the rim. He has a very soft touch for 7-2. He’s a unique talent. He’s going to grow into a special player.” – Oregon coach Dana Altman after perhaps the best game of Bol’s career when he finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and three steals in a win over Syracuse


PISTONS FIT:
The Pistons already have someone roughly similar to Bol in Thon Maker, another willowy, extraordinarily long player challenged to overcome a lack of strength. Do they have room to develop another player with that type of skill set? Maker is entering the final year of his rookie contract and then the Pistons will have to decide whether to extend him or allow Maker to become a restricted free agent next season. Given the difficulty in using big men in certain matchups in an era where more teams are comfortable playing small and spreading the floor, how many roster spots can the Pistons commit to others on a roster that starts with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond? All of those questions are overcome if you think Bol can become a star, but at 19 and with reason suggesting it will take him a few seasons to reach the level of physical maturity needed to contribute significantly, it might be a tough fit at present.

BOTTOM LINE: The Pistons probably can’t bank on anyone available at 15 for immediate rotation help next season, but even by that standard Bol would seem to be at the far left end of the spectrum. That probably won’t matter much on draft night, but there almost certainly will be at least two or three from among a deep group of wing players available that not only would better fit the current makeup of the team but makes sense given the premium placed on players with some combination of size, athleticism and shot-making ability on the wing in today’s game. Bol could be the biggest boom-or-bust player in the entire draft and if he’s still there at 15 – something that seems much more plausible now than it would have last fall – then Ed Stefanski and his front office will act based on exactly where they believe Bol’s ceiling is, how likely they feel he is to reach it, how soon he’d be ready to contribute at any level and how patient they can afford to be given their current arc.

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