Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This report focuses on Oregon big man Bol Bol.
The NBA Draft is full of risk vs. reward decisions. Very few players are ready to immediately step in and be positive contributors for teams, so scouts and front office personnel have to weigh the downside risk of expending a draft pick on a player who may or may not pan out.
In the 2019 class, it’s hard to imagine there’s a player with a larger floor-to-ceiling gap than Bol Bol. He played nine games at Oregon before undergoing surgery on his foot and shifting his focus toward recovery and preparing for the draft. He’s an immensely interesting prospect, with a combination of physical tools and technical ability that has executives salivating over his ceiling. There is so much downside risk with Bol that has to be considered carefully, but in a relatively flat draft, Bol stands out as a player who could be drafted just about anywhere and have just about any career outcome, from consistent All-Star to nearly unplayable with his defensive and injury concerns.
Bol stands 7’3 with a 7’7 wingspan (and a 9’7.5 standing reach), which immediately makes him a tantalizing defensive prospect. He has the sort of height and length to deter drivers at the rim and has been a shot blocking force throughout his high school and (short) collegiate career. He’s a very good athlete for someone of his build, with mobility most 7’3 players can’t match.
With all that said, Bol is arguably the worst defensive player in the draft when accounting only for his present-day ability. He’s better in a vacuum than some of the guards, but considering how much more important the center position is on the defensive end, he’s by himself in terms of negative defensive impact.
All the physical gifts in the world can’t make up for a lack of defensive IQ and a lack of effort, as Bol has shown (very) little understanding of defensive positioning and a stark lack of interest in doing very much defensive work. His pick-and-roll defense is downright putrid on tape, with an inability or unwillingness to really get into a stance and move as needed.
Bol is a very good athlete with the ball in his hands offensively, so one would imagine that he has the ability to defend in space to some degree, but there has been no indication throughout his career so far that he’s willing to do that. Bol is also tremendously skinny for a player of his size. Weighing in at just 208 pounds, there are players a foot shorter than him who outweigh him significantly, which will be a problem against just about every center in the NBA, both in the post and on the glass, if he doesn’t add bulk in the near future.
On the other hand, if Bol can put it all together from an IQ and effort perspective, the result will be a terrifying defender. The length and athleticism alone, put to use accurately and consistently, could make him a premier rim-protecting big man capable of sliding on the perimeter in multiple defensive schemes. There is precious little evidence that he can do any of that, but a team willing to take a risk on Bol could see him fulfill his immense upside on that end of the floor.
Offensively, Bol’s coordination and athleticism shine. He does things with the ball in his hands that really seem like they shouldn’t even be physically possible for him. Crossovers that fool defenders and put him from the three-point line to the rim in two strides and twisting double-pump layups are a part of his offensive arsenal. He’s got fantastic touch around the rim, which extends out to his jumper. His inside and outside game will be a positive for teams from the beginning of his rookie year; he’s equally adept at finishing inside as he is hitting long-range jumpers. His shot form looks a little strange, but it’s not an immediate concern when the results have been as good as they’ve been for Bol.
He can score in multiple ways, from facing up on the perimeter to spacing out to three to catching lobs on cuts and rolls. The same soft touch that allows him to handle and shoot from distance is on full display when he skies for lobs, where he catches just about anything in the general vicinity of the rim and can quickly get back up to the rim with a second jump to finish off the play. His pick-and-roll game is somewhat hindered by his lack of strength – it’s easy to push him off his spots and he’s not a very good screener – but even if he’s stopped at the dotted line on his roll, he possesses a short floater that will be nearly impossible to stop.
Bol’s very much a play finisher, though he has some ability to create his own shot, particularly on the perimeter. Whether a team wants him creating that often for himself is another question, as he’s very fond of his own jumper and doesn’t always use his physical advantages as well as he should in these situations. He’s not a very good passer; teams won’t be running offense through him at the elbows, despite the fact that he can get his own shot from those spots. If he could develop some modicum of passing and vision from the elbows, he could be a centerpiece of an offensive attack, but like his defensive shortcomings, there’s no evidence that he has that capability at this point. As a floor spacer who can drive to the rim when opponents close out on him and a rim-runner in pick-and-roll, Bol’s offensive value should be strong.
Bol’s draft stock is very fluid, with some teams and analysts focused on his ceiling and others focused on his floor. The wide range of outcomes for his career makes him a very risky player to draft, but in a draft with a lot of role guys and fewer players with high-end ceilings, he might be worth the risk. Teams who are looking to put competent role players around existing stars will likely pass on him, while teams who have no clear answer at the center position or are in a position where swinging for the fences makes sense will take a long look at Bol. There’s no question that his upside is immense on both ends of the court, but teasing that sort of production out of him may be very difficult, and that’s before considering the injury risk that comes with a big man who’s already begun to have foot problems.
Can he put on the additional weight he’ll need to bang with NBA centers without putting additional stress on his lower body? That’s a question for teams’ medical staffs, who will have a lot more information on him than the public will. His very skinny frame and bone structure would not indicate that he’s able to add significant muscle, but if a team believes he’s better as the fluid-but-skinny athlete he is today, then they won’t have as many qualms about that aspect of his development.
The beauty is in the eye of the beholder with Bol; there are teams who will have him with a second-round grade and others who will have him in the lottery on their board. Where each team comes down on him will depend on his medical reports and the level of risk aversion the team has for taking a player with his skill set in the draft.