BY: AUSTIN KRELL
Manute Bol is no longer with us, but a piece of him is still very much alive. Bol’s son, Bol, is a freshman at the University of Oregon. The fourth-ranked player in the nation coming out of high school is polarizing because of his size--at 7’2” and 235 pounds, Bol Bol is the spitting image of his father. There is one major difference, his game is far-more evolved than his dad’s ever was.
Having called Olathe, Kansas his home since his early childhood, Bol has competed with the top young players in the country. That preparation and the returns from his career at Oregon are proof that he’s ready for the next level. Before a non-displaced fracture of his left Navicular bone ended his only campaign at Oregon, Bol averaged 21 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2.7 blocks, and .8 steals over 9 games. The center is more than just an around-the-rim big, for he’ll finish his one year of college having shot 52% on three-point shots (2.8 attempts per game), 56% from the field overall, and 76% from the free throw line. One of the best indicators about Bol’s game, in my eyes, is the fact that he average only 1.7 fouls per game. This means that he defends with control and discipline, and is a polished rim-protector. In other words, he can play the most foul-plagued position on the court without getting into significant foul trouble. His ability to defend without fouling will hold heavier weight with scouts and upper-level executives than people imagine. While he does average 2 turnovers per contest, current NBA players of Bol’s likeness average similar numbers in that category.
Now for what makes Bol Bol a unicorn. As a 7’2” toothpick, he has an incredible ability to block three-point shots despite having to come out and contest from the block. No one in the NBA can do that. No one. Furthermore, he appear to be a comfortable ball-handler in transition. From watching film, I can envision scenarios where he’s able to bring the ball up off of a defensive rebound, initiate the transition offense, and make the first pass. He’s not a skilled ball-handler, per se, but he is not the type of big who the point guard must immediately run to for an outlet pass. If that isn’t enough to grab scouts’ eyes, maybe the soft touch on his jump shot will. Mechanically, his jump shot is aesthetically comparable to that of Brandon Ingram. But while Ingram is more of a stationary shooter, Bol has the ability to make shots off the dribble. Even with a jump shot, he is more than a shooter. While there do seem to be limited touches for Bol in the post, he does display a crafty pivot-and-turn move with which he is able to get easy looks right at the rim. To complete the foundation of Bol’s dynamic game, despite averaging only 1 assist per game, he has surprisingly noteworthy court vision from the post. He is a crafty passer from the free throw line, elbows, and baselines, and he often finds his teammates for open threes or layups. It just appears as though Oregon doesn’t have the personnel to capitalize on every opportunity. And to put the icing on the cake, Bol has remarkably good hands for a big man. If all else fails, Bol Bol will be an elite rim-protector in the NBA. That wouldn’t necessarily warrant a lottery selection should his jumper, ball-handling, and passing not translate, but his size and elite rim-protection would make him playable on any team. With his versatile set of skills and size, I would compare him to Kristaps Porzingis or Nikola Jokic.
No player is without concern, and despite his “unicorn” body of work, Bol Bol is not perfect either. At 235 pounds, he is absolutely a toothpick. He will need to get in the gym and work on building up his muscle mass even before his foot is healed. Outside of his physical appearance, I am concerned about Bol’s aggressiveness and toughness. On offense, he has a tendency to favor perimeter positioning over post positioning. It could be that Dana Altman wants him on the perimeter in his offensive system, but that would defy logic given Bol’s size and skillset. That he continues to demonstrate a tendency to stand around and watch on the defensive end solidifies this concern. Pushing it further, he does not demand the ball at all on offense. He is happy to have it when passed to, and even plays confidently when given touches. But, I would look for a center with such tools to demand the ball in the post and to use his body and skill to present opposing defenses with a matchup and strategic nightmare. Bol gives the impression that he is uncomfortable challenging any of his teammates to feed him the rock. On the defensive side, he is even more frustrating. Although he averaged nearly 3 blocks per game, those blocks came on close-outs and shy swats around the rim. He seems to lack the energy and the intensity to be an elite shot-blocker away from the rim. This emanates from the fact that he passively floats around multiple spots in the post waiting for a play to react to and a shot to reject at the rim instead of actively guarding a single opponent and beating the offense to spots by anticipating the play that will unfold. This all leads me to question how aggressive and tough Bol Bol is, for his unwillingness to be a leader on offense and his tendency to float around seemingly without an intention are signs that he is one to shy away from banging with the big bodies around the rim and being a dominant force.
The Navicular fracture is cause for major concern as it pertains to Bol Bol’s draft prospects. That particular fracture is one of the most fatal injuries to the careers of centers in the NBA. The Navicular bone fracture sidelined star center Joel Embiid for two seasons and restricted his play for his first season-and-a-half of actually playing. The same injury ended Hall-of-Fame center Yao Ming’s career at age 30. Having said that, Joel Embiid and Yao Ming are different from Bol Bol in that their body types contrast. Embiid and Ming stand taller than 7 feet and over 260 pounds. Their broad physiques put significant weight and pressure on their legs and feet, making their injuries more concerning than that of Bol Bol. While Bol’s Navicular fracture is concerning, I do think his healing process and outcome can be different given his slender physique. Before the injury, I would have pegged Bol as a top-5 pick. It’s difficult to confidently estimate how far he will fall following the injury, but I would be shocked to see him fall out of the lottery in this summer’s draft.
Today’s NBA looks for the next unicorn. Perhaps the most notable unicorns right now are Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. While all basketball fans and analysts have their eyes set on Duke’s Zion Williamson, there is an up-and-coming unicorn that people are forgetting about, and his name is Bol Bol.
Austin Krell is a contributor for The Up & Under.