Bol Bol’s Big Fall

Mark R. Bacon—Main Event Sports DC

Well, that’s it for the 2019 NBA draft, which, as expected, came with no shortage of intrigue, surprises, fun moments, and Zion Williamson-related things. There’s one thing I’m pondering weeks after, with regard to the big picture.

Namely Bol Bol, who fell all the way to No. 44 before being scooped up by the Nuggets, who sent a future second-rounder and cash, per a league source, to the Heat in order to select him. There was a clear inkling in the lead-up to the draft that Bol could be in for a precipitous fall, but watching him slip all the way into the middle of the second round was still a bit of a shocker. Anytime the entire league passes on a talented player for that long, it tells you something. Denver had been assessing its options coming into the draft, but had no expectation that Bol would be on the board where he was. At that point, with little investment required, the Nuggets called the Heat and took the plunge.

Bol’s situation has always been an odd one, predating the foot fracture that ended his season at Oregon. His slide was an amalgamation of compounding risk factors, between the injury, trepidation over his background intel, the reduced market value of true centers, and the sheer question marks over whether a 7’2” shooting specialist can contribute to a winning team on a significant basis. Although he skipped medical at the combine, by the week of draft, teams were given access to his information. As I understand it, slow-playing his return to the court might make sense, but Bol’s foot wasn’t the sole determinant in what happened on Friday, but it certainly didn’t help. At the end of the day, front offices and coaching staffs have to talk themselves into the person as much as they do the player. Bol has some undeniable talent, but there’s little in his predraft ledger to truly inspire confidence that he’ll tap all the way into it. The bottom line has always been that if he doesn’t work hard, he won’t last in the NBA. That hasn’t changed, and ultimately, Bol’s case just wasn’t convincing enough as the draft rolled on. There were only six true centers selected in the draft overall: Jaxson Hayes, Goga Bitadze, Mfiondu Kabengele, Bruno Fernando, Daniel Gafford, and Bol was the sixth.

Denver is no stranger to these sorts of rehabilitation projects: they were the team that stopped Michael Porter from sliding in last year’s draft and willing to let him rehab for as long as it took to get healthy.  They also picked Jarred Vanderbilt who came with injury concerns, in the second round. The reduced microscope and lessened pressure to rush back onto the court as part of an organization that doesn’t expressly need him might be the best thing for Bol in the long-term. If he pans out, his fit next to Nikola Jokic is pretty fascinating. If he doesn’t, the Nuggets won’t be pressed about it, either. He’s never been in a situation like this before. We’ll see how he responds. And whether or not it works out, this will be something worth revisiting in a few years.

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