By: David Bernauer
On February 10, 2022, many people’s attention was on James Harden getting traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons and a package of other players. They were looking at the Twitter storm erupting when a few days prior the Sacramento Kings traded promising young guard Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers for two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis. But lurking beneath the surface, even lower than the Aaron Holiday/cash considerations trade, was a deal between the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. It was on this day, February 10, 2022, the Magic acquired Bol Bol.
By now we know the story of Bol. He gets drafted by the Miami Heat (yuck!) in the second round as the result of a fractured left foot and is traded to Denver on draft night. While he showed glimpses of what made him the fourth ranked high school player in the nation, a number of lower body injuries limited him to just 53 games in three seasons. Since arriving in O-Town, Bol has been the picture of health by playing in all 18 games this season, starting 15 of them.
The Sudanese superhero is putting up a respectable 13.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Incredible given his career arc, but nothing which screams he’s doing things nobody else can even dream of doing. But you see, Bol IS doing things nobody dreams of. Despite being listed at 7’2” and 220lbs, he can drive to the rim almost any time he wants with a feathery touch allowing him to shoot a mind boggling 80.5% from within five feet. Not able to get to the rim this time? Here, how about going between the legs into a hesitation sidestep three! Not enough for you? Fine, he’s also regularly taking the ball coast to coast, slithering between pesky little guards who want to strip him of the rock. The block numbers may not be like his dad Manute Bol’s, but they’re good for third in the NBA behind only Brook Lopez (2.8bpg) and Anthony Davis (2.1bpg).
On the season, he’s putting up traditional shooting splits of 60.1/42.4/81.6. Only Larry Nance Jr. and Luke Kornet have met the 60/40/80 with at least the ten games played benchmark Bol is posting so far this year. Not exactly elite company, but I think it says more about a small sampling of threes and free throws in Nance (twelve 3’s, 20 free throws) and Kornet’s (four 3’s, ten free throws) case than it does about Bol’s strengths as a shooter. Even if we lower this to a more easily attainable 53/36/80 with still ten games played, Bol continues to shine with only six other notable players who jump into the group. They are De’Aaron Fox, Lauri Markkanen, Mikal Bridges, Myles Turner, Kelly Olynyk and Grant Williams. Again, there’s just one, maybe two All-Stars in this group (if we want to get rid of games played, our very own Gary Harris fits into the mold here).
The only real flaw in his game right now is his incredible case of tunnel vision. He’s averaging a paltry 0.7 assists per game in 25.7 minutes a night. This results in the third worst assist/turnover ratio in the NBA at only 0.32. While it’s always astounding to see him take the ball to the rack with impunity (he’s earned the right to do so with the aforementioned FG% within five feet), kicking the ball ahead to somebody on the fast break or out to the three point line on a contested drive could open up so many more avenues to score for a Magic team who struggles to get fast break points (last, 9.6 per game) and convert threes, in part because they can’t get open looks (20th in 3pt%). A playmaking dimension to Bol’s game would drastically expand an offense which has a hard time putting the ball in the hoop (22nd in team points per game).
So what kind of role will the 23-year-old be playing when/if this team can ever reach full strength? We may never know given the plague of injuries consistently ravaging this team. It seems when one man gets healthy, another goes under the knife. Regardless, the human string bean has certainly played himself into the rotation no matter what the current or future strength of the Magic might be this 2022-23 campaign. Maybe he won’t start, but Bol has seemed to finally found his footing at the professional level.
It’s simply hard not to be amazed by what Bol is doing out there. Jeff Turner recently commented on air how Bol is a “mythical alien unicorn,” before letting out a laugh upon seeing those lanky arms and legs once again do things nobody 7’2” can do. I imagine many of us probably have the same sort of reaction when he does something we can’t wrap our minds around. But it really does beg the question: how many other players at his size have his abilities? The ability to weave through traffic, the ability to not just handle the ball, but take it a full 94 feet, and the ability to shoot the three at an elite level? Wait, you can…? Who? Oh, yeah, Victor Wembanyama. Ok, ASIDE from Wembanyama, what players his size can do this? What players are capable of putting up the numbers he is? Just about none. Magic fans, Bol is ballin’.
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