It is uniformly – and rightly – assumed that young French big man Victor Wembanyama will be the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. ‘about 7’3 with the grip and shot of a man a foot shorter, as well as unfathomable defensive range.
If anything, it might be too big. But what is certain is that there is only one.
As with any transcendent talent – which Victor thinks he is – the hunt is on for a second. Just as Dirk Nowitzki’s pioneering career progression has sent NBA GMs and scouting departments searching for the next non-American seven-footer faceup (with what you might call incredibly mixed results on a day generous), the addition of this latest unicorn inevitably triggers a worldwide search for its passable imitators.
The Orlando Magic are ahead of the game, however. They may have already found one.
Drafted out of Oregon after an injury-shortened college career, Bol Bol slipped all the way to the 44th pick in the 2019 NBA draft, although he was considered a lottery pick until his start time. . Belated rumors about the results of his preliminary medical reports, combined with the fact that he had missed every non-conference minute of his only college season, coupled with speculation that his important frame would be even more likely to collapse, l ‘saw a complete slide out of guaranteed money, into what would normally be the range of two-way contracts. And when he was finally drafted by the Miami Heat, he did so to be immediately traded to the Denver Nuggets.
Once in Colorado, Bol’s NBA career could finally begin. But even then, not really. In three years with the Nuggets, taking a back seat behind Nikola Jokic and his many reserves, Bol has appeared in just 60 games overall and played double-digit minutes in just nine of them. He was never in the rotation, and never really in the plans – after re-injuring himself in his third season, Bol was subsequently fired twice, once to the Boston Celtics and then to Orlando, for the only price of a top 55. Protected second-round pick in 2023 that will never be passed on.
It’s long been a subject of both intrigue and ridicule how magic has prioritized players with remarkable length in their decade-long rebuild. And there are very, very few longer than Bol. Listed at 7’2 with a wingspan of 7’8 and a standing reach of 9’7, in a body built for basketball, he is the epitome of frontcourt length.
Essentially, however, he played a role in the backcourt.
Due to the unique way this year’s Magic team is built, there are fewer conventional guards than forwards. Markelle Fultz is the night starter at point guard, and in theory a combination of Terrence Ross, Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs fit in alongside and behind him.
In practice, however, Fultz remains injury prone, like most others. And as a result, some of the line-ups the Magic have released this year have been frankly huge, no more so than when they brought out the behemoth unit of Ross, Bol, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter and Paolo Banchero to start one of their first games of the season.
In a time when everyone has gotten smaller, Magic has gotten huge. And in part, that’s because Bol doesn’t play anything like his measurements suggest.
This season, Bol’s breakout has begun. He’s averaging 11.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and he’s done it with a tendency to nighttime highlights. These highlights invariably come from the offensive side, where he exhibits much more of a perimeter game than just a jumper. Bol is quick, nimble and quite composed with the ball in his hands, and he uses it to work on the dribble in a way that’s incredibly rare to see in anyone over seven feet tall.
The way he shoots on the move, spins into the lane and creates it all on the rebound is almost Wembanyama-esque indeed. And all it cost Orlando was nonexistent choice and a few raised eyebrows.
There should be plenty more to come too. Bol’s skills are still somewhat raw (as evidenced by some blocky turnovers and limited passing interest), and although he glides across the field so easily by having his eyes follow his unique deals, it’s nonetheless clear to see he still hasn’t had much high level basketball experience yet.
This is especially true on the less friendly ending. Don’t be fooled into assuming the 7’2 son of famed shot blocker Manute Bol is a standout NBA defenseman by default. Rather the opposite is true, in fact; it’s on the defensive that Bol Bol needs to do a lot more work.
Bol’s physical profile should convey huge defensive potential and an ability to cover the whole pitch and all kinds of games, just like Victor. The key to realizing this potential, however, is a concerted commitment to the parts of this end that don’t lend themselves well to statistical capture – second efforts, chases, closeouts and the like. As things stand, however, Bol’s defensive engine, fundamentals, and positioning are all far behind his offensive curve, and range only occasionally allows him to get away with it. We will not say the same thing about Wembanyana,
The combination of the Bol Bol and the Orlando Magic is almost perfect. He is theoretically an excellent embodiment of their length philosophy, was available for literally nothing and should have plenty of development time in a team with no immediate interest in winning and constant injuries elsewhere. Additionally, if Jonathan Isaac can become a key player again in the coming weeks and is able to cover some of Bol’s defensive shortcomings, the Magic will be able to wear down the truly unique frontcourt of these two, Banchero, Carter and the two Wagner brothers, six truly unique actors, each with their own level of intrigue. yet play like Victor Wembanyama is not the same as playing like good like Victor Wembanyama.
Bol Bol isn’t a unicorn at this point, but rather a regulation horse with a party hat pulled down over his nose. There remains a huge advantage in his game, and he has started to realize some of it in eye-catching fashion. But he has to get involved in defense to be part of the future.