Film Don’t Lie: What did the Pistons trade for in Bol Bol?

Detroit Bad Boys

Troy Weaver has reloaded and is emptying a fresh clip in the early days of NBA trade season by flipping a vet in Rodney McGruder, and a Brooklyn Nets second round pick projected for the mid- to low-50s for the once highly ranked and recruited Bol Bol, son of former NBA big man Manute Bol.

The cost was so low even if it never works out Detroit is not out much, but the deal offers quite a bit of intrigue. Bol was a NAME I was very familiar with even if my knowledge of his actual gameplay was lacking. I actually just missed seeing Bol in person when he played at Oregon. I took my high school team to Colorado University to watch Bol’s team play the Oregon Ducks, but he was out after recently suffering a season-ending injury. In the nine games he played prior to injury his freshman season, he was able to put up shooting splits of 56-52-76 on a solid amount of attempts to go along with almost 10 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.

That nine-game performance was not enough to get Bol drafted in the first round of the 2019 draft as he ended up falling to the Nuggets at pick No. 44. Despite being in the league for 2.5 years already, we do not have that much film to evaluate his game at the professional level. He has played in a total of 53 games, accumulating 328 TOTAL minutes. His per-36 minutes probably gives us a better gauge of his production, though I will say we have to be careful with those as most minutes have not been what you would consider “meaningful.” Per-36 minutes, he is averaging 15.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2 blocks with shooting splits of 48-38-67.

Even with the limited amount of minutes played, I decided to pick out a few games where he has played the most minutes to take a look, and I even went back to the first Summer League from this past year. Included in the film will be two games from earlier in this season where he played the most minutes and even one game from his rookie year in the NBA Bubble.

Some quick takeaways that I think will interest fans before diving into the offense, defense and film breakdowns. Bol Bol is NOT a 5 man. In the two games I watched from this season he did not match up with Christian Wood, Willie Cauley-Stein, or Kristaps Porzingis who were the biggest players on the floor for the opposition. He almost always played minutes with a “bigger, stronger” big to take those defensive assignments. He even played a few minutes alongside Nikola Jokic AND Aaron Gordon. Secondly, Bol showed nothing in the film I watched to think he is this great PnR lob threat that the fanbase has been asking for. Now, I didn’t go back to his college film (maybe he showed it there), and I didn’t watch every minute of his NBA career. Lastly, the “motor” concerns you may have heard about do show up on film. I like to say he simply isn’t as active as you would like to see a 7-foot-plus player with his length, but it did not take long to see what others were talking about.

With all of that said, the upside Bol possess will definitely pop off the screen as well. He uses his length to make up ground defensively that others simply can’t. He has a very unique skillet on the offensive end for a player his size. Just like the activity level was “as advertised” when I went to the film, that talent level was as well!

Offense

The thing that stood out most to me on offense for Bol is his ability to face up on the perimeter, attack the lane, and finish with his length. These usually would come in transition opportunities, attacking closeouts, or rotating defenses. The fact he has an ability to stretch the floor at his size obviously helps get these aggressive close outs and thus ability to show his skill level.

As you can imagine there were some instances of him taking advantage of smaller players in the post, which is something he could get a lot playing power forward or small forward. Earlier, I mentioned I did not see him get ANY PnR Lobs but there are a few PnR finishes that make you wonder how he will be used in Detroit. In general, it did seem like he would rather “ghost” the screen and flare to the 3-point line than roll (editor’s note: that means he’ll fit right in in Detroit!).

Some areas that might dampen enthusiasm include the volume of tough shots he takes. While he is able to create open shots at times, it does look like he just relies on that length to take tough contested jumpers. The area that I absolutely expected to see more from him was as an offensive rebounder and due to lack of activity it just didn’t show. And finally, I found it very interesting that his teammates flat out showed very little interest in getting him the ball on drives and kicks or even “one more” passes.

Defense

I watched an existing breakdown of Bol’s game immediately after the trade that left the impression he wasn’t as bad defensively as his reputation, and he was probably a net neutral defender. After watching game film myself, I think that is spot on. As you can imagine, he has the length to be VERY disruptive. I even think he is engaged and focused off the ball to make it happen. The problem is all too often he will be too slow or not active enough to make the play. I cannot tell you the amount of times I yelled at my computer screen for him to just “JUMP” on a rebound or blocked shot attempt.

Once again, he has not shown the skill, instincts or inclination to be a 5, and you can see that he does not/will not hold up guarding those types of players in the post. The question then becomes if he can move well enough on the perimeter to hold up against 4s and 3s. He uses his length well to give ground on the ball knowing that he can still contest. I don’t think he is staying in front of the quicker, more explosive forwards, BUT I do think he can hold his own in general guarding those positions.

At the end of the day, I still VERY much like this trade. I think it is a very, very low risk and certainly worth a gamble for the potential high reward. Now, I think the possibility of that high reward is pretty slim but not sure you are finding anything close to that with where the second-round pick will land.

If Bol Bol ends up not working out at all then you let him walk in restricted free agency (like you most likely would have declined McGruder’s team option) and your cap situation isn’t any worse off. My overall biggest concern for Bol is the activity level and energy he plays with so I am working with the hope that an increased role and usage will draw that out of him in Detroit. My hopes are definitely not as high now as the moment I heard about the trade but I guess we will find out once Bol takes the floor, hopefully sometime later this week!

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