In basketball, things have become very much about the unknowns. Sometimes, it’s guesswork in trying to figure out who the next big draft selection will be or the uncut gem in free agency.
Pundits and fans alike want to be at the forefront of the next big thing, the diamond in the rough who just hasn’t gotten a chance in the spotlight. More playing time equals more production — all that’s needed is opportunity.
Enter Bol Bol, the 7-foot-2 forward, the Pistons acquired in a trade this week. Bol, 22, comes pre-packaged with his own social media following, a fan base that proclaims him to be the next big thing.
Bol could be that. Or he could be a taller version of Thon Maker, who arrived to the Pistons in 2019 in a trade for Stanley Johnson.
There’s still a lot to find out about Bol, and he’ll likely make his Detroit debut in the coming days, possibly on Friday against the Toronto Raptors or versus the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
Bol’s outlook with the Pistons and a positive past couple of weeks are the topics in this edition of News & Views.
►News: Bol could make his Pistons debut this week.
►Views: There seems to be as much anticipation for Bol’s arrival and debut as there was for Blake Griffin’s. Some of that is understandable, as Bol has flashed some scoring and ballhandling skills that made him a projected first-round pick in the 2019 draft, though he fell to 44th overall.
The biggest question is whether he’s a center or a forward. He’s 7-2 with a 7-8 wingspan, so that screams traditional center. But at only 220 pounds, he can get outmuscled by shorter, more muscular players such as the Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart. The Pistons’ positional need is for him to be a center, but he’ll have to make some adjustments to play in the middle the majority of the time.
“He’s a big-time skill guy who can pass it and shoot it, and he’s 7-2. Those are the things that I like about him — his passing and his length,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Hopefully, we can get him down to protect the rim, along with Isaiah. Shooting is a skill and shooting today is at a premium, and if you can have shooters at every position, that’s a plus.”
Bol didn’t have enough consistent playing time in Denver to accurately gauge whether he’s worth all the fuss. The flashes have been very encouraging, but is there enough steak to go with the sizzle?
More: With Bol Bol trade, Pistons give up ‘ultimate professional’ in Rodney McGruder
Beard: Trade for Bol a calculated risk that could pay dividends for Pistons
That’ll be for the Pistons to find out in the remaining 43 games this season. Bol will likely get a ton of playing time, and if he pans out, he’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer, and they can decide whether they want to keep him long term.
It’s not about questioning the move to acquire Bol. They gave up Rodney McGruder and a likely low second-round pick in the trade, so it makes sense. The only question is whether it’ll be real gold or fool’s gold.
►News: The Pistons have won four of their last seven games.
►Views: It’s certainly their best stretch of the season, but the three losses in this span have been lopsided: by 29 points to the Charlotte Hornets, by 30 to the Memphis Grizzlies and by 46 Tuesday night to the Chicago Bulls.
Casey has said repeatedly that he wants his young team to handle success better, and that means having more consistent performances after wins. They had their first two-game win streak since March, and how they’ve come out after their victories this season has been concerning.
There’s something to be said for this current stretch of games, playing shorthanded while many of their players — and coaches — were in COVID protocols. They’ve also been without two of their best players, Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, for an extended period, which has opened more opportunities for Saddiq Bey, Hamidou Diallo and Josh Jackson to step into increased roles.
Through a season of adversity, that has been something of a bright spot.
►News: Cade Cunningham had a career-high 29 points in the win over Utah.
►Views: After a slow start because of injuries, Cunningham is making the race for Rookie of the Year a bit tighter. Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Green each had a good start to the season, but Cunningham’s numbers are starting to look more like a No. 1 overall. He’s shown a nice blend of shooting and handling the big moments.
Still, his turnovers are a concern, and he needs some more facilitators and scorers on the court with him to alleviate some of that pressure. It’s going to come down to the end of the season for Rookie of the Year, but if he continues on his course, Cunningham could be right there as one of the top two finalists.