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Bol Bol Is Rewriting His NBA Story With The Orlando Magic

We’re a little more than a month into the 2022-23 NBA season. In that time, there is not a single player who has made me double take, grin, guffaw, and throw my hands up in the air as often as Orlando big/wing/guard Bol Bol.

At 7’2 with a legitimate level of fluidity that few that size possess, Bol puts together mesmerizing stretches of play that flirt with being novel and unthinkable. Contextualizing what his play style means is quite difficult, because again, you’re just not accustomed to this from someone the same height as Roy Hibbert.

Injuries have always inhibited Bol. His one-and-done season at Oregon was limited to nine games before he hurt his foot, while his NBA career has featured nagging injuries throughout. This season, he hasn’t missed a game and has started the last 17 for the Magic.

That he’s even on the court is a win. Prior to this season, particularly after the Detroit voided trade debacle, it seemed like Bol needed a number of things to go right for him to stick around in the league. And here we are!

Bol has played more minutes this season than he did the last three combined. He’s spent substantially more time at the four than the five, something that hadn’t been the case since his rookie year in Denver, and it’s paid dividends. Orlando has by far the funkiest lineup constructions in basketball — 6’10 Franz Wagner will play the point at times, and five players 6’6 or taller sharing the court is surprisingly common for the Magic, largely due to early injuries to the entire guard rotation.

He’s averaging just under two blocks per game, sending jumpers back, cleaning up in weak-side help, and throwing in the occasional chase down. Playing the four on defense has been a huge factor in his success. To put it bluntly, Bol is a poor defender at the moment. He needs more reps and playing time to continue improving his defensive feel. He has slow feet, he struggles in drop, and while he has decent instincts to contest, he has poor positioning.

By virtue of playing in supersized lineups that usually don’t ask him to be the primary rim protector, Bol has been able to camp out on weaker offensive players and be masked as a defender. Even if he is drawn into pick-and-roll situations or isolation, he’s so long that he makes things tough for ball-handlers, and there’s a lot of length behind him if you drive past him, too. This Magic team buzzes with effective weirdness.

Playing at the four has opened up room for Bol to thrive offensively, too, and he’s done that in an unexpected way. Rather than simplifying and reducing Bol’s role, the Magic have leaned into what he can do. We’re hitting a point with the sample size that it’s harder and harder to pick it apart, which makes it all the more fun to watch.

Per Cleaning the Glass, 53 percent of his makes are assisted, which is in the 94th percentile among bigs. Only half of his shots at the rim (93rd percentile) and 72 percent of his threes (97th percentile) are assisted. His True Shooting comes in at 66.6 percent, almost 10 percent above league average. He’s shooting 84 percent at the rim, 52 percent from 4-14 feet, and 47 percent on above the break threes.

Orlando’s offense is equal opportunity, allowing multiple creators to test the waters that are dominated by pin-downs off the corners, although spacing concerns can make things a bit clunky. Bol commands multiple chances as a secondary ball-handler and creator, running actions after screening, after popping, and after running off of screens himself. The Magic love getting him elbow opportunities in short pick-and-rolls or as a handoff man who can dive on a fake.

Shortening the distance between him and the basket makes him that much harder to guard. Look how much ground he covers just attacking off the catch in the corner.

A spin, two and a half strides, and Bol is throwing down. Try to hide your worst or smallest defender on him, and his touch is good enough that he can punish them

He’s had some issues with defenders that can be physical and stop his drives. Players with the sort of length that walls him off can stifle him and causes turnovers or poor shots given that he’s pretty strictly a straight line driver. He’s shooting just 2-for-11 from the corners this year, which may seem odd, but it’s due in part to a slow release and shot prep. The Magic know that, though, and rarely station him in the corners. If he is there, he’s such a sizable pump-and-go threat that he usually leans into that

Digs and stunts at the nail can still catch him off-guard. His passing is mostly an afterthought, a grenade to throw away when it can’t go up towards the rim, but he’s put together some solid reps of late tossing to baseline cutters or the corner when they’re in his sight line.

Frankly, I don’t know what is going to happen with Bol when the Magic begin their ascent in the Eastern Conference, and their young talent goes from “promising youngsters” to “playoff-caliber performers.” But for now, it’s impossible to watch the way Bol saunters through defenders in transition and not feel like there’s something there.

The ball control is just good enough. He doesn’t hesitate, he just soars.

The most important thing is that Bol isn’t just a novelty, a gigantic dude with a guard’s skill set who dominated at the lower levels but couldn’t translate that into anything against adults. He’s quickly become one of the more entertaining and effective play finishers in the NBA. There’s legitimate upside as a roving wing who causes mismatches when he attacks off the catch and can score in isolation in the right scenarios. He is capable of attacking with efficient, absurd firepower that can do immense damage when focused and honed.

Is he a long-term NBA starter? I’m not sure, and would go as far as to say that I lean towards probably not. But 22 games ago, I didn’t think he’d play substantial minutes in the NBA again. As the Magic continue to figure out what their future looks like, it sure seems like Bol will continue to do whatever it takes to make sure he is part of it.