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Player Grades: Bol Bol may have missed his opportunity in Denver

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Evaluating talented forward Bol Bol’s true rookie year in Denver

Atlanta Hawks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Denver Nuggets surprised everyone and traded into the 2019 NBA Draft to acquire 19-year-old Bol Bol with a second round pick, expectations were properly optimistic.

When the Denver Nuggets finally played Bol Bol in the bubble after a long recovery from foot surgery and he debuted at starting small forward with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in a scrimmage, expectations rose sky high.

Things haven’t quite worked out for Bol in the way that he or Nuggets fans may have imagined after seeing him for the first time in 2020, and after completing his first year of a two-year contract in Denver, it’s possible that his NBA opportunity with the Nuggets may have passed him by. The Nuggets gave Bol opportunities throughout the season to prove himself, but they never seemed to stick.

Let’s talk about why.

Bol Bol 2020-21 per game stats

Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Turnovers 2-point % 3-point % True Shooting %
32 5.0 2.2 0.8 0.2 0.4 47.1 37.5 53.4

What Happened

With JaMychal Green out with an injury, Bol began the season in the Nuggets rotation. He played sparingly in each of those contests, and as he was playing, it became apparent that he struggled in many of the fundamental aspects of Denver Nuggets basketball that he needed in order to stay on the court. Bol couldn’t gain Michael Malone’s trust to place him in the rotation consistently given various weaknesses in his game, from executing offensive plays to making proper defensive rotations to simply rebounding the basketball at 7’2.

It was clear early on in the season that Bol wasn’t ready to be a contributor, and from then on, he played exclusively in garbage time. The Nuggets had neither the time nor spots in the rotation to help ease Bol’s development, and soon, Vlatko Cancar and Zeke Nnaji were both receiving opportunities ahead of Bol to contribute throughout the season.

Best Moment — Coast-to-Coast Dunk against OKC Thunder

Garbage time still meant opportunities to showcase his skills though, and Bol showed off his athleticism, fluidity, handle, and grace at 7’2 when he navigated his way through the Oklahoma City Thunder defense and dunked with his arm way above the rim. It’s easy to see why the Nuggets took a chance on Bol in these moments. Very few NBA players 7’0 or taller have the combination of traits Bol has to be able to do what he does.

Oh, and he can shoot the ball out to 30 feet as well.

Player Grade — D+

It feels harsh to give anyone a D level grade when moments to change his situation rarely came; however, Bol never seemed to approach his garbage time minutes with the same care and want-to as Cancar and Nnaji. They took their assignments seriously and were given opportunities to prove themselves in the regular rotation because of it. Bol rarely showed the Nuggets coaching staff anything in games that could be utilized to help the team win regularly. The Nuggets have scorers. They have athletic forwards to convert dunks and shoot threes. The Nuggets may have needed to see more from Bol, and he clearly never passed the necessary tests to play more consistently

Offseason Outlook

Bol is still under contract with the Nuggets for one more season. He is owed just over $2.1 million before he becomes a restricted free agent in the offseason of 2022.

The Nuggets will have many decisions to make on their primary rotation players before getting to Bol. From extensions involving Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon to contract negotiations for JaMychal Green (player option), Paul Millsap (free agent), and JaVale McGee (free agent), the Nuggets have many other pressing matters. In addition, they will likely commit to an expanded role for 2020 first round pick Zeke Nnaji, who plays a similar position to Bol.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Nugget do one of two things this summer. Either they make a declaration that Bol is still part of their plans and they want to continue developing him into a rotation piece, or they may decide to find a suitable landing spot for Bol via trade. The Nuggets don’t have the luxury to develop too many players, and they need as much stability around other volatile young players like Michael Porter Jr., P.J. Dozier, and Zeke Nnaji as possible. Keeping Bol would mean throwing him into that fray. Keeping Bol and never putting him on the floor would mean wasting a roster spot.

Whatever the case, Bol is clearly a talented player. If given the opportunity by the right team, he could grow into an extremely productive player. Whether he can be that player in Denver remains to be seen, but I lean no in that regard. It may take a change of scenery to unlock Bol’s skill set.