Four years ago, the Knicks were lucky to land a freakishly tall, freakishly athletic big man with freakish range, skills and moves in Kristaps Porzingis. But this season’s push-the-red-button re-do that shipped KP to Shark Tank left an 87-inch hole in New York’s foundation. Could Bol Bol, ex-NBAer Manute’s non-minute offshoot, succeed where we’d hoped Big Liepāja would? Or should the Knicks pass on a player so divisive one scout said of him “his holes have holes”?
You could scan 14,000,605 dimensions and only find one where the Knicks draft Bol and it pays off. Many are the reasons this union seems unlikely. The Knicks will select somewhere in the first five draft slots. While Bol entered the season projected to go that high, a navicular fracture in his left foot capped his college career at nine games; many mock drafts now have him going closer to the middle of the first round than the upper reaches of the lottery. For the Knicks to even consider drafting Bol, they’d have to suffer the nightmare scenario of being passed by three or four teams.
The Knicks would also have to conclude gambling on Bol justified passing on players who offer a more traditional, comfort-food range of boom vs. bust: R.J. Barrett, Ja Morant, Cam Reddish, etc. Players like that run the risk of becoming a rookie-scale Andrew Wiggins, or Rudy Gay, or in Morant’s case, Dennis Smith Jr. Where do the Knicks stand re: floors versus ceilings in this year’s draft? Because Bol’s floor, unfloortunately (no regrets!), is so low that Hades is a penthouse. He may not make it as an NBA player. Period. Courtesy of Stingy:
From Jay Bilas on Tre Jones - “He plays so low and low man wins” if young players would just understand this concept, they would be a better player immediately!— Don Showalter (@dshow23) March 17, 2019
Bol does not get low. Bol has probably not once been low in his life. Pro prospects are often derided for their defensive shortcomings, both in effort and execution. Even for a collegian, Bol looks epically awful sometimes.
Investing in Bol also means the Knicks would be willing to bet not only on the 19-year-old’s talent, but his health. In Street Clothes, an injuries and analytics database, shows a number of players have suffered the same injury as Bol. The track record is mixed — some recovered just fine, but those who suffered complications were all bigs. Bol, I’ll remind you, is not small.
But the Knicks of recent years have been willing to swing for the fences in the lottery. Porzingis was by no means a safe pick at four; Frank Ntilikina was an argument the second Adam Silver announced him; Kevin Knox was no consensus last year. There are compelling reasons to take a chance on Bol. How often do you get a shot to draft a guy who can look like Mitchell Robinson in one sequence and Porzingis in the next — with handles, to boot?
Bol, 7-foot-3 with the skills of a small forward, made nearly 60% of his two-pointers, more than half his threes and 76% of his free throws. He’s not a good shooter for a big; he’s a good shooter, period. Remember this? In transition? This could be Bol.
Bol could feast when teams go small. Seven-foot-three doesn’t need to back you down. It just needs to get over the top.
Bol isn’t restricted to besting other, lesser giants. His size and touch mean he’s drilling pull-ups and fadeaways while on the go, defender be damned.
A versatile scorer, Bol is a big with infinite range who doesn’t need to be spoon-fed looks. Reach + range = revolutionary.
Bol Bol had the first 10 points for Oregon tonight...— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) November 27, 2018
Again, anytime someone 87-plus inches has foot trouble, that’s a red flag. For all Bol stirs in the imagination, reality is a lonelier realm. Right now the Sudanese Dream is just putting up shots, biding his time.
The thought of Bol and M-Rob together is so hot it’s technically illegal in Georgia. In 2020 they’d get schooled sometimes, sure. But if the two of them made it work together — and they could, conceivably; both are athletic; their inside/outside games could complement on the offensive end — opposing teams might start wearing dream catchers where sponsored ads now fester.
Bol Bol’s (@OregonMBB) length not only impacts attempts at the rim but perimeter shots as well. His uncharacteristic reach is something shooters will have to adjust to—not often you have arms like that closing out on you. pic.twitter.com/bfmqQAnROp— Luka (@preptopros) March 8, 2019
Sometimes Bol looks like a totally viable defender. And not just when blocking shots.
And yet for all the fun this thought exercise is, the truth is Dr. Frankenstein would never model his modern Prometheus on Bol’s body type.
Bol doesn't use his length to cut off the bounce pass as an outlet and then gets trapped behind his man before committing a lazy foul. Not the most instinctual or active game on defense so far pic.twitter.com/qRhX6ljqlr— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) December 18, 2018
The worst thing I’ve seen this season was Enes Kanter’s defense. Kanter, like Liam Neeson in Taken, has a very particular set of skills. The problem with Kanter is his contributions on offense generally register as a plus-2, whereas his compromising of the defense too often hits as a minus-3. I thought Kanter would seek to offset that by taking way more threes this year than he did, given how Grizzly bigs like Marc Gasol upped their bombing runs their first year playing for David Fizdale.
Gasol went from 0.1 3-point attempts per 36 pre-Fiz to 3.8 their first year together. JaMychal Green went from 1.1 to 2.5. Even Zach Randolph, whose people are indigenous to the paint, jumped from 0.5 attempts per 36 to nearly two. I imagine Fiz would give Bol liberty to launch.
Watch clips of Bol defending, especially in space or when fleet feet are required, and you may swear off basketball altogether. It ain’t pretty, folks.
Kanter is a poor defender off the dribble, but at times Bol looks out of place sharing a court with any human who can dribble. So why run the former out of town while rationalizing the drafting of the latter? Why the hell bring up Kanter at all?
The one thing I’d most looked forward to this season was seeing Porzingis and Robinson play together. I imagined Robinson’s fluidity as a perimeter destroyer could mesh with Porzingis as a primary rim protector. A player like Kanter has few options defending pick-and-rolls, all somewhat unappealing. He can come out and contest, but Kanter on his heels 25 feet from the basket is a losing proposition; he doesn’t have the foot speed or the wingspan to obstruct or catch up with smaller, quicker players.
He can (and did!) stay back and concede open jumpers, but at best that’s a tourniquet, at worst the world’s longest suicide note. That, plus 2 < 3, are why I’m content to admire Kanter at a cross-continental distance.
But hark, Enes stans! I come not to bury Kanter, but to hype Bol, a player who took three threes a game and made 52% of them; he’s more likely to hit the opponent at some point with a roundhouse than Kanter, who’s pretty much all jabs.
Bol’s shot creation already looks more advanced than Luke Kornet’s. Teams will target Bol in the pick-and-roll, but 7-foot-3 with a 7-foot-8 wingspan provides a margin of error few players enjoy, and if Bol and Robinson can play together there will be a plurality of shot alterers warping and eating much of the space the offense takes for granted. The brightest stars in the galaxy are still no match for a black hole. Bol and Robinson could combine to form a defensive supermassive black hole.
I’ve been on the Bol bandwagon since I first heard of him, for at least three reasons. First, he’s unique. I like seeing what I’ve never seen before. Remember the early days of KP, when every time he did something it was stupid fresh because he was always the biggest person you’d ever seen do it?
Bol has that same quality.
Second, if he weren’t injured so early and for the length of the season, Bol would probably be viewed today as a top-10 talent. Obviously I wouldn’t choose him ahead of Zion Williamson. But how many sure shots are there in this draft? It feels like fewer than usual, doesn’t it?
This could (and hopefully will) be the last time the Knicks are in position to land a top-of-the-class cutting-edge talent for a while. This team needs talent. It needs shooting. Bol provides both. That might be more worthwhile than drafting someone less likely to be a star but more likely to be a 10-year starter. You could argue the other way, of course, especially if Ntilikina and Knox don’t strike you as meaningful pieces moving forward. Maybe the Knicks found two future starters this year in Damyean Dotson and DSJ. Maybe Bol would appeal to a Bayou-based franchise that will be trading away its generational big man sooner than later.
Third — this reason is admittedly selfish, rather than reasoned — Manute Bol was always one of my faves. On NBA Jam my favored pairing was Manute and Yi Jianlian on Washington; I’d pretend they were really a buddy-cop team masquerading as ballers to break a case. To this day perhaps my favorite non-Knick NBA memory came when Bol hit six three-pointers against the Phoenix Suns. Listen to the joy of the Phoenix fans watching Bol rain bombs on their boys.
There were other great moments.
God was watching the day Bol threw a punch at Anthony Mason. God watching kept Mase from tearing Manute in two.
Bol was never afraid to throw hands. You ever heard of Jawaan Oldham? You have now.
Confession: that footage is a little hazy at points, and the first time I saw an image from it I thought Bol was whupping Scottie Pippen, and I frantically re-wound wondering how I’d somehow missed what would have been the greatest moment of my youthful fandom. Alas, Oldham would be the last bull to wear No. 33 before Pip.
Back to the crux of the biscuit: imagine if the Knicks had been able to enjoy all the benefits of the Porzingis trade — acquiring DSJ; freeing up massive cap space; adding two first-round picks to their stockpile [holy s#%@ the Knicks have a “stockpile” of draft picks!] — without actually losing Porzingis. Imagine adding Porzingis-lite, only at a savings of about $30M a year for the next 4-5 years. Bigs who can hit threes and erase twos are making an impact for the best teams in the Association.
Brook Lopez has become an integral part of what makes the Milwaukee Bucks sing, averaging 2-plus blocks and 2-plus threes per game. Golden State has a trio of bigs who can protect the rim and score from deep in Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant. Toronto added Marc Gasol. Indiana’s Myles Turner leads the league in rejections while setting a career-high in threes made, attempted and 3P% for the fourth consecutive season. Other bigs making an impact in the paint and on the perimeter include Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Jerami Grant, and, when the REM sleep is hitting juuuust right and he’s dreaming, Andre Drummond. If you switch from per game stats to per-36, Kornet and Noah Vonleh both average over one block and one three-pointer.
Bol raises some of the same physical concerns Porzingis entered the league with. Seven-foot-three players reliant on athleticism and perimeter play more than strength and paint play are still a mostly theoretical species. If Manute’s frame is anything to go by, Bol may not ever add meaningful strength to his frame. He’s a physical anomaly entering a well-defined NBA ecosystem, where speed and strength are evolutionary advantages; Bol possesses neither. There are countless “if he only adds a jumper” guys who never do. Bol can shoot, but if he can’t physically survive that’s not going to matter.
They say styles make fights. Where Bol lands, who he’s paired with and what role he’s given will shape his future as much as his willingness to fight for it. He’s not the smoothest fit on the Knick roster, but there is a dimension where his style fits their needs. It may be a long shot, but truth is generally stranger than fiction.