At this point in basketball history, the idea of a big man shooting three-pointers would shock only the most neolithic 1990s basketball-purist weirdo. The simple fact that three is more than two has radically rearranged the court to prioritize space above all else, and that has upended old norms to such an extent that mountainous centers like Brook Lopez and Joel Embiid are now firing away at an unprecedented clip.
Still, someone still needs to do normal big man shit like rebound and patrol the paint, which means that players without range will always have a place in the NBA. Rudy Gobert doesn’t need to pop 27-footers to be valuable, and the best bigs are well-rounded players like Embiid or Marc Gasol, who can comfortably synthesize both the old grunty center stuff and contemporary passing and shooting into their games, which is even harder than it seems. All of which is to say that Bol Bol, the reedlike son of the late NBA big man Manute, might very well fit this profile.
Bol is currently enjoying a standout freshman season at Oregon, and the first batch of 2019 mock drafts have him as a top-end lottery pick. It’s easy to see why: the dude is 7-foot-3 and his arms are as long as Gobert’s, and while he’s not what anyone would call quick, he does seem to have an idea of where to stand, which is a skill not all big men can pick up naturally. Less surprisingly, he has been a dominant force against college players on defense thus far. Bol is averaging 2.8 blocks against just two fouls per game this season.
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Bol can dunk without really having to jump, which is always cool, but he has also shown an oddly diverse offensive skillset. He will probably not spend all of his time in the NBA away from the rim—once again, he’s the size of a dang streetlight and as such is very useful when planted down low—but when he’s taken Porzingis-like advantage of the easy angles his size advantage affords him when tasked with creating offense outside the paint. Bol dropped 32 points on Texas Southern on Monday, a performance that included four three-pointers and several midrange shots. Oregon lost, but who cares. Bol is not strong yet, and he won’t have the lower center of gravity on anyone he’s likely to face in the NBA this side of Boban Marjanovic; it’s nice that he’s comfortable popping shots in the lane or outside the arc, but he won’t necessarily need to.
His 4-for-6 shooting night brought his season average up to 53.8 percent on 2.2 threes per game. That’s not a high volume or anything, which is fine. Bol Bol will not have to be a three-point shooter at the next level, but if he can feather a long-distance shot into his already smothering game, that only makes him an even more unique and enticing prospect, and an even more striking example of how the game is changing.