The Denver Nuggets entered their first scrimmage game in the NBA bubble extremely short-handed, as they only had 10 players practicing and were holding two of them out for precautionary reasons. That meant there was just an eight-man rotation for Denver against the Wizards on Wednesday afternoon, which required some creativity from Mike Malone.
The starting lineup the Nuggets trotted out was hysterically big, with Nikola Jokic at point guard, Jerami Grant at shooting guard, 7’2 Bol Bol at small forward, and Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee rounding out the starters. Luckily, the first scrimmage was just a 40-minute affair, allowing for even a strained, short rotation not to play too many minutes, but the load on some was very heavy. Bol was making his Nuggets debut, having only played in eight G League games this season after working his way back from injury, and he played a team-high 32 minutes and showed why he’s been the talk of the Nuggets camp in Orlando.
Bol registered a double-double in the scrimmage, with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and added a rather preposterous six blocks. Whie it should be noted this was a scrimmage against one of the worst teams in the bubble, it was still encouraging to see how well he was moving and how confident he seemed to be on the floor with other NBA players. Bol didn’t shoot the ball tremendously (2-of-8 from three) but showed why he is such a unique talent at his size in the first quarter with a sequence that saw him block a shot at the rim and then bring the ball up the floor for a pull-up three.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) July 22, 2020
What was maybe most encouraging was how Mike Malone deployed Bol, in terms of how it could translate to success in an actual NBA game. Malone had the Nuggets playing a zone defense due to their lack of guards, and that allowed Bol to do what he does best, which is patrol the paint and hunt blocks. Bol moves pretty well for his size, but simply can’t get low enough to move with perimeter players on the edge, so he can be hunted on switches in pick-and-roll play if in man. In the zone, he can use his good feet to simply shuffle to stay in front of guys when they enter his area down low, and if he’s got a foot in the lane, he’s never more than one step away from being in range for a contest or block.
Taking much away from one scrimmage (particularly the first scrimmage after four months off) isn’t wise, and Bol is not playing 32 minutes in an actual NBA game anytime soon (and may never be a player that takes on that kind of load). Still, it’s encouraging to see him playing that well after seeing his draft stock plummet due to injury concerns — and viable concerns of his on-court role — but being in Denver has put him with a coach who isn’t afraid of bucking traditional positional roles because of height and that figures to offer Bol the best chance to emerge as a positive NBA player.
It might be for short bursts as a change of pace, throwing a 7’2 small forward on the court who is simply a wildly disruptive force on both ends and making teams adjust quickly to what Denver will do with him out there. They’ll likely go to the same 2-3 zone they played in this scrimmage, and their success with Bol on the floor may very well come down to his ability to consistently hit threes (he made 36.4 percent in his G League stint). But, with a center like Nikola Jokic that is so comfortable facilitating from the perimeter, they can open up some room for Bol and work a two-man game that would be an absolute nightmare to defend. He is an absolutely unique player who is in a situation with a coach who isn’t afraid to be creative with deployment, and that could lead to a fun and fruitful partnership, because there aren’t a lot of guys in the league that can do things like this and make it look so normal.
Bol Bol follows his own miss in transition and is up to 16 PTS, 10 REB, 5 BLK! #WholeNewGame
— NBA (@NBA) July 22, 2020
Depending on the Nuggets health and roster availability, Bol may not play much once the playoffs start, but in these scrimmages and in the eight-game restart (particularly if Denver locks themselves into a seed) there’s some serious value in getting Bol minutes and seeing how he can fit in the rotation going forward. If nothing else, his presence made Wednesday’s scrimmage a highly entertaining viewing experience.