Summer League basketball exists as a self-contained bubble in the NBAverse. It's a space where we all get overly hyped about player highlights, only to get sorely disappointed months later, when we realise once again, that those performances don't translate onto the NBA floor. Having said that, it's an entertaining little reprieve from the NBA's free agency madness. It's a chance for us to watch potential NBA prospects perform. This applies especially to our Australians, many of whom are playing their hearts out in a chance to get noticed.
Jonah Bolden certainly doesn't fit the typical profile of an Australian player in Vegas right now. He was drafted in 2017, and made his case for the NBA last Summer League last year. After spending a season toughening up with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the young big man has returned for a second Summer League stint, and will hopefully land himself a spot in the Philadelphia 76ers' regular rotation.
Bolden's calling cards have been defensive tenacity and energy, both of which he showed plenty of in last year's Summer League. This year, consistency has been Bolden's latest headline.
One question mark of recent note has been his lack of consistency in three-point shooting, something that has been a work in progress. Bolden shot 31.9% on 2.5 attempts from three in EuroLeague, over a stretch of 29 games. That number hasn't quite translated to Summer League. Over his first three games in Vegas, Bolden made 2 of 8 of threes in total. He followed that up with four missed threes against the Phoenix Suns.
In today's game against the Milwaukee Bucks, he finally took a step in the right direction, and hit 2 of 4 from the three-point line.
It's too early to declare anything substantive. One missed three changes the storyline right away, and returns the narrative to its original course. Bolden continues to show an inability to make perimeter shots. He isn't ready to be the stretch five Philadelphia needs. He hasn't shown enough aggressiveness. He needs time in the G-League.
All of it might be true, and making two three-pointers hasn't done anything to lay that story to rest. Expectations however, need to be tempered against his unfamiliarity with the NBA environment. There are a multitude of factors that need to be taken into consideration. The NBA has a vastly increased level of physicality and athleticism. There's an increased tempo of play, an individualistic style of play that's vastly different from Europe, and most of all, we have to remember - it's Summer League. It's an environment where team basketball doesn't exactly thrive. It's a pit of competition for prospects, rookies and sophomores alike, where nothing is guaranteed and fortunes change in the blink of an eye. It's also --for better or worse-- something most of us will probably forget six months down the road, if Bolden proves himself and integrates with the team well, especially with Ben Simmons.
During the Bucks game, Bolden misread his defensive assignment on the final play, and allowed Christian Wood to cut right into the paint for a lob play. Thankfully, Bolden made up for the momentary lapse by catching up to the lob pass, swatting it out of Wood's hands and regaining possession on what could've been a potential game winner for Milwaukee.
Bolden will need to get better, that much is obvious. Expect moments like these to happen, as he adjusts himself to the new environment. He's still as raw as any other rookie new to the league. Everyone makes mistakes, but we have to trust that Bolden will learn, and make things right.
Are we too optimistic on Jonah Bolden? Possibly. But it's way too soon to dismiss his potential, and the transformation that awaits him over the course of an entire NBA season, not to mention what an actual offseason's body of work and conditioning could do for the 22 year old big man.
For now, let us continue enjoy Summer League for what it is. Flaws aside, Bolden's shown himself to be a solid rebounder, a shot blocker, and an agile defender against smaller players. He will continue to get better, and all we need to do, is to stay patient. In the words of the Sixers' well-known mantra: Trust The Process.