How Jonah Bolden's Boomers exit set the tone for a challenging Sixers season so far
Had he elected to play, Jonah Bolden would have added depth for the Australian Boomers at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The Sydney native was coming off a promising rookie year in the NBA. He made 44 appearances, including ten starts, for the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2018/19 season. As a member of Australia's small but growing NBA contingent, Bolden's national team debut was much anticipated.
The 6'10 big man made his first senior Boomers appearance against Canada, during a two-game exhibition series in August last year. In the first game he logged just 11 minutes, while recording two points and two rebounds. Bolden would fare better in a rematch the following day, playing 18 minutes in a 81-73 Australian victory. He was one of the standout Aussies in game two, finishing with 12 points and five rebounds.
The very next day after this breakout game, Bolden sensationally withdrew from the Boomers camp. He subsequently returned to the USA, citing "personal reasons". The Philadelphia 76er would not take part any any further warmup matches or the World Cup itself. Unsurprisingly, his sudden exit raised eyebrows. Bolden had played limited minutes off the bench against Canada, raising questions about his reasons for leaving the Boomers ahead of the World Cup campaign.
Bolden's Boomers fallout
The rumour mill was ablaze with suggestions that Bolden wasn't satisfied with his role on the national team. Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes both started over the young big man against Canada, but that was expected.
Perhaps more interesting, was the fact that both Jock Landale and Nick Kay were ahead of Bolden in the rotation. Landale started both Canada exhibition games and logged a total of 53 minutes, while Nick Kay accumulated 37 bench minutes across the two nights. Bolden on the other hand, recorded just 29 minutes in total.
The Philadelphia 76er had effectively walked into his NBA role, except with the Boomers. Bolden might not have appreciated Andrej Lemanis' decision to play him as a fifth-choice big man, behind Landale and Kay.
It's no secret that the Sydney native prefers to play as a small forward. In 2016, he abruptly left NCAA Division I team UCLA to turn professional in Europe. Olgun Uluc of FOX Sports Australia spoke with Jonah's father, former NBL stalwart Bruce Bolden, when the 6'10 prospect withdrew from UCLA. “He wanted to go to the three spot, and he got the impression that it wasn’t going to happen, and he felt that would ruin his chances of really showing his three skillset. He didn’t think anything was going to change, so he told me that he was ready to move on,” The senior Bolden said.
The younger Bolden was probably aware that he would be playing either centre or power forward with the Boomers. Although he prefers the small forward role, Philadelphia had other ideas when they drafted him. 76ers coach Brett Brown has used Bolden primarily as a backup centre, and his Boomers counterpart Andrej Lemanis would have had similar plans. However, Bolden would have likely accepted the role if he was handed a larger share of minutes. Boomers legend Andrew Gaze suggested that the big man called it quits, after recognising his place in the depth chart.
“Judging by body language and drawing on my own experience, I suspect Jonah's seen Jock Landale do what he's doing, seen how he might fit into the program," Gaze told Macquarie Sports Radio. “These days it's a sad thing but players are so concerned about their brand.”
Matt Logue of The Daily Telegraph later wrote that Bolden was "frustrated with his position in the team", as confirmed to the publication by unnamed sources. Local basketball podcast host Karl Beston had a similar take.
While Bolden's withdrawal was a disappointing blow to the Boomers' frontcourt depth, it may have been vindicated if he was enjoying a productive sophomore year in the NBA. This is far from the case however, as the Philadelphia 76er is struggling to earn regular NBA minutes. The extra month of preparation in the States has yet to pay dividends.
Bolden recently made a long-awaited return to the 76ers rotation. On January 20 the Australian logged nine minutes against Brooklyn, his first NBA appearance in over two months. In total, Bolden has played just three games for the 76ers, at the midway point of the 2019-20 season. The 24 year old has been in and out of the G League, where he hasn't quite replicated his form from last season.
Bolden appears to have fallen out of Philadelphia's rotation. Reasons for this include Al Horford's versatility, the drafting of Matisse Thybulle, the signing of Kyle O'Quinn and the rise of Furkan Korkmaz, which was covered in detail. The Sydney product is fighting to stay in the NBA, and may wind up on the trading block soon.
Bolden is also at long odds to play in the Tokyo Olympic Games, which will be held in six months. Not only does his current form leave a lot to be desired, but the big man will not be a popular selection after his sudden exit just before the 2019 World Cup.
In addition, Brett Brown has replaced Andrej Lemanis as Boomers coach. Brown already coaches Bolden at the club level with the 76ers. While some may believe the connection would work to Jonah's benefit, the 24 year old is in fact struggling for playing time.
It appears that Bolden could use a change of scenery to revive his career, as the 6'10 Aussie is an exciting talent who brings a blend of athleticism and perimeter shooting to the table. Whether his future lies in the NBA or not, only time will tell.