What to expect from Jonah Bolden’s debut NBA season
Jonah Bolden is finally poised for an NBA debut with the Philadelphia 76ers. A second-round draft pick in 2017, Bolden spent last season with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. The Melbourne native was a reliable contributor for the elite European outfit and secured his maiden NBA contract with promise that enforced his potential as an NBA prospect.
There is no doubting Bolden belongs in the NBA this season. It must be acknowledged however, that finding a regular role for Bolden within the Sixers rotation is a challenging exercise.
When the Sixers tip off in Boston next week, the franchise will be proud owners of lofty expectations and a loaded front court rotation. Joel Embiid is Philadelphia’s All-Star center and best player. Dario Saric was one of the most improved players in the NBA last season and appears entrenched as a starter at power forward.
Amir Johnson and Mike Muscala are veteran reserves who, while both on the backside of their career, remain reliable role players. Johnson is a dependable option behind Embiid, while Muscala is a ready made replacement for Ersan Ilyasova, whom Brett Brown heavily relied upon as the Sixers burst up the Eastern Conference standings last season.
Robert Covington is nominally the Sixers starting small forward, although he spent 23 percent of his minutes playing up a position last season, per Cleaning The Glass. The same logic applies to Wilson Chandler, who is the Sixers key addition from the offseason. There is also the prospect of Ben Simmons playing more time away from the basketball, in more of a traditional forward's role.
In short, Philadelphia is loaded with players who perform the very role Bolden is striving for.
Bolden profiles as a stretchy big man who can hover between the four and five positions. On offence, he is like many fringe prospects who enter the modern NBA - his usefulness will invariably be tied to the success of his jumpshot. He was a 32 percent three point shooter in Europe last season, and greater consistency is required.
He has showed infant signs of ball handling skills throughout his college and European career, although these won’t be given much, if any, time to shine with the Sixers. The team just doesn’t need any more playmaking from its big men. Simmons is entrenched as an All-Star calibre point man. The Sixers franchise is heavily invested in Fultz’s progression and he will be given ample opportunities to show his wears.
Defensively, Bolden is equipped with a rangy 221cm wingspan that is deceptively long. This is one element that was evident during his two Summer League campaigns. Even within an NBA environment, Bolden is one of the more athletically gifted athletes. It wouldn’t be shocking if Bolden generates viral defensive highlights this season, with his sheer size catching opponents off guard.
The Australia has potential as a flexible defender. The tools of someone who can protect the rim and survive switches on the perimeter are present. These make Bolden more valuable than Richaun Holmes, whom the Sixers sent off to Phoenix to create Bolden's roster spot.
For the young forward, consistent defence represents the quickest path to regular minutes. Whether he even gets the opportunity to do so is a more prudent, and puzzling question. Barring an injury to those established on the Sixers roster, Bolden must provide more value than Johnson or Muscala this season.
It bears asking whether Bolden would be better off, playing on a franchise devoid of the talent and expectations present in Philadelphia. The Sixers view themselves as Finals contenders, and giving developmental minutes to a second-round prospect doesn’t fit with such a mission. Short of Bolden exploding in practice, any NBA minutes he receives this season will likely come in the form of garbage time at the end of blowouts.
Bolden could see significant time with Philadelphia’s G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats. Newly appointed general manager Elton Brand cut his teeth as an executive at the lower level, and knows the power of the second-tier system better than most. A combination of time spent learning with the NBA team, and playing in the G League is a realistic best case scenario for Bolden in year one.
Philadelphia has an established track record of moulding prospects into rotation pieces, and that is why the Sixers are, despite limited opportunities, a very good landing spot for Bolden. The lasting legacy of The Process is a commitment to development, and mindsets are slowly changing around the franchise as it ascends into the championship conversation.
The best case scenario for Philadelphia this season doesn’t involve much input from their Australian rookie. But injuries happen, things can change and this statement could look foolish in six months. Even if it proves prophetic, it is all fine for Bolden. He is finally within an NBA system, and will be afforded the opportunities to develop his game.