Why Bol Bol is the NBA draft's most divisive player

Former Oregon forward Bol Bol enters this week’s NBA draft as a compelling portrait of hyperbolic contrasts. He’s so tall – 7-foot-2 in shoes – that he can practically dunk flatfooted. He’s so skinny at 208 pounds that’s he’s just one pound heavier than Kyler Murray, the 5-foot-10 waif who went No. 1 in the NFL draft. He’s so skilled that he hit 52 percent of his 3-point shots in college, an astonishing number for a prospect of any size or shape.

We’ve never quite seen an NBA draft prospect like Bol Bol, and with that unique package and boundless upside also comes a warning label. Bol enters the draft shrouded by more questions than an SAT prep handbook. Blessed with a high ceiling and dogged by a low motor, Bol enters this week as the quintessential boom-or-bust draft prospect.

“You question the body, you question the injury, you question the work ethic and you question the love of the game,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “You question what he’s about, but he does have the potential to be a star. But there’s a lot of things holding him back.”

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Bol has emerged as the player with the biggest variance in this NBA draft, as he could go anywhere from the lottery to the final picks of the first round. NBA teams have been digging in on Bol for the past year, trying to determine whether he can dominate like Kristaps Porzingis or will burn out as an oversized tease like Hasheem Thabeet.

Bol the prospect is tricky to figure out, as another NBA scout told Yahoo Sports that “we don’t have a comp for him,” meaning that there’s no similar NBA player.

Iowa Hawkeyes forward Tyler Cook (25) defends Oregon Ducks center Bol Bol (1) on an in-bounds play during the second half at Madison Square Garden. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)
Iowa Hawkeyes forward Tyler Cook (25) defends Oregon Ducks center Bol Bol (1) on an in-bounds play during the second half at Madison Square Garden. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

The conversations tend to begin with his physical frame, as the 208 pounds are far below the 235 pounds Oregon claimed he weighed while there. Bol’s season there ended after just nine games when he fractured his left foot. (Foot injuries tend to make NBA executives nervous, especially with big men.)

Bol is much different than his famous father, the legendary 7-foot-7 center Manute Bol. Bol Bol is more of a wing shooter than a pure old-school center/shot blocker. He averaged 21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and hit 13 of his 25 3-pointers at Oregon last year. Where he’ll play is an NBA conundrum, as he’s more of a wing than a post player, and his slight frame leaves him vulnerable defensively.

Bol mostly played against the buy-game flotsam and jetsam on Oregon’s non-conference schedule. But he rose up against the best competition, impressing against Syracuse in Madison Square Garden (26 points) and in a raucous environment opening up Houston’s new arena (23 points).

“He was dominant against us and did everything – passed, blocked shots and rebounded,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told Yahoo Sports. “I just think, physically, he’s going to have problems in the NBA. He gets banged around, and I just really wonder about him playing every night in the physicality of that league.”

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson coached six seasons as an NBA assistant prior to returning to college basketball in 2014. He left Houston’s game with Oregon intrigued by Bol’s upside, but felt like an NBA franchise needed the right kind of infrastructure to develop him.

“He’s more boom than bust, but bust is in picture,” Sampson said in a phone interview. “I don’t think it’s 50-50 because he’s so talented. But it was early in his career, and he didn’t understand shot selection. But he’s so talented he could make bad shots.”

The early thought on Bol heading into the draft is that once NBA teams get past the first half-dozen picks, there are no prospects that can match Bol’s upside. The question is whether a team can take the gamble that they can coax him to reach his potential, as there are likely years of physical maturation before he can be a rotation player.

“He’s a perfect development guy for the NBA,” Sampson said. “You just have to have a really good plan for how you’re going to use him.”

NBA teams have also taken a deep dive into Bol as a person. The Oregon coaches have been very complimentary to NBA teams, as they had a good experience with him in his short time there.

Oregon Ducks center Bol Bol (1) during the first half of a game vs. the Iowa Hawkeyes on Nov. 15, 2018 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Getty Images)
Oregon Ducks center Bol Bol (1) during the first half of a game vs. the Iowa Hawkeyes on Nov. 15, 2018 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Getty Images)

The narrative about Bol that NBA teams need to decipher will be whether he has searing passion to improve. Bol went to four different high schools – two in Kansas and West Coast powers Mater Dei (Orange County) and Findlay Prep (Las Vegas). Along the way, a reputation for entitlement and seeking a path of least resistance followed.

NBA teams are also digging in on his relationship with notorious West Coast basketball handler Mel McDonald, who was a constant presence with Bol during the latter part of his high school career. (McDonald pleaded guilty to an unrelated extortion attempt in 2013.)

Documents released by celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti in April alleged how more than $57,000 changed hands from Nike to a grassroots director to McDonald. Bol’s meandering career and fishy affiliations have given NBA teams pause, although a source indicated that Bol has severed ties with McDonald in the past few months.

“As he’s started to get into this part of his life and gotten older, I think he’s starting to realize who’s in it for the right reasons,” said LJ Goolsby, who coached Bol on Run GMC in Kansas City. (Goolsby said he hasn’t spoked to Bol directly about McDonald.)

There’s an aspect to Bol where teams wonder whether he enjoys the trappings of celebrity – photo shoots and his 682,000 Instagram followers – more than the work that comes with earning the attention. Not surprisingly, Bol hasn’t posted on Instagram since April, as to not give NBA teams a chance to further scrutinize that aspect of him.

“Is he locked in and focused on a consistent basis?” Goolsby asked. “The times I’ve seen him locked in at that level, he’s pretty impressive. There’s things he does no one could ever think about doing.”

Hence the underlying drama with Bol’s draft night, as teams have to figure out at what point the potential reward outweighs the risk.

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