- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
It’s Bol Ball time for the Denver Nuggets.
Nuggets big man Bol Bol made his NBA debut a special one Wednesday, posting 16 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks in an 89-82 win over the Washington Wizards in a scrimmage. Bol, who has been hampered by foot issues since he was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft, didn’t seem surprised by his big performance after it was over.
“I’ve been working really hard, especially since I got here in the bubble,” he said in a postgame video call. “I was just trying not to be nervous, and then everything would just come to me.”
Bol is the only rookie in 20 years to register at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in a preseason game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The son of former NBA center Manute Bol, Bol Bol impressed throughout the game, even running the break at times for a badly undermanned Nuggets team playing without Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Will Barton and Jamal Murray.
“It’s his first game against NBA competition, and for him to go out there and get 16, 10 with six blocks is great,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We put him in the middle of our zone, tried to funnel everything to him, let him block shots. He did a really good job of that. I think he got tired as the game went on, which is to be expected. He played 32 minutes, which was a team high. But he’s only going to get better.
“He did a lot of really good things out there. Proud of him. And obviously, we’ll have two more scrimmages, and he’ll continue to get some opportunities to play, grow and to learn against other NBA players.”
Bol was thought to be a top prospect in the 2019 draft coming out of the University of Oregon, but left foot surgery derailed his college career and was the main reason he slid to the second round of the 2019 draft. Bol played in just nine games for the Windy City Bulls in the G League this season as he continued his recovery, but his teammates and coaches saw his potential.
“I’m very impressed,” Nuggets guard Troy Daniels said. “He has a lot of potential, a lot of potential. He definitely has the intangibles to be a great player. … Bol Bol, he did what he does. He has length, he can shoot, he can handle. He works on that and keep grinding and get stronger, he’ll be a very, very good player.”
Bol’s debut was the major takeaway for a Nuggets group that came into its first game in the Walt Disney World Resort bubble with just eight healthy players. Without many regulars, Malone decided to make his starting lineup super-sized, with All-Star big man Nikola Jokic at point guard, Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee and Bol.
“You’ve heard for years now that this game is truly a position-less game in the modern era,” Malone said before the game. “Well, we’re going to find out how that holds tonight. So putting guys in different positions, making them a little bit uncomfortable, making them experience a position and responsibilities that they’ve never had to really think about before, it’s only going to help them. It definitely can’t hurt.”
The average height of the starting group is 82.4 inches. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been only five instances of a team using a starting lineup that was that tall or taller since lineups were first listed on box scores during the 1970-71 season.
Although Malone was proud of his team’s efforts, especially seeing Jokic out on the floor following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis in Serbia, he was disappointed that his players turned the ball over 25 times in the win. Malone said he was trying to give his team a different look with all the big bodies.
“We’ve been talking about using Nikola with the ball more, so tonight was a great opportunity with no Jamal Murray, no Will Barton, no Gary Harris to throw him out there,” Malone said. “And obviously, with that zone, tonight might have been the biggest lineup in NBA history. You have a 7-foot point guard, you have a 6-[foot]-9 2-guard, a 7-[foot]-2 small forward, a 6-[foot]-9 power forward and a 7-foot center. So we also wanted to have a little fun with it, see what we could do on defense, and those guys did a really good job.”
No 7-foot player has started at point guard in a regular or postseason game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Still, it was Bol’s game that left the Nuggets hoping that better days are ahead for the 20-year-old.
“I can’t teach 7-[foot]-2,” Malone said before the game. “I can’t teach a 7-[foot]-9 wingspan, and I sure as hell can’t teach a really soft touch all the way out to the NBA 3-point line. So he’s only going to get better as he gets stronger, and I’m excited to see how he does tonight.”
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