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Philadelphia 76ers

Jonah Bolden’s summer league play showed he belongs

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

For many fans, the NBA Summer League is about getting a first glimpse at those players who will comprise the future of the sport. Even amid all the terrible camera angles (looking at you, Orlando), uninformed announcing and just plain bad basketball, talent still finds a way to shine through to people. While the likes of Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum have deservedly reserved plenty of attention, a Philadelphia 76ers rookie from Australia also has been turning some heads.

That’s not referring to Ben Simmons, even if his workout in Las Vegas with LeBron James did make the rounds in the mediasphere. Jonah Bolden, the team’s 36th overall pick in April’s draft, has shown tremendous potential on both ends of the floor, a reality that hasn’t escaped even those covering the game from a league-wide perspective. In the Ringer’s way-too-early 2017 redraft, Jonathan Tjarks took Bolden 13th overall, saying:

Bolden is another one of my guys. He’s great. Bigs who can switch screens, shoot 3s, block shots, and make plays with the ball should not have fallen to the second round.

While Bolden is an unfinished product, the framework is there for everything a team could want in a stretch big man. Playing professionally in Serbia last season for FMP Beograd, the now-21-year-old shot 40.5 percent from 3-point on over four attempts per game, while averaging 1.3 steals and 0.93 blocks. Sixers fans saw that same skill set at work on the summer league stage. Entering play before Friday night’s summer league finale, Bolden shot 33.3 percent from behind the arc, averaging 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks. He’s displayed a fantastic motor, covering a lot of ground whether in pursuit of a rebound, helping out defensively or making a chase-down block.

Though he stands 6-foot-10, Bolden was originally recruited to play small forward at UCLA. Not surprisingly then, he possesses the lateral quickness to defend on the perimeter, a skill Draymond Green’s success has practically made a prerequisite for big men in the modern NBA. Here, he stays in front of point guard Dejounte Murray and corrals the steal when the second-year pro gets sloppy with his handle.

Certainly, Bolden has shown he’s worthy of an NBA roster spot. The only problem is between he and Richaun Holmes, the Sixers have had a knack in recent years for finding gems in the second round at precisely the wrong position. Philadelphia is overloaded at the 4 and 5 spots with Simmons, Holmes, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, the recently signed Amir Johnson and the soon-to-be-traded Jahlil Okafor. Space was so limited that team president/general manager Bryan Colangelo felt compelled to trade Nerlens Noel for a fake first-round pick at the last trade deadline, a move that may look even worse if he signs a lower-than-expected deal in an increasingly tight free agent market.

With the numbers game for roster spots, there are a couple of different paths Bolden could take. While he does have a negotiable buyout, Bolden is under contract for one more season in Europe. Like Saric and Furkan Korkmaz before him, Bolden has stated he wants to play for the Sixers as soon as possible, but one more year overseas might be in the offing. He also could be a candidate for one of the league’s new two-way contracts as part of the expanded 17-man roster.

Whether it’s this season or next, sometime in the not-too-distant future Bolden will be making noise at the NBA level. Sixers and NBA fans alike will be able to point back to this summer as to when they first heard the rumblings.

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