Denver Nuggets: Could Bol Bol be the key to championship hopes in 2020-21?

Denver Nuggets Bol Bol defends (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets Bol Bol defends (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /

Bol Bol could be the key to success for the Denver Nuggets in 2020-21

The quick and chaotic 2020 offseason didn’t go quite as planned for the Denver Nuggets. Losing forward Jerami Grant to the Detroit Pistons, in a surprise move, that forced the team’s front office to shift their strategy somewhat last minute.

They quickly signed forward JayMychal Green, Argentine star Facundo Campazzo and followed that up by re-signing veteran Paul Millsap. Then, Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly finished his Jerami Grant relief package with the additions of former D-League player Greg Whittington and former Rockets center Isaiah Hartenstein.

But the biggest news of free agency for Denver to me came after all the chaos of Grant leaving settled. Last Tuesday, the Nuggets announced they had reached an agreement on a new two-year, $4.2 million deal with second-year player Bol Bol.

A nice show of faith from the organization in Bol, after he was previously on just a two-way contract. Now in his second season, Bol will have a chance to carve a role for himself and find meaningful minutes on this Nuggets team. He will contend for backup minutes at the center, power forward, and possibly even small forward positions.

The versatility to help Denver at three positions and the immense two-way potential he shows has everyone around the team excited. Even though many have viewed the loss of Grant as a nail in the coffin to the Nuggets’ chances to win the Western Conference this season, it created an opening for minutes for Bol that could end up being an immense positive.

During the Nuggets’ time in the NBA bubble, Bol was quiet in the team’s eight regular-season games. He only played 12.4 minutes per game in the seven games he got to play in, averaging 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds. But it was the flashes that the son of former NBA giant Manute Bol showed in the three preseason games prior, that caused heads to turn and hope to build.

Playing 29.3 minutes per game Bol averaged 13.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, and 1.7 assists on 35.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc in those outings. He had moments of dominance on both ends of the floor, turning defense into offense countless times.

As you’ll see in the highlight package below, Bol’s rare combination of shot-blocking, shooting, ball-handling, and ability in the open floor at seven-foot-two with a seven-foot-nine wingspan makes him a true unicorn.

Bol’s best opportunity to help Denver and see minutes immediately could be at that back up three spot, especially with the loss of not only Grant but Torrey Craig as well. The four spots should be taken by Millsap and Green, while rookie Zeke Nnaji is the favorite to be Jokic’s backup at the five.

The only real competition at the three for Bol in terms of reserve minutes should be newcomer Greg Whittington, leaving an optimal route for the former Oregon star to see the floor with the Nuggets this upcoming season. I also believe Bol would replace much of what the Nuggets lost in Grant’s shooting and length, probably even providing the team with more options from an offensive standpoint too.

Now I’m not expecting Bol Bol to defend Kawhi Leonard in the same way Jerami Grant did, but I also think there’s more hope that he can replicate similar success as a defender. Grant is a really good defender, but often people overvalue his individual defense and forget he’s got a career 109.0 defensive rating. Bol in a much smaller sample size albeit, had a defensive rating of 108.0 last season for the Nuggets and also possesses that otherworldly seven-foot-nine wingspan that Grant doesn’t have.

His shot-blocking will undoubtedly help a team that has struggled to protect the rim and paint for multiple seasons now. Denver ranked 18th in total blocks (337) and 24th in total opponent paint points allowed (3,520) last season. Bol should help improve both of those area’s, he’s already a better shot blocker than Mason Plumlee ever was and he can also protect Jokic on the defensive end from being targeted so frequently.

Yes, I understand that Bol needs to add more size and strength to his 220-pound frame if he is to see more minutes at the center position. But all reports have indicated that he’s put in a ton of work into this offseason and I do think he will continue to acclimate to the physicality of the NBA game just fine.

What excites me the most about Bol Bol having a more prominent role with the Nuggets this season though, is the added dimensions he can bring to an already loaded offensive unit. He’s already going to be a mismatch nightmare for 99 percent of opposing small forwards given his size, shooting, and shot creation. But I’m more so intrigued by what Bol can do now offensively playing consistent minutes next to Jokic, Murray, and Porter Jr.

The lineup Bol was most frequently with last year consisted of PJ Dozier, Monte Morris, Keita Bates-Diop, and Plumlee. He was only on the floor with Jokic for six minutes and fifty seconds, while never playing alongside Murray last season. With Bol hopefully getting to see more action with the two of them, MPJ, Barton, Millsap, and Harris, it opens up some tantalizing possibilities of what Denver could concoct on the offensive end of the hardwood.

Can you imagine how defenses would defend a dribble handoff between Jokic and Bol Bol, while also still having to deal with the likes of Murray and Porter Jr.? You could even put Bol in high screen and rolls with Murray or MPJ, with Bol as the occasional ball-handler as well. The potential lineups could be endless for Mike Malone to mull over and the Nuggets could create an offensive juggernaut that would be more unique than maybe anything the NBA has ever seen.

An offense built around three seven-footers who all have versatile skillsets and a lead guard who is a flamethrower scorer and shooter could be an evolutionary point in how the game’s seen. This makes even more sense too in today’s positionless NBA, where this Frankenstein, freak, unicorn lineup Denver has at their disposal could cause havoc for the rest of the league for the next decade.

As a Nuggets fan for me, there is no more fascinating and exciting narrative to watch going into the 2020-21 season than seeing what kind of role Bol Bol will have. Panic, sadness, anxiety, and frustration set in when Grant left for Detroit in Free Agency. But what most people saw or even still see as an enormous loss for Denver, could end up being a huge blessing in disguise. Allowing Bol Bol the chance to really build off of those three preseason games this last summer.

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The Denver Nuggets’ biggest addition may have been in their back pocket all along and Bol might be the key to unlocking their full championship potential.