Why Nuggets aren’t casting expectations for rookie Bol Bol

Nuggets coach Michael Malone has a message for Nuggets fans begging to see more of their 7-foot-2 unicorn: Slow your Bol.

Bol Bol played in seven of Denver’s eight seeding games in Orlando last summer, averaging more than 12 minutes per game. In fact, it was his first foray into the NBA league after spending most of last season in the G League.

Bol was well acquitted, although his minutes were based on both necessity and merit. No one will soon forget, the Nuggets arrived in Orlando with about half of their team present. But that was a unique opportunity for Bol to play against NBA talent, to put his weaknesses on film, to feel the intensity of players like Dwight Howard and Jusuf Nurkic.

Yet there was one more tangible impact.

“It brought me closer to the team,” said Bol on Wednesday after the team’s third practice session at the training camp. “That was the first time that I was on the field with everyone. I have to see what it was like. ”

Bol took that invaluable experience into a shortened, hectic low season and ran with it.

He said he’s been a mainstay in the gym for the past two months. He teamed up with head strength and conditioning coach Felipe Eichenberger to add more muscle to his slender physique while hone his skills on the field.

As the “Bubble” movie showed, there was plenty to discuss. His turnover ratio was one of the worst in the NBA in all seeding games – which wasn’t unexpected given the lineups the Nuggets had to use and the trial-by-fire nature of the games themselves. Still, there was plenty to rave about, from his transition devils to his zone-induced blows.

The Nuggets saw enough in Bol to turn his two-way deal into a standard NBA contract worth $ 4.1 million over two years, a source said. The money reflected the work Bol did during this low season.

“It meant a lot because it shows the organization’s confidence in me,” he said. “That’s good for me. Now I just have to do my part, and do whatever they think I can do.”

When it will happen – and in what position he could get his chance – is not clear. Bol said he prefers to play power forward because he can “get away” with a smaller frame than clash with more traditional centers inside. Ultimately, Bol’s chance comes down to Malone.

Despite their substantial turnover, the Nuggets are still a close-knit team. Their backcourt is loaded, while their frontcourt holds veteran Paul Millsap and newcomer JaMychal Green. The late addition of Isaiah Hartenstein seemed to bolster the backup center position behind Nikola Jokic. In the immediate vicinity, the only path to playing time appears on the grand piano.

Not that Malone committed to anything just days after their breakneck training camp.

“When I think about how you define a player in terms of his position, I always look at it from a defensive perspective,” said Malone. ‘Who can you guard? That, to me, is how I judge Bol to be a 5, 4 or a 3. In the case of Bol, he obviously has the perimeter skills when violating a 3 or a 4. Can he defend a number of 5s? Yes. Can he guard a few 4s? Yes. As you saw in the bubble, when he was in-game, in the seeding games, we used a lot of zone defense to guide the ball towards him so he can be a shot blocker and play to his strengths. ”

If the Nuggets need to do an occasional zone defense to help isolate Bol on the one hand and still take advantage of his offensive mismatches, then so be it. Malone did not sound against testing the waters on various schemes, including zone and a possible press. Both are wrinkles he could try as the Nuggets transition from a team with enough defensive wings to a team light on two-way players.

Bol did not have to be sold for the benefits of a play zone. He knows that it can lead to more grasping opportunities; more opportunities to show what makes it so unique.

He specifically noted that part of his off-season regime involved sharpening his defensive anticipation and refining his footwork. Apparently he knows the way to Malone’s heart.

“This is a brand new year, and the same for Bol and everyone else,” said Malone. “This is a new season, so Bol will have to earn all the minutes he gets. He has to do that in practice. ”

Then consider Wednesday a good day. After some hesitation, Jokic recalled that he and Bol had been on the winning side of Wednesday’s scrimmage in perhaps a tantalizing preview of the mismatched lineups.

“He’s learning the play calls, the rules,” Jokic said. He’s learning the game. But he was good. Actually he was very good at practice yesterday. Today … I think he was on my team, we won the game. ”

All this is new for Bol, and therefore no firm expectations should be aroused. Plus, most of Denver’s depth chart is still smooth, just two weeks away from the season opener. There is still time and three pre-season games to impress.

And for Bol, who is still technically a rookie and therefore qualifies for hardware, he sets his sights on some lofty goals.

“Personally, just to play a lot more,” he said. “And hopefully Rookie of the Year will win.”