With a financially conservative approach to free agency, the Philadelphia 76ers could look to one of their recent international pickups to fill a void in the rotation.
Despite bringing in a commendable draft haul in Markelle Fultz alone, the Philadelphia 76ers are still in need of rotational depth as free agency approaches. With their young core now in place, Bryan Colangelo is reportedly looking to keep his options open in regards to addressing those needs, as he’ll chase one-year deals in an effort to maintain financial flexibility. That means the Sixers will have to rely more heavily on in-house options, building from within during the first handful of seasons under the FEDS’ guidance.
One of their more pressing areas of need is at the power forward position, where both Colangelo and Brett Brown have stressed the team’s need for another stretch four behind Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. After trading Ersan Ilyasova last season, the Sixers’ frontcourt depth dropped off in noticeable fashion, and that’s something a team with potential playoff aspirations is likely looking to avoid.
With their aforementioned financial restrictions in free agency, their options at the power forward spot dwindle. Names like Nikola Mirotic and Patrick Patterson likely fall outside their price range, while sticking to one-year deals will likely restrict their options even further. Jonas Jerebko and Mike Muscala are some names who might be feasible — and Muscala is a talent I’m willing to personally vouch for — but their inevitable haul, given their self-imposed financial limitations, would inevitably result in an underwhelming yearlong rental.
That’s where Jonah Bolden comes into play.
The 36th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bolden was a name who was gaining plenty of steam during the final days leading up to the draft. After spending time at UCLA during the 2016 season, Bolden bolted for professional ball overseas, where he then spent the season playing with Radnicki Basket in Serbia.
In broad strokes, Bolden checks all the boxes that a modern day stretch four needs to fill. He’s mobile out to the perimeter, while his willingness to run the floor in transition and fluid shooting mechanics from deep should make him an instant fit in the Sixers’ current setup. He also has instincts that go well beyond what you typically see from second round picks, which could translate to an impressive ceiling in time.
While there’s no guarantee that Bolden makes the jump back to the States this season, he will be competing for the Sixers’ in both the Vegas and Utah Summer Leagues — which is a promising start. Bolden has already performed well at one of the highest levels of professional basketball in the world, throwing together 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest in 27.7 minutes during his 25 games in the Adriatic League.
The Sixers already run one of the league’s more free-flowing brands of offense, utilizing countless screens and dribble handoffs to initiate constant player movement across the floor — something that should only improve as the talent increases. Bolden’s game fits that mold well.
He’s light on his feet at 6-foot-10, and has both the shooting touch and the aptness as a passer needed to operate within a number of Brett Brown’s most heavily used sets. He can be a viable roll man in actions with Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, while his shooting touch and willingness as a rim-runner should allow him to exploit defensive gaps when working off of the pressure applied by the likes of Embiid and Simmons elsewhere on the floor.
He can also handle on his own, creating shots off the dribble and finding success as the ball handling in pick-and-roll scenarios. That’s the type of offensive versatility this Sixers team needs to build around.
His aforementioned passing vision will also help the Sixers retain their flow offensively. Rather than putting a ball stopper or a pure shooter, they’ll be able to rely on Bolden to make smart touch passes around the interior while continuing ball movement on the exterior.
Where Bolden is at his best, though, is in transition.
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He runs the floor with long strides, while his playmaking prowess and athletic tools manifest in far more impressive fashion in those scenarios. He has the ability to keep pace with the likes of Simmons and Fultz as running mates on the fastbreak, while his multi-threat status can leave defenders off balance.
The 21-year-old’s athletic tools also give him one of the higher defensive ceilings in the Sixers’ reserves core. He can switch out to the perimeter successfully, where he slides his feet well and can leverage his length as an advantage in passing lanes. He also does a nice job of protecting the weakside, making quick rotations and getting off the ground in swift fashion.
Philadelphia already has one of the strongest defensive teams in the league, with Embiid providing elite rim protection behind a versatile group of athletes in Fultz, Simmons and Covington. Adding a player like Bolden, who fits their mold of long, malleable athletes, could be solid defensive insurance off the bench.
If the Sixers stave off the urge to spend big this offseason, Bolden’s somebody they need to be considering given their situation. He’s more affordable and talented, fitting both their system and their timeline. He’d be more of a tertiary options behind the likes of Simmons and Saric than anything else, but he could fill a valuable 15-minutes slot on a nightly basis.