Philadelphia 76ers: Jonah Bolden is beginning to turn a corner

Philadelphia 76ers, Jonah Bolden (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Philadelphia 76ers, Jonah Bolden (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

The first-year big man has displayed a great deal of overall growth throughout his last few outings, which can only help this Philadelphia 76ers squad.

The Philadelphia 76ers are currently enduring the “death stretch” of their schedule, and thus far they have risen to the occasion. They scored decisive victories against the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets, were a Paul George desperation heave away from defeating the OKC Thunder, and managed to escape with a win against the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night. Amongst other things, one of the more positive signs to come out of these last few outings has been the improved play of one Jonah Bolden.

Having taken over the backup five role over the last few weeks, Bolden has been proving his worth. After notching a season-high 14 points in the Sixers’ 149-107 drubbing of the Minnesota T-Wolves, he followed that up with solid outings against Indiana and OKC. He played some very good interior defense against the Rockets despite going scoreless, blocking James Harden three times over the course of the game. The same was the case against the San Antonio, which included probably the best sequence of his rookie campaign in which he blocked LaMarcus Aldridge twice at the rim and threw down a nice two-handed slam on the fast break that ensued.

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The rookie big came into this season with relatively low expectations following an uneven summer league stint. He played sparingly throughout the team’s first two and a half months or so before finally starting to consistently earn extended minutes, beginning with the Sixers’ Dec. 22 matchup with the Toronto Raptors. In that game, he played 25 minutes and tallied four points, nine rebounds, and four blocks.

The uptick in his minutes was a no-brainer. Amir Johnson has become virtually unplayable, Mike Muscala is much more effective playing the four, and there is really no one else on the roster who could legitimately play the five at the moment with Justin Patton still a ways away from NBA action.

With the now consistent playing time he’s been getting, he has proven himself to be a reliable high-energy guy especially on the defensive end. He uses his very Greek Freak-esque build (6-foot-11, 220 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan) along with his agility to be very disruptive inside. He’s put his shot-blocking chops very much on display of late and he can snag his fair share of boards as well.

Offensively, he’s been able to stretch the floor on a relatively consistent basis. His three-point shooting has very much improved over the course of the year, having converted on nine of his last 21 from deep (42.9 percent) after only making three of his first 18 (17 percent). That to go along with possessing a good motor makes him a decent threat in transition as a trailer.

His proclivity to getting into foul-trouble is arguably the biggest wrinkle in his game that needs to be straightened out. He is still susceptible to ill-advised off-ball fouls, fouling three-point shooters, and things of that nature. To his credit, he’s cut down on his fouls over the last few games, but it’s something he will still need to work on.

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Nevertheless, Bolden’s emergence as a now legitimately effective bench player will pay major dividends for the Sixers’ heavily-scrutinized second unit. Depth has been the biggest issue for this team all year, and it’s something they will certainly be on the lookout for with the trade deadline and buyout market on the horizon. Bolden proving himself to be productive could prove to be huge in the stretch run, and he has more than cemented himself as Joel Embiid‘s backup for the foreseeable future.