Orlando Magic 2022 NBA Draft preview: Christian Koloko is the answer to Mo Bamba’s free agency

Arizona big man Christian Koloko turned into a strong defender who can attack the paint. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona big man Christian Koloko turned into a strong defender who can attack the paint. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

Christian Koloko has been one of the top Cameroonian prospects since he first picked up a basketball at 12 years old.

The 7-footer arrived in the United States and played for Sierra Canyon High School alongside Amari Bailey (a top-5 recruit in 2023), Scottie Pippen Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr. and other NBA hopefuls as a senior in 2018. Although he spoke almost exclusively French, Koloko had a 3.8 GPA and received offers from a variety of Division 1 programs, including Arizona where he has played the past three years.

Koloko is 7-feet with a 7-foot-5.25 wingspan. His frame filled out quickly, going from a very skinny freshman to a well-built and physically imposing junior.

Koloko averaged 2.3 points per game, 2.4 rebounds per game and 0.9 blocks per game in 8.3 minutes per game his freshman year. Last year, his junior year, he averaged 12.6 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game and 2.8 blocks per game.

That speaks to how much he has improved.

Christian Koloko made a huge jump in his third year at Arizona and seems like he could be the perfect player to fill out the Orlando Magic’s backup center spot.

Koloko is a late bloomer in many ways as he picked up basketball much later in life than the typical Division 1 athlete. This bodes well that even though he is already 22-year-old. He is not as far along the development curve as most.

But he has clearly shown a willingness to improve.

This improvement is most emphatically represented by his free throw percentage increasing from 35.0-percent on 20 free throws his freshman year to 73.5-percent on 136 free throws his junior year.

Koloko projects as a classic drop-big rim protector with a slight twinge of mobility in the mix. He averaged 2.8 blocks per game in 25.4 minutes per game this past season. He also posted a 5.3 Defensive Box Plus-Minus which is an encouraging number for projecting defense at the next level.

He was also the recipient of the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player awards, anchoring 33-4 Arizona’s monstrous defense.

Koloko showed vast improvement in his ability to pre-rotate, showcasing an ability to be an excellent help defender who rotates early to take away cutters who are rolling or flaring. This allowed him to erase layups often in college.

Koloko is excellent at jamming outlet passes — pressing the rebounder and delaying the break. He also vastly improved at “knocking off” his smaller teammates when they switched onto a mismatch. These intricacies of defense did not come innately to Koloko. But his abilities have grown so rapidly that it seems that his defensive limit is quite high.

Koloko’s offensive game is a bit limited at this juncture.

He has a nice inside presence and will have a high effective field goal percentage — doing a lot of dunking. He has grown in his ability to seal, drop-step and finish which is encouraging for taking advantage of switches at the next level. He will also excel as a lob threat in the secondary break and a bit as a roller.

It will be important for his continued offensive growth to improve as a screen setter. His screening is a bit passive. His jump shot is slow and deliberate, but he has demonstrated that he could step out and knock down some mid-range jumpers if left open.

He has essentially no in-between game or push shot of any kind which would be huge in projecting an offensive leap.

His hands come and go, sometimes showing their reliability, other times failing Koloko when receiving quick interior passes or lobs. The hope is that Koloko can be a serviceable offensive big who at least can bully mismatches, run in transition, and generate roll gravity.

Obviously center is a point of focus for the Magic this offseason. And that is why there are more than a few centers the Magic are looking at for their second-round picks.

With Mo Bamba’s free agency looming, Orlando may need a backup center for the future. Koloko projects as that type of guy.

He will provide much of the length and shot-blocking of Bamba with a bit more intensity and feel on that end.

He is not the shooter Mo Bamba is. But playing alongside Wendell Carter Jr. and one of Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero he will not need to be.

Koloko can also run the floor better than Bamba which can provide a new dimension to Orlando’s offense when he is in the game.

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Orlando is in a very good position to use their early second-round picks — and not sell them — on players like Koloko who can provide a very cheap alternative to the issue of Bamba.