Bol Bol is Orlando Magic’s grand experiment

The Orlando Magic acquired Bol Bol, helping another team complete a financial objective. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic acquired Bol Bol, helping another team complete a financial objective. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports /

Everyone in the NBA knows the joke about the Orlando Magic’s front office. We certainly know the joke about the kinds of players this team likes.

Orlando has stated openly its desire to find versatility in their players. The kinds of lineups this team is seeingly looking to deploy will defy conventional positions in a lot of ways. They want to make things difficult for opponents to match up because their players can play up and down positions.

They want positions not to matter.

That might explain why they have gone with seemingly position-warping players like Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba and, now, Paolo Banchero (yes, even over other position-warping players like Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith).

The Magic are still working on the part of putting those players together into a functioning team. But there is no denying the potential and possibility of what the Magic are trying to build.

Each one of these players feels like an experiment. It feels like this is a testing of this basic theory.

If this is the case, the latest signing for the Magic is perhaps their grandest experiment they have endeavored. A player who has all the potential to warp positions completely, if he ends up hitting. They are the latest to try to take on that bet with a true unicorn.

The Orlando Magic are re-upping Bol Bol to bring back one of the most interesting experiments and potential players in the league.

At last year’s trade deadline, Orlando played directly into its type in acquiring Bol Bol from the Boston Celtics — it only cost the team a protected second-round pick and felt more like a favor to Boston to get them under the luxury tax line. The injured big man was something of an afterthought and a curiosity.

The Magic are now making him their big experiment for the season.

Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel reports the Magic will sign Bol to a two-year deal bringing back the 7-foot-2 hard-to-define-by-position player.

Orlando will be the latest team to see if they can get a healthy Bol and figure out if they can develop him into the position-warping player he was always promised to be.

The unfortunate thing is Bol’s career has been defined by injury. He played only nine games at Oregon before a foot injury sidelined him for the season. That turned him from a surefire Lottery pick into a second-round pick.

But still a bundle of potential.

His first significant playing time came in the bubble when teams got a special dispensation to bring their two-way players and keep them on the playoff rosters. He displayed all the shooting, shot-blocking and size that made him one of the top high school players in his class.

Of course, that was just the scrimmage games before things started counting.

During the 2020 season, he averaged 5.7 points per game in 12.4 minutes per game, shooting 50.0-percent from the floor and 44.4-percent from beyond the arc. He added 0.9 blocks per game for good measure.

It was limited time and his conditioning was not strong enough to play for too long. The Nuggets had bigger fish to fry deeper in the playoffs and little time for a young player to develop in high pressure games and so little time in the bubble.

Bol’s promise was evident in those games.

There was still just too little time for the Nuggets to get him playing time and too many injuries for him to overcome.

In the last two seasons, Bol played in only 46 games and a total of 241 minutes. He tallied 102 points, 44 rebounds and 12 blocks. But time just kept getting away from him. Injuries kept preventing him from finding any consistency or rhythm.

The Nuggets had their own title to win and just like how R.J. Hampton got lost in the shuffle, the Nuggets had little time for development projects.

His odyssey began last year when the Nuggets tried to trade him to the Detroit Pistons. But a failed physical kept that trade from going through. He eventually was traded to the Celtics before making his way to the Magic.

In all, he played 14 games scoring a total of 33 points in the 2022 season.

It is easy to look past him. Like so many other players on this Magic roster, there is a ton of potential buried beneath piles of injuries. But the potential is still there, tantalizing and promising.

Unlike Markelle Fultz, who came into the league as a top pick and had a solid 2020 season before tearing his ACL, and unlike Jonathan Isaac, who has shown he can play and contribute on a playoff team underneath all his injuries, Bol is just a bigger mystery.

He simply has not played in the NBA enough to draw any conclusions.

No one seems to believe he is a center or stretch-4. He does not currently have the mobility — or perhaps injuries have slowed him down — to guard on the perimeter nor the size to defend in the post.

Yet, he plays on the perimeter like a bigger forward. The question is whether he can shoot and attack off the dribble with enough pace and precision. Some people categorize him as a 3 or want to play him like that.

It is all one big question mark. But also one big opportunity.

This versatility was his ultimate weapon and his ultimate attraction. And that seems to be what the injuries have taken away from him.

In all, Bol is supposed to be a prospect like Bamba. A long-limbed center who plays on the perimeter and still protects the rim. This is the mythical unicorn the league has been chasing for so long. The one that has kept the Magic believing and trying to develop Bamba.

Bol has been posting video of his workouts and trying to show he is healthy. The Magic surely would not have made this commitment — terms of the deal have not yet been reported but a non-guarantee in the second year feels like a certainty — if they were not confident in his health.

And a healthy Bol is a scary thing:

But Bol is further behind even where Bamba is after his difficulties early in his career. But Bol also has the most promise. And the Magic trying to figure out if he can reach anywhere near his potential is something the space still has team to do.

Orlando is a rebuilding team. The team is hoping to make some real progress this season. But the Magic did not push any chips into the middle of the table. They left themselves open to grand experiments and to trying new things.

This is a season of growth and improvement. There is winning pressure for this team and group. But it is also a season to try things out and test the limits of this roster and the larger roster experiment the Magic are undertaking.

They want players like Bol on the roster. These are the kinds of players they are seeking. He is of the type the Magic have always coveted.

Whether Bol will be able to make good on that is up to a number of factors. His health for sure. But so too in regaining his skills and confidence and earning his way onto the court.

That too is not guaranteed.

Next. Orlando Magic letting team continue bringing everyone back. dark

But Orlando is willing to try the experiment. The team wants to see what Bol can do. And see if he can make good on all that promise again.