Bol Bol needs to stay aggressive with Orlando Magic guards returning

Bol Bol of the Orlando Magic (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Bol Bol of the Orlando Magic (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Wednesday night represented a positive milestone for the Orlando Magic this season, as they saw both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony return to the court from injury.

Fultz in particular, despite being on a minutes restriction, looked solid as he started the game and was in attack mode early. He clearly picked up the team’s pace and added a new dynamic to a team struggling to get itself going of late.

With the Magic’s roster having been decimated by injury through the first quarter of the season, this was a welcome boost for coach Jamahl Mosley. Jonathan Isaac is going to return sooner rather than later, while Chuma Okeke and Wendell Carter will also be back before long.

The team is trying to survive right now through many of these critical injuries. And they need every player to step up and hold the line. Including their surprising big man Bol Bol.

The Orlando Magic are welcoming back several players who will control the ball. But as the team tries to right the ship, they need players like Bol Bol to remain as aggressive as ever.

With rookie Paolo Banchero having missed some time with an ankle sprain this season, Bol Bol has been the Magic’s most important player. His emergence has caught everybody off guard, and before Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony’s return, he was doing the best Victor Wembanyama impression in the entire league.

But a worrying development came to light during Wednesday’s tepid loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Bol looked more like the unsure and pedestrian version of himself that we have seen before.

Perhaps you can attribute that to the Hawks’ defensive play. They had physical bigs like Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu to throw at Bol Bol lining up at center. They also had their league-average defensive rating of 112.1 over their last 10 games.

Really though it felt like Bol was trying to be too considerate of his returning teammates, and got out of the way in order to let them find their feet again. Bol is averaging 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds on a hugely impressive 40.9 percent from 3-point range this season. He is doing this while playing just more than 27 minutes per game.

Against the Hawks, Bol again played 27 minutes, only he put up a paltry six points and five rebounds. He had a single effort from deep, which he missed.

Compare that to the previous game, a loss to the Brooklyn Nets, where Bol went 3 for 6 from 3-point range. That long-range shot from the top of the arc is one Bol loves to shoot, and he can get it as often as he wants.

Yet there was a deferral to his guards and unwillingness to do too much with the ball that was a worry to witness. Bol’s usage rate has slipped down to 19 percent, and although his sample size is much bigger than that of Fultz and Anthony, he already lags behind both in this category (Fultz is at 25.3, and Anthony is at 23.5).

Everyone has to learn to get each other involved and that will be part of the growing process in welcoming these guards back into the fold after missing the majority of the first quarter of the season.

But if the Magic are to reach their full potential as a group, this is unacceptable. We always knew Mosley would have a tough time integrating these players back in, and that is without the incoming headache of where Isaac fits into the puzzle.

The team needs Fultz back and leading the group, and Anthony should get plenty of touches as well. There is a balance that has to be found. It would have been hard to ask for it to be perfect after one game. The margin for error is just tiny right now with so many players missing.

But to see Bol fade into the background after only one game with both of his teammates back is a concern.

If the first quarter of this season did not go to plan for the organization, then the second quarter suddenly has the newfound importance of not leaving Bol behind as this group gets back to full strength.

Thankfully we are still in the realm of caution, and there is no need for full-blown panic just yet.

Bol is still second among Magic players in win shares per 48 minutes (.116), second in Player Efficiency Rating (18.7, although interestingly Fultz has shot straight to top spot with a 20.4 rating) and is 62nd in the entire league in Player Impact Estimate (13.5).

He does so much good for the franchise, that it would be a shame to see that tail off because other players came back and jumped him in the queue for more touches and minutes. Through his play this season, Bol has earned the right to have a bigger say in how the Magic play.

They leaned heavily on him when they were down to the bare bones, so he should not be simply discarded now that others are returning from injury.

The Magic are still guarding that Bol will come back down to earth after such a burst start. Teams are starting to find his weaknesses, especially isolating him in pick and rolls and switches on the perimeter where he does not have great lateral quickness.

But his play to start the season far surpassed what even his most staunch supporters thought was possible, and sustaining that level of output on a losing team over the course of 82 games is a hard thing to do.

The Magic will also naturally call on the more offensively gifted Paolo Banchero and first-quarter MVP Franz Wagner as time goes on, limiting Bol’s opportunities. The Magic are still delighted to have him. In all likelihood, he has become one of the top 75 assets in the league, if not higher.

Next. Is it now too enticing for the Orlando Magic not to tank?. dark

But they need to be wary of Bol slipping into the background, and instead, continue to highlight his many strengths. No matter how many other high-level players they have suiting up each night.