Bol Bol is learning and growing with first chance with Orlando Magic

Bol Bol continues to add to his highlight reel. But the Orlando Magic forward is making gains throughout his game. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Bol Bol continues to add to his highlight reel. But the Orlando Magic forward is making gains throughout his game. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Witnessing Bol Bol when he is about to do something that defies the physics for a 7-foot-3 whatever position he is can be quite breathtaking. Fans get excited every time he touches the ball in anticipation of something that truly needs to be seen to be believed.

Somehow the highlights do not do them justice, as amazing as they are. Bol is a lived experience from the rising swell of gasps and delight watching Bol attack players off the dribble.

There are players who when they go on the attack, you know exactly what is going to happen. The path clears up and you have seen a player or a player of a similar size do things. There is a beat to it.

Bol Bol is a highlight factory for the Orlando Magic. But his gains are coming in those big plays as much as they are in the small plays he does nightly.

When the path opens up for Bol, defenders probably still assume they can get in the way, adjust or get to him. They are as surprised as the fans are by his speed and his ingenuity to get past them. By the time they have figured out what has happened. . .

Well, the video does better than words sometimes:

The Magic bench still goes giddy over plays like this as they celebrate Bol’s revival with the Magic after injuries sapped him of his potential in the first three years of his career.

But plays like this have become the norm for Bol as he has gotten more comfortable and confident on the floor again.

Bol has rediscovered what made him one of the top prospects in his high school class and with the freedom to make some mistakes and learn from them, he is starting to put his immense talent on display.

These highlight plays are regular occurrences for him. Bol seems to be able to take the ball and go the length of the floor, weaving around defenses on a regular basis.

What is astounding to us is, frankly, just Bol playing basketball.

"“I don’t know when I’m going to do a move,” Bol said of his exhilarating dunk from Wednesday’s game. “I just played a lot of basketball growing up. It’s just a reaction thing. If I see someone going this way, you bite the other way and go the other way. It’s really just all reaction.”"

That is the thing everyone has to get over first and foremost. This is just Bol playing basketball. No one would bat an eye if he were 6-foot-7 and doing this. That is what is expected.

But nothing is ever simple for a player of his size. The ball has to travel much farther from hand to ground. That is what makes his handles in traffic all the more impressive. So too does the progress he has made as he plays through what is essentially his rookie season.

Bol is averaging 12.7 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting 60.4 percent from the floor and 42.6 percent from beyond the arc. He has become a fairly consistent offensive outlet, able to create shots off the dribble for himself and get to the basket with fair consistency.

He is shooting a ridiculous 47.6 percent on pull-up 3-pointers. There are not many individual offensive metrics where he does not look pretty solid.

In other words, the guy just knows how to score. And when he misses, his length and second jump are so quick, he is able to clean up the glass pretty effectively.

This is all a product of the game slowing down for him. Bol with open court in front of him is one of the most dangerous players because of what he can do off the dribble at his size. All defenses have been able to do is to try to get under him in the half-court and hope that smaller players can pester him into turnovers.

"“I feel like I’ve been getting a little bit better,” Bol said after shootaround Wednesday. “But it’s still been kind of difficult because sometimes I’ll have a guard guarding me and it will be a little difficult to dribble or something. I just have to slow down and play at my own pace”"

This is where Bol is growing the most offensively. He is starting to slow the game down more and see his reads, getting trapped and stuck less and letting guards bother him much more infrequently.

He still averages 2.1 turnovers per game, but he has not had a game with multiple turnovers since the loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 28, a span of eight games.

Bol will still go through bouts of inconsistency. When he is on, he is seemingly impossible to stop. When he struggles, his other warts start to emerge.

But even these flaws are starting to come around.

Bol’s biggest issue is likely his help defense.

Because Bol is playing the forward spot for the Magic, it does mean he has to float to the perimeter and guard guys on the perimeter. More importantly for him, Bol is often the low man defensively. That is the second level of help behind a pick and roll or other defensive coverage — the last line of defense at the rim for all purposes.

This is a good role to use Bol in because of his length as a rim deterrent.

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Indeed, Bol still has a strong block rate although some numbers suggest teams are not afraid to attack him at the rim — Basketball Index estimates Bol gives up 2.20 percentage points better field goal percentage than expected at the rim and Second Spectrum has opponents shooting 68.6 percent at the rim against Bol.

This is the area Bol has the most room to improve. And during the Magic’s recent homestand, he took some big steps forward.

"“He’s getting so much better,” Mosley said after shootaround Wednesday. “A lot of times he is guarding a guy who you can pull into the paint a little more. His awareness has gotten better and better. Them trying to navigate putting him in pick and rolls, he’s done a great job in those coverages. He has a very high basketball IQ. I’m really enjoying watching him grow as games have gone on.”"

Bol said he too can feel his improvement there. And he, like the rest of the team, is learning how to lock in better defensively overall. That will be the next big step for Bol.

But it is important to take an important step back too. Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks was his 82nd career game.

That makes him essentially a rookie. Or graduating from his rookie season.

No one should lose sight that this is Bol’s first time with a secure and regular role. He is going through all the usual growing pains that come with a young player.

So most importantly, Bol is finding his groove. He is getting better with each game.

It is not merely his impressive plays that stand out. It is the little things he is building and doing more and more.

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Bol is becoming much more consistent.