2023 Orlando Magic Season Review What Went Wrong: Bol Bol’s ups and downs

Bol Bol showed some thrilling highs in a fantastic season for the Orlando Magic but also some very deep lows. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Bol Bol showed some thrilling highs in a fantastic season for the Orlando Magic but also some very deep lows. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Bol Bol earned a nickname that felt apt. The Bol-ler Coaster.

Taken with lighthearted fun, even getting the entire Orlando Magic broadcast crew to throw their hands up in unison after a Bol highlight play in a late-season game, it felt like a true description of his season. And like roller coasters, gravity brought him down to the bottom of the hill.

But oh that air time when things were good for Bol.

The Magic were a grand experiment this season. A team that was showing hints of competitiveness but was still at a young stage and willing to give players leeway to make mistakes and try new things. Injuries at the start of the year forced the team into leaning into this experimentation and trial and error a whole lot more.

There were some genuine bright spots. And none shone brighter or gave more migraines it seemed than Bol’s season.

Bol Bol had plenty of ups and downs throughout his season with the Orlando Magic. But it did not give any clue or hint of what lies in his future.

Bol needed playing time to see what he could do now that he was healthy and in a situation that could let him make mistakes — the contending Denver Nuggets did not have the time or patience for a raw player like Bol to try things out and test himself, it was hard to define his role.

The Magic gave him that. But things changed quickly around him. He had a career season and showed his highs. But he also showed his lows. And as the Magic became more competitive, Bol’s drawbacks, inexperience, flaws and mistakes were on full display and hard to hide.

Bol had a great season. He got that valuable experience and showed what he could do.

But he exits his season with just as many questions as he entered the season with. And his future — including the team option on the final year of his contract — is in as much question.

This is the folly of youth, something the Magic have an abundance of. And something that went wrong for the Magic was how long they rode this roller coaster.

Bol still had a strong season considering the injuries and lack of experience he had been through.

He averaged 9.1 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 54.6 percent from the floor. He appeared in a career-high 70 games (his previous high was 32) and averaged a career-high 21.5 minutes per game.

The highs for Bol were really high. Whether that was highlight transition plays where the 7-footer would take a rebound and go up the court in a few bounds and finish at the rim with the defense helpless to stop him.

Early in the season, he made good on the hype his teammates were giving him before he took the floor. He averaged 12.3 points per game in a stretch of 32 consecutive starts from Oct. 28 to Dec. 30. He made 38.7 percent of his threes and 58.3 percent of his shots overall.

That seemed to counteract some of his defensive shortcomings because defenses just did not know what to do with him. Especially when he could get out in transition with open floor ahead of him. He is all limbs, but when he gets downhill, he is (to continue the roller coaster metaphor) thrilling.

Bol topped off with 26 points in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and had six games with 20 points or more. That showed his offensive potential.

But things slowed down for him as his role decreased. The Magic went with a different starting lineup after he missed a few games and from Jan. 13 to March 19 (a span of 30 games coming off the bench), Bol averaged only 5.4 points per game on 51.1 percent shooting but 9.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Defenses found a way to slow him down and his penchant for taking his own shot and not really moving the ball came back to bite him. Only three players averaged fewer passes per game than Bol this year — and they were the often little-used Kevon Harris, Caleb Houstan and Jonathan Isaac.

Bol was out there to score and be an offensive weapon. He was there to warp the court and help the Magic play supersized lineups. And when it worked, it worked.

But like roller coasters, they seem to lose momentum as they enter their final stages and return to the station. And Bol had a difficult end to his season.

As he struggled in the half-court and his scoring slowed down, his defensive issues came to the front. The Magic had a solid 112.0 defensive rating with Bol on the floor. He is an excellent shot blocker. But his defensive awareness left a lot to be desired. And the Magic’s 107.6 offensive rating with Bol on the floor suggested his offense could be a bit of a mirage.

The numbers suggest how good Bol could still be. But it is also undeniable how much things tailed off for Bol. At least individually for him. His offense hit the dumps as teams pressured him and kept him from getting out in transition. That completely bottled him up and made him look like a rookie.

The highlight reel plays gave everyone something to believe in when it came to Bol. He looked like the player NBA 2K always imagined he was.

But the day-to-day play showed a player who put up statistics and struggled with the details. Especially as the Magic began to show signs that it was winning. Bol stood out like a sore thumb. And the Magic seemingly stuck with him longer than they should, going through those growing pains (a sign that maybe the team was not committed wholly to winning).

This is the difficult balance that comes with Bol. He has immense talent and showed it on display for the first time in his career. But he is also deeply flawed. In a way that you would expect from a player in essentially his rookie year.

dark. Next. What Went Right: Paolo Banchero is ROY

So Bol rode the ups and downs and the team with him. The question is whether the Magic want to get on again and stay invested in him. Do they even have the time to assure he has playing time again? Those are the big questions.

And questions that Bol needed to have answered by the end of the season.