It’s not exactly clear what Brett Brown is going to do with reserve center minutes in the playoffs. It’s a unique situation because the Sixers have so many options — Jonah Bolden, Boban Marjanovic, Amir Johnson, or a small-ball lineup — none of which is completely ideal, and they are all a considerable drop-off behind Joel Embiid.
Marjanovic is only a legitimate option situationally and his weaknesses are easily exposed. Johnson has largely been out of the rotation. Though Brown has chosen to go with Marjanovic the majority of the time since the trade deadline, it is Bolden who got the start with Embiid resting the last two games, which have given a good sample of what can be expected from the rookie.
Let’s start with a look at the positive aspects of what Bolden does.
Most of the time when Bolden is on the floor he tries to put himself in good rebounding position and is not afraid to fight for a board.
This goes on both ends of the floor. It’s not like it’s elite rebounding, but he’s there and he’s going to make the attempt and he’s a lot stronger than you would think for a rookie.
This next clip shows something we haven’t seen much of before; anticipation and good timing following a shot which resulted in a nice put-back dunk. It’s nice to see that Bolden has this in his bag, but in order to maintain this kind of timing and feel it takes reps and minutes.
While we’ve seen recently that Marjanovic is willing and able to hit an outside shot — hitting the first three-pointers of his career with the Sixers — Bolden is much more of a spread threat and proved as much against Minnesota, going 5-of-7 from three en route to a career high 19 points.
He can do this from any point around the arc. Bolden is shooting 35.4 percent from deep this season and 40 percent since the All-Star break.
Bolden is also not a slouch when it comes to blocking shots. He’s averaging 1.1 blocks per game since the All-Star break and has had multiple games with three blocks or more this season, though he would ideally wait just a beat longer before getting in the air (more on this in the bad section).
In addition to what is shown above, Bolden’s quickness and ability to get back in transition is a plus. He has also shown flashes of being a competent distributor with some good assists and nifty passes, and tries his hardest to deny entry passes to whoever he is guarding. He’s young and raw and has a lot of talent, and there are a lot of things to like about his game.
Bolden is very hot and cold across the board. That’s a good way to look at every facet of Bolden’s abilities.
While his shooting percentages are good and he has the ability to knock down shots, there are nights when he just doesn’t have it and when he doesn’t it really slows down his game. That’s what happened against Dallas on Monday. After going 5-of-7 in Minnesota, he went 0-of-4 from three-point range against the Mavericks.
Possibly the most worrying part of Bolden’s missed shots is that there’s no consistency. It’s not like his misses are always a little to the left or a little long. He back-rims shots, airballs, and shoots wide to either side.
Also, after having a pretty good defensive showing against Karl-Anthony Towns, Bolden looked lost once he was in Dallas. Again, hot and cold.
Here Bolden looks confused between the roller and ball handler on the pick-and-roll and ends up backing down and just giving a wide open lane to the basket. The bigger problem is that he didn’t glean anything from this flub.
Bolden continued to do the same thing, backing down on the roller, offering no help on the guy driving straight to the basket. This happened repeatedly against the Mavericks and has been one of the biggest problems with Bolden to date. He often gets lost either on a switch or in pick-and-roll defense.
Bolden also trouble with fouls. This comes in a couple different ways.
While words like bouncy and energetic are often used to describe Bolden, sometimes those are the traits that are his downfall on the defensive end. He has a tendency to leave the floor at the wrong moment.
In the above clip Towns had already picked up his dribble but Bolden is still making small hops even though he has the advantage of pressure from the double team. Towns recognized this and used it against him later. Along the same line, Bolden bites on pump-fakes a lot, another thing Towns picked up on pretty quickly.
Also Bolden hasn’t quite figured out how to use his hands when he’s bodying someone in the post. After a couple of times being called for this and racking up fouls, Bolden gets timid and it’s easier for someone to back him down.
At the end of the day the Sixers are only going to need 10-12 minutes at most from a backup behind Embiid, and there is a good case for Bolden despite the drawbacks.
There are definitely matchups that could favor a smaller lineup with Ben Simmons or Mike Scott playing the five, and there is value to using Marjanovic in certain situations. But, Bolden offers possibly the most upside out of the traditional backup centers with his ability to spread the floor paired with his quickness and athleticism.