Oct 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy (21) and Los Angeles Clippers forward Wesley Johnson (33) dive to the court for a loose ball during the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 104-78. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Joel Bolomboy’s rookie season with the Utah Jazz was characterized by lack of opportunity, at least at the NBA level. What can we take away from his year?
As the only rookie on a deep Utah Jazz roster, Joel Bolomboy faced an uphill road towards playing time this season. A forward-center selected out of nearby Weber State University in Ogden, Utah with the 52nd overall pick, there was little opportunity for him on a roster stocked with big men.
Playing in just 12 games all year with the Jazz, Bolomboy averaged just 1.8 points in 4.4 minutes per contest, playing almost exclusively at the end of blowouts.
Given that there wasn’t much opportunity at all on Utah for him, he spent most of his season either sitting on the bench or in the D-League, where he played 24 games. With the Salt Lake City Stars, Bolomboy averaged 16.4 points and 13.2 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per game.
Among those who appeared in more than 10 games for the Stars, these totals ranked second and first on the season, respectively.
Still, success at the lower levels isn’t what will define his value to the Jazz in the years to come. Bolomboy will need to build off last year’s campaign and continue to iron out his weaknesses as he further adapts to professional basketball.
In order to review his season, we’ll look at the best and worst aspects of his play as well as how he fits into the Jazz’s plans going forward.
December 20, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy (21) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee (1) during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Jazz 104-74. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The best of Bolomboy
When evaluating our subject’s play, we have to throw out most of his stats from garbage time, as they don’t reflect the competitiveness of the NBA game. This makes his performance in those few games with extended run and the D-League even more important, as they more accurately reflect what he can do with free reign.
Bolomboy’s biggest strength is his rebounding – he garnered 26.9 percent of available defensive rebounds in the D-League, with more than one-third of his boards coming on the offensive end.
His DraftExpress profile outlines this further, saying that he “combines very good instincts for pursuing loose balls with terrific physical tools, and has a huge competitive streak for throwing his body around with reckless abandon.”
Adding the three-point shot to his game before his junior year of college, Bolomboy went 36-for-97 from behind the arc for his career at Weber State. He’ll need to translate that shot into the NBA in order to be successful as a forward.
Returns this season were mixed as he adapted to the longer line, but in the D-League, where he was able to get a greater opportunity and more shots, he hit 21 of his 46 attempts, good for 45.7 percent.
In terms of extended run, there are only two games we can point to where Bolomboy was able to play anything but garbage time, most notably on March 11, which saw a Rudy Gobert-less Jazz team go up against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Utah would end up losing the game, but Bolomboy was part of a bench unit that brought the Jazz back from a large deficit to a more reasonable one.
Scoring eight points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field, Bolomboy was used frequently as the roll man in the screen game, showcasing an ability to rise above defenders and finish in traffic around the rim.
Bolomboy finished a +7 over 14 minutes in a game the Jazz would lose by eight points. His energy was infectious even as the game’s lack of close action made it sluggish at times.
Dec 31, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy (21) sits courtside during warm-ups prior to the game against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
The worst of Bolomboy
At 23 years old, Bolomboy doesn’t have a ton of upside or untapped potential, which becomes more concerning considering he hasn’t shown a ton of polish on the court yet.
His 7’1″ wingspan is nice for either big position, but his height (measured at 6’9″) makes him an ill fit at center. Playing a traditional power forward role, however, hamstrings the Jazz in that he can’t really operate on the perimeter on offense or guard combo forwards or wings off switches either.
It’s tough to judge from his garbage time appearances, but even his college stats (just 10.2 field goal attempts per game at Weber State) seem to suggest that he isn’t all that aggressive in terms of creating shots.
We don’t want to read to much into the minutes distribution itself either, but it does seem confusing that Bolomboy was able to get in the game so few times considering the less-than-satisfactory seasons Boris Diaw and Trey Lyles had at the power forward position.
On defense, he has most of the physical tools needed to make an impact, but lacks timing and awareness, having blocked just 2.9 percent of opponents’ shots while in the D-League.
He tends to look stiff or awkward at times, which doesn’t bode well for his fit in a more complex Quin Snyder offense. Without a solid post game or ability to create off the dribble, Bolomboy will have to make his mark by using pure hustle and determination, at least until the game slows down for him.
Oct 12, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy (21) and Utah Jazz forward Chris Johnson (23) try to keep Phoenix Suns forward Alan Williams (15) away from the basket during the third quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Phoenix Suns beat the Utah Jazz 111-110. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Bolomboy’s contract, which he signed following a strong Summer League performance, is unique for his draft position in that he was awarded over $1 million in guaranteed money, with the deal encompassing three years in total.
Ben Bentil, who went to the Boston Celtics one pick earlier, received a contract with less than one-quarter of the guaranteed money that will be due Bolomboy, so it’s clear that the Jazz went above and beyond financially.
This could mean a couple of things. It could be that the Jazz brass are so sure that he will develop into a contributing talent while on a cheap deal that they’ll bet a couple million dollars on that prospect.
Alternatively, the front office could also have recognized the cap crunch that will occur in the next couple of summers due to free agency and moved to lock down a cheap roster spot.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
There’s nothing to say that Bolomboy can’t become a consistent bench contributor, but the Utah front office and fan base shouldn’t place expectations on him to be.
He’ll need to improve his awareness on both ends, as well as fine-tune his offensive skillset if he wants to come off the bench with more frequency next year or the one after that.
In his exit interview, he outlined his plans for the summer and beyond, saying “My main goals… are to continue to develop, kill it in the Summer League, get into the rotation next year and continue to help my team be successful.”