Jonah Bolden has been on the radar screen for some time, already earning an invite to the adidas Nations showcase in Los Angeles as a 16-year-old, all the way back in 2012. The son of Bruce Bolden, an American graduate of Boise State University who relocated to Australia to play in the NBL in the 1990s, Bolden was earmarked as a prospect to watch in Australia early on due to his impressive frame, fluidity and skill-level. He got his first crack at the Australian national team in 2013 as a 17-year old playing up two years at the U19 World Championship in Kaunas, seeing a minor role on a Dante Exum-led squad that finished in fourth place.
Academic issues caused Bolden to bounce around between Findlay Prep, Brewster Academy, and then UCLA as a partial-qualifier, forcing him to redshirt his freshman season. He finally saw his first action at the college level in 2015-2016, playing 22 minutes per game, but struggled to make much of an impact, noticeably lacking confidence and having a difficult time stringing together positive possessions or games. He elected to leave UCLA in the summer of 2016 due to a variety of on and off-court reasons, including his reported desire to spend more time on the perimeter as opposed to the power forward position he normally occupied.
Bolden eventually surfaced in Belgrade, Serbia, where he signed a three year deal with Adriatic League champions Red Star and was loaned to their recently promoted second team, FMP Zeleznik, a club with great history of developing young prospects. He struggled to start out both on and off the floor, but really hit his stride in December, turning into a jack of all trades at the power forward and center positions and putting up impressive statistical production en route to being named Adriatic League Youth Player of the Year.
Bolden has a good physical profile for a modern day power forward, standing 6'10 with a reported 7'3 wingspan. He has somewhat of an unconventional build, with semi-wide hips, thin legs, and an upper body that has improved over the years but can still stand to be toned. He is nonetheless a fluid athlete who is quick off his feet and can play above the rim in space, sometimes impressively, especially when combined with his long arms.
A large part of Bolden's intrigue as a prospect, in addition to his length and fluidity, revolves around his shooting potential. Bolden has made noticeable strides as a perimeter shooter in his year in Serbia, hitting an impressive 40% of his 4.2 3-point attempts per game, but just 61% of his free throw attempts. He has very good mechanics when stepping into his shots in rhythm, catching and releasing in one fluid motion on the hop, while showing deep range and the ability to make shots off the bounce as well, sometimes after using sharp step-backs off isolation plays.
Confidence plays a huge role in Bolden's ability to knock down jumpers from the perimeter, as evidenced by how streaky he's been from the free throw line. When Bolden is on, he's absolutely on fire, as 35 of his 65 3-point makes this season came in just eight games (in which he shot 58% from beyond the arc). In the other 30 games Bolden has played in, he went just 30/99 (30%) for 3. It's difficult to know which version of Bolden a coach might get on any given night, the one who went 7/7 for 3 against powerhouse Cedevita, or the one who shot 9/37 for the season at UCLA.
Bolden has always been extremely talented operating with the ball for a 6'10 player, and has taken his shot-creation skills to another level with the significant freedom he's enjoying in Serbia, not to mention the added spacing playing alongside a shooting five or sometimes at the center position himself.
He showed the ability to operate as the ball-handler in pick and roll situations, and likes to go one on one as well, being especially effective pushing the ball off the defensive glass, and even mixing in some change of speeds to his game, which is impressive to see at his size.
Bolden can blow by slow-footed big men defenders in a straight line at this level with relative ease, showing nice body control on his drives, but will need to get stronger and tougher to be able to consistently finish what he creates against higher level big men. He tends to get knocked off balance fairly frequently due to his weak build and noticeable aversion to contact, only shooting 64/127 inside the paint according to Synergy Sports Technology, a very poor number in the Adriatic and Serbian Leagues, which boast very little in terms of rim protection.
His length gives him some impressive angles to finish with at times, but he'll have to do a better job of drawing contact in traffic and getting to the free throw line, a place he only found himself 2.6 times per game. Bolden tends to avoid going in the paint almost at all costs at times, preferring to settle for difficult turnaround jumpers even when being defended by significantly smaller players in the post. To his credit, he did grab an impressive 3.8 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes, a testament to his length, instincts and athleticism.
Bolden's playmaking this season has been somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, he'll wow you on occasion seeing plays before they happen and threading the needle impressively with bounce passes in drive and dish situations. On the other hand, his decision making can be very questionable at times, as he tends to run into brick walls, throw bullet passes into the third row, and generally turn it over more frequently than you might hope.
He seems to be the type of player who needs to have a fairly long leash to be able to make mistakes and do things his own way. At times he looked like he was very much doing his own thing for FMP, hoisting up difficult shots early in the clock and freelancing off the bounce, something that wasn't too much of an issue considering he was the clear-cut most talented player on the court. It remains to be seen how well he can operate in a more compact role where he needs to play efficient and winning basketball, something we've yet to see him do in his career up until now.
Defensively is where Bolden will likely make or break his NBA chances. He has the size, length and mobility to be a significant factor on this end of the floor, particularly with his ability to switch on screens, move his feet and stay in front of guards. He has choppy footwork on the perimeter and is generally very light on his feet for a 6'10 player, giving him plenty of potential as a defender. He got in the passing lanes at a great clip this season, at 2 steals per-40, and also did a nice job as a rim-protector, at 1.4 blocks per-40.
With that said, Bolden's mentality doesn't always match the potential he demonstrates in flashes. He tends to get pushed around mercilessly by stronger players at the power forward position, and especially at center where he sees minutes as well. He gets buried under the rim frequently and moved around in the post with ease. He has a thin frame that may struggle to put on a great deal of bulk, and he doesn't show the level of physicality and intensity you might hope to compensate for his lack of strength.
Jonah Bolden Interview
Bolden's focus tends to waver from possession to possession and it's not rare to see him lose his man off the ball. He plays very upright at times and doesn't always bother getting in a defensive stance, allowing himself to get buried under the rim without resistance. This shows up most vividly on the defensive glass, where he rarely boxes out, is often flat-footed as the ball comes off the rim, and tends to get moved around by stronger players without fighting back. He was very foul prone this season at 4.3 fouls per-40 minutes, after averaging 3.7 per-40 at UCLA.
Bolden is without a doubt a very unique talent who is coming off an outstanding season in the Adriatic League, a place where it's not easy at all to survive as a 21-year old foreigner. His intangibles are somewhat of a concern with the background intel coming out of both UCLA and Serbia not being the most positive, but he's someone that will likely be considered an interesting bet for a team to roll the dice on in the second round to see how he can continue to develop in the D-League, possibly on a two-way contract. It's difficult to find players with his size and length who can make shots from beyond the arc, handle the ball and also demonstrate potential defensively on the perimeter. Bolden has some flaws, but he also has a rare package of skills that make a player a team will want to invest in, especially the deeper into the draft we get on June 22nd.