36 unbothered: Is there room on the Suns to unlock Bol Bol?
Oct 4, 2023, 5:30 PM | Updated: 6:00 pm
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.
He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.
Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.
To keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is 23 days away from Sunday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will be joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby to dish on 36 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season.
Day 36: Devin Booker enters his prime
Day 35: The Suns have put in the work this summer
Day 34: Suns do have some continuity with returning bench players
Day 33: Kevin Durant gets integrated
Day 32: Bradley Beal proving something
Day 31: How the Big 3 develop chemistry
Day 30: Mat Ishbia’s first full season as owner
Day 29: How does Suns’ place of play change without Chris Paul
Day 28: Suns can maximize Yuta Watanabe in proper role
Day 27: Deandre Ayton finally is traded
Day 26: Who is Suns’ biggest threat in Western Conference?
Day 25: Matrix and STAT in Ring of Honor
Day 24: Phoenix Suns’ most appetizing lineups combinations
Day 23: The importance of Kevin Young’s return to the Suns
Day 22: The revamped Suns sunburst jerseys
Day 21: TV antennas and Phoenix Suns basketball for all
Day 20: Is there room on the Suns to unlock Bol Bol?
Erik Ruby: “I’d say both.”
That was what Bol Bol had to say at Suns media day when asked if he is a guard or a big.
In an offseason full of massive trades, new jerseys and multiple key FA singings, it’s safe to say the 7-foot-2 guard/big did not fly under the radar.
After starting his career with the Denver Nuggets, where he played in only 53 games over three seasons, Bol, 23, has become one of the most polarizing players in the NBA. The 2019 second-round pick played in 70 games last season with the Orlando Magic and averaged career highs in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks.
His mix of length and skill leaves jaws on the floor when he puts it together for a massive highlight reel slam, and heads scratched when it doesn’t look as pretty. That variance is exactly the reason Bol is one of the most intriguing members of this iteration of the Suns.
Can he be a starter? A 6th man? Or will the worst-case scenario play out and he’s glued to the end of the bench, only seeing the floor in blowouts?
The reality is that all of these options are a possibility, he isn’t steady like some of the Suns’ other summer additions who are established in this league, for example Eric Gordon, and that makes Bol one of the many storylines fans and media will be keeping a close eye on throughout the season.
Kellan Olson: Bol as a player is fascinating enough but I’m curious to see how far the Suns extend this “experiment” or whatever you want to call it in regards to attempting to develop him.
This very well could just be a training camp look. Someone like Keon Johnson stylistically appeals to what Phoenix is trying to do more as an aspiring perimeter defender. Ditto for Ish Wainright and Jordan Goodwin. Bol’s going to need to show coaches how much progress he’s made in terms of piecing things together on both ends with his basketball IQ, as well as the work put into his three-point shot. Those two areas were concerns when watching the Orlando tape last year.
But regardless of where Bol is at, perhaps this is about getting him in their system for a few months and his ability to potentially emerge in the second half of the season. Buyout candidates will emerge, as the Suns can still sign players who are released if the previous salary number for that player doesn’t reach a certain threshold. Bol will be among those on the chopping block if a key guy is out there.
Maybe it’s even more of a long-term play, looking ahead to the 2024-25 season, believing in Bol enough to develop for then. And how many chances does he get within the rotation to show what he’s worked on in real situations?
Whatever it is, it’ll be interesting to see what choices they make with him.
Kevin Zimmerman: It’s hard to imagine how Bol fits into the Suns’ plans considering the guys ahead of him. Jusuf Nurkic laughed at media day when asked how Bol fits with the other Phoenix big man, clarifying he sees the former Oregon Duck as a guard. it might be a good time to remind that Devin Booker and Bradley Beal are guards, and Kevin Durant is basically that skilled lengthy dude with a 10-times more refined scoring, defensive and playmaking repertoire.
Bol will need to give Phoenix something unique, and that’ll have to do with what’s around him. Is he a playmaking 3/4 who like Nurkic can create things for the Big 3?
Can Bol quickly pick up Frank Vogel’s defense to fit an uber-aggressive backend role where he’s covering lots of ground and covering for perimeter-oriented teammates who are applying tons of pressure? There could be a reason but Bol’s career has unfolded the way it has for a reason: He’s just not found an elite NBA skill.