Nuggets’ Bol Bol has advocates in the organization: “I just gotta keep on working”

DALLAS — Bol Bol had a text message waiting for him after the Nuggets’ resounding win Saturday over the Rockets.

It was from Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who was back in Denver due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols but was watching closely nonetheless.

“He texted me right after the game,” Bol told The Denver Post. “That was like the first message I’d seen pop up on my screen. Just telling me, ‘Good job and congratulations.’”

It’s not a stretch to say that Bol’s 20 minutes of work against the Rockets, yielding a career-high 11 points on 5 for 7 shooting and three rebounds, were among the best moments of his still-nascent career.

What’s even more impressive? Bol had only recently cleared the league’s COVID protocols himself and barely had his wind back.

“I tried to do the right things, not just try to do too much,” Bol said. “I mean, just playing within the system and play hard. But it was kind of tough because I’ve been in quarantine, so that was like my second time in the gym in the last two weeks.”

Even though he tried to tell acting Nuggets head coach Popeye Jones he could play the entire fourth quarter — he ended up playing 10:35 of it — Bol made the most of his time. And with injuries and COVID cases stacking up higher than his 7-foot-3 frame, there’s a chance Bol will have more of them as the Nuggets search for healthy, capable players.

In Monday’s loss to the Mavericks, Bol registered five points and two turnovers in six minutes. Jones intended to play Bol more in the second half but opted against it when Dallas went small. He went to Bol after the game and explained the rationale.

“He actually is a great guy, he said, ‘I understand,’” Jones said. “Like I told him since I came here from Day 1, I told Bol, … ‘I knew your father.’ Rest in peace to him, a good man. I said, ‘Anything I can do for you to help your career, you want to talk, whatever.’ We have a really good friendship, me and Bol. I think he’s a really, really good person.”

From Malone, to Jones to player development coach Boniface N’Dong, Bol has advocates within the organization. He just needs an opportunity. His 20 minutes on Saturday represented more than a quarter of his total minutes (77) on the season.

When given the chance, he’s shown tantalizing possibilities. Like most NBA fans, he watched his seamless pick-and-roll with Nikola Jokic on Twitter, the pair making a towering tandem that few teams in the league could match.

“It was actually fun to watch,” he said. “I saw the clip on Twitter. It’s kind of crazy. Both seven-foot, handing each other the ball off, throwing oops to each other. It’s fun.”

But not that unrealistic to replicate.

“It’s not, because we both can do it,” he said. “We both have the skill to do it. But when you look at it on Twitter, it might look crazy to someone that doesn’t watch basketball.”

Though he still has developmental moments, sequences where he’s not ready for the ball and commits careless turnovers, people around the team marvel at his shooting touch. In addition, coaches continually harp on his rebounding. It’s an area he knows must improve to earn the trust of the coaching staff.

Bol said he hasn’t been told a firm plan moving forward, but he recognizes that part is out of his control. As Jeff Green nears the end of his health and safety protocol, that’s one more big man ahead of him on the depth chart. Zeke Nnaji will return from protocols at some point, too. But Vlatko Cancar’s right foot injury suffered in Monday’s loss could mean another opening in the immediate future.

“Besides being tired, it was amazing being out there (on Saturday),” Bol said. “… I just gotta keep on working.”

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