Back when the Utah Jazz drafted Joel Bolomboy with the 52nd pick in the NBA Draft, they probably anticipated that the Weber State alum would be spending much of his rookie season in the NBA D-League. At the time of the pick, the Jazz already had a deep front-court that features the trio of Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Trey Lyles. The predicament grew even larger when the team picked up veteran cappuccino connoisseur Boris Diaw to add that valuable debonair presence to Utah.
Alongside Utah’s jam-packed front-court, Bolomboy stood as a player that didn’t play against standout competition when he was with Weber State. Although he excelled to the point where he was named Big Sky MVP during his senior season, there’s a huge difference between playing against Duke versus Portland State or Idaho State. Extended periods of time in the D-League would allow Bolomboy to push those concerns, as he could match up against a slew of high-level players while in the NBADL.
Luckily for Bolomboy, his rookie year with Utah coincided with the team’s D-League affiliate moving from Idaho to a location in Salt Lake City that was within a 16 minute drive away from the Jazz’s home arena. That closeness would allow the Jazz to be very flexible with how they utilize their D-League affiliate.
The first glimpse of the Jazz’s utilization of the D-League was seen around Thanksgiving when they assigned Bolomboy to the Salt Lake City Stars. That initial stint was extremely brief and not very successful, as Bolomboy played only one game with the Stars where he put up 9 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists on 4-12 shooting in a loss against the OKC Blue
Although the fallout from Bolomboy’s lackluster D-League game will remain a mystery, it was clear that the Jazz were weary of bringing the rookie forward back to the NBA D-League. Following that initial game, it took three weeks before the Jazz became comfortable with sending Bolomboy to the Stars for an extended period of time. Fortunately, Bolomboy’s second D-League stint has been an absolute success.
In the four games since he was assigned back to Salt Lake City, Bolomboy has excelled by putting up 21.8 points, 16.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 60% from the field in 37.6 minutes per game. That play includes a Thursday night performance against the Texas Legends where he put up a jaw-dropping 23 point, 23 rebound and 3 blocks on 7-12 from the field. Throughout that phenomenal game against the Legends, Bolomboy displayed his dominance on both ends of the ball.
From an offensive perspective, Bolomboy shined from beyond he arc to inside the paint. During his dominance against the Legends, Bolomboy shot 2-4 from beyond the arc. Although this was the first NBADL game where he showed that range, Bolomboy has been a solid mid-range shooter dating back to his time at Weber State. However, if Bolomboy can show off his improved range for an extended period of time, then he can truly stand as a versatile offensive player.
Coinciding with that newfound perimeter ability, Bolomboy has absolutely dominated on the offensive glass while with the Stars. In his five D-League games, Bolomboy has averaged 4.8 offensive boards per game, which puts him at top of the entire NBA D-League. That offensive rebounding prowess is evident in the clip below, where he works his ass off to collect the ball and score despite working against a crop of opposing players.
Bolomboy’s hard-nosed approach is also evident when you transition to the defensive end. On that end of the court, Bolomboy spends every millisecond waiting for an opposing player dense enough to cut right at him. More times than not, Bolomboy can attack that cutter and send any shot attempt into the bleachers or into the hands of a teammate. That knack as a rim protector is evident through Bolomboy averaging 2.4 blocks per game.
After four strong D-League games, Bolomboy is currently in possession of the kind of momentum and confidence that he wouldn’t have without this stint in the NBADL. While it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to see Bolomboy carry this momentum to the Utah Jazz, it’s still a good sign of what he could be in years to come. Because if Joel Bolomboy can continue to showcase himself as a versatile offensive weapon that can excel as a rim protector, the Utah Jazz might be possess secret weapon that could vault them up the Western Conference ladder in the near future.