Jonah Bolden stakes his claim to backup center role with impressive performance vs. Timberwolves


Jonah Bolden has had a rollercoaster rookie season. Not to Zhaire Smith’s level, but the Australian big man has had his share of ups and downs.

He’s gone from G-League stints to an injury to earning a spot in the rotation to again being on the outside looking in.

But on Saturday night, the Sixers don’t hang on for a 118-109 win over the Timberwolves at Target Center Saturday night without Bolden (see observations).

Bolden finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, three assists and nailed 5 of 7 attempts from three. He’s the only Sixer ever to record at least eight rebounds, three blocks and three assists while making five threes. He’s just the second rookie ever to record those numbers.

Not bad for a guy who’s only played meaningful minutes once in the last nine games. 

“Same thing I’ve been doing since Day 1,” Bolden told reporters when asked what he’s been doing to stay fresh. “Just consistency, shooting and working on my game. Just working on my shooting ability, being able to stretch the floor. Whether I’m in the rotation or not, just consistently doing that on a day-to-day basis.”

Bolden is a springy athlete with quick feet and the ability to protect the rim. The defensive end is where the Sixers needed him the most Saturday with Joel Embiid sitting out and All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns on the other side. 

The threes are almost an added bonus with everything else Bolden brings to the table, but the Sixers wound up needing all five of them — especially the fifth one.

With just over two minutes left in the game, the Sixers’ once big lead had dwindled and was at six. After an Andrew Wiggins’ missed three, the Sixers needed a bucket. With the shot clock winding down, JJ Redick found an open Bolden.

And the rookie didn’t miss.

“He had a tough matchup with [Towns]. Defending him by anybody’s standards is difficult,” Brett Brown said. “Then offensively, for him to make the threes that he made — that last one was really timely. He was our bell ringer tonight and he had an outstanding game.”

Brown went on to say that “it’s been no secret” that the Sixers are still weighing their options when it comes down to backing up Embiid. 

When you look at Brown’s options, it pretty much boils down to Bolden or veteran Boban Marjanovic, who took Bolden’s minutes after arriving via trade. While Marjanovic has much more experience, Bolden may offer the better skill set — and one that most closely resembles Embiid’s.

To be clear, there is no center in the NBA that can do what Embiid does. He’s as special as they come and is the “crown jewel” for a reason. But Bolden’s ability to protect the rim, slide his feet against guards and knock down the occasional three make the drop-off not as dramatic. It also seems like the better skill set for modern playoff basketball.

There are only six games left in the season, but Embiid will miss at least the next two. That should give Bolden more of a chance to prove he deserves playoff minutes.

“When it comes down to crunch time, playoff time, the rotation does shorten up,” Bolden said. “Like I said from the beginning, the opportunity is now. Whether it is now or whether it’s in the playoffs, just making the most of it whenever it comes.”

If he continues to produce like he did Saturday over the next couple games, he’ll give Brown plenty to think about.

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