With their lone pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors took University of Arizona junior centre Christian Koloko 33rd overall.
An adept, shot-blocking rim protector with quick feet that should allow him to switch all over the floor, he looks to be the defensive centre Toronto’s been needing in its secondary and tertiary lineups.
Here’s a little more on Koloko:
Height: Seven-foot-one | Weight: 230 lbs
2021-22 stats: PPG: 12.6 | RPG: 7.3 | APG: 1.4 | BPG: 2.8 | FG%: 63.5
A do-it-all defender
The first thing that should stand out to you about Koloko is his dimensions. He’s a seven-footer with a seven-foot-four wingspan and was among the best rim protectors in college basketball last season, averaging 2.8 blocks per game on his way to winning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
The Raptors' need for rim protection from the five has been talked about ad nauseam from just about every corner of the team’s fandom, and Koloko should comfortably take care of that.
He has the length, natural timing and the kind of quick leaping ability that should enable him to be both a strong- and weak-side shot blocker.
Even more exciting than his ability to turn aside shots, though, is how fleet of foot Koloko is. He boasts the kind of footspeed and lateral quickness that projects him to be able to switch easily, meaning he should be a valuable, malleable piece for head coach Nick Nurse to use defensively.
Nurse and his staff love playing an equal amount of switching and zone schemes, and between Koloko's quick feet that should allow him to play the pick-and-roll in man-to-man coverage without much issue and his ability to anchor a defence and play goalie around the rim in a zone, he should be able to fit in seamlessly on the defensive side of the ball.
An immediate contributor
One of the knocks against Koloko is he's already 22 years old, suggesting there might not be as much developmental runway to squeeze out of him. However, he came to basketball later in life, so there could still be some development time there.
Regardless, however, Koloko figures to be someone who can step in and contribute for the Raptors immediately because, for one, he fills a clear need for the team at backup centre, and also because this isn’t someone the Raptors don’t have any familiarity with.
Shortly after Toronto made its selection, Nurse spoke about the selection of Koloko and mentioned the fact the Raptors have had their eye on the young man for a while now, giving him familiarity and comfort to already begin making a call on his role heading into next season.
The Raptors have had their eye on Koloko ever since they first spotted him at a Basketball Without Borders Camp in 2017.
“I’ve seen quite a bit of him. I’ve seen him play quite a bit,” said Nurse. “It’s always hard to tell. I’m hoping so. I think that there’s probably positionally a chance for him to fight his way in there and get some time.”
Has some interesting coincidences with Siakam
As a cool coincidence, Koloko also happens to be from the same hometown as Pascal Siakam: Douala, Cameroon.
Koloko doesn’t quite have the same kind of backstory as Siakam as he was a more highly touted high-school recruit and ended up heading to a power conference school in Arizona, but there could be some shared history between the two in the way their offensive games might develop.
At the moment, Koloko projects to be a rim-running lob threat coming out of the pick-and-roll without much of a chance he’ll look to pop out to the three-point line. Over three seasons and 91 collegiate games, he was 0-for-5 from distance.
This was a similar story with Siakam, who was 3-for-17 in 68 college games over two seasons at New Mexico State, where he was used mostly as a traditional big man and not the multi-faceted, All-NBA wing he’s blossomed into since.
This isn’t to say Koloko will become a player with the kind of high-level versatile skill set that Siakam boasts, but considering the fact he shot 73.5 per cent from the free-throw line last season, there’s certainly more to pull from his shot than just five measly attempts from three-point range in college.
“It's when the guys are really low free-throw shooters that you’re concerned you're gonna have to take some time, but I would imagine we'll try to push him out there and I bet you he makes more than zero in his career here,” said Nurse when asked about concerns with his shooting stroke.