NBA teams don’t mess around.
Years ago in front of the draft, the Portland Trail Blazers hired a high-profile firm to conduct an investigation that would help figure out whether using a first-round pick on Zach Randolph in 2001 was a worthwhile risk.
Two ex-FBI agents talked to Randolph’s neighbors, friends, coaches, and even his former high school teachers and principal. The background check, obtained by OregonLive, delved into a juvenile gun charge and his driving record (clean), and it even dug up an old Walmart loss-prevention citation from when Randolph was 14 and shoplifted a pair of dress slacks valued at $18.86.
Basically, they missed nothing.
Bol Bol is currently undergoing the same background treatment. Probably not unusual, given the guaranteed investment that comes with a potential first-round pick. But I know this only because three NBA teams have reached out in the last two weeks to ask me how I thought the one-time University of Oregon player conducted himself last season.
I’m not sure I was much help.
We barely saw him.
Bol is long. He is a great shooter for his size. He has good skills and a decent handle for a young big. He is not at all strong. And defensively, he struggled with basic concepts, although the staff at Oregon will tell you they felt like they were going to break through.
People are fascinated by him. At 7 feet 2, why not? But the biggest question on the board for Bol is his motor. When he was engaged and focused, he was terrific. The rest of the time, he appeared not to care, as if the rest of us should just be honored that we were getting to see him play.
Two of those NBA teams told me they had been in contact with teachers and staff at Bol’s three high schools as part of their research. None of the educators felt particularly connected with him. Probably because like you and me, they barely knew him. He has basically been hanging around, waiting to become draft eligible for the last stretch of his teen years.
With Bol, it is always the same few questions.
What is his focus like? His motor? His sense of entitlement?
All this is underscored by the fact that Bol played only nine games in college with the Ducks. Also, that Oregon played its best basketball of the season without him in uniform.
Which is why I am fascinated to see what is going to happen on Thursday with Bol in the green room at Barclays Center during the NBA draft. Because Bol has emerged as possibly the most interesting draft candidate outside of the obvious top few picks. I would not be shocked to see him land late in the top 10. Wouldn’t be surprised, either, if he slipped into the 20s.
Bol had a strong pro day. His stock is said to be rising.
But I would not take him. Not with a pick I valued. Mostly because NBA people will tell you the league gives players reasons to quit every day. Guaranteed contracts. A grind of a schedule. Never-ending competition. Injuries complicate all this, too. And with Bol, we just don’t have proof he would fight to matter under those circumstances.
Lots of upside, but too many question marks in key places.
I would love to be wrong, but that’s what I see.
The Blazers drafted Randolph at No. 18 in 2001.
But not before they did a pile of homework.
I fished that background check out of the file cabinet on Tuesday and flipped through it. Randolph’s family support system appeared to be in shreds. His father, uncle and brother were incarcerated. He had been in trouble with guns. But the report beautifully captured his essence — Randolph was a likable kid who was lost except for basketball and would occasionally make really poor decisions that would get him in trouble.
With good support, Randolph would have a chance to be special. Without it, he was a bet to go sideways.
Randolph’s high school principal, Mr. Kocher, offered that when he suspended Randolph from school, Z-Bo cried in his office, then came back from the suspension focused and motivated to be a good student.
What strikes me about the report all these years later is not that the Blazers were looking for a reason to draft Randolph in the first round. They already had the best one — he was a promising basketball player. No, they were looking for good reasons not to draft him.
I wonder how many NBA teams will find one with Bol.