LAS VEGAS – Jonah Bolden knows what 76ers fans have been thinking. He's been thinking the same thing.
"To be completely honest with you, up until this point, I think I might have played better last summer," Bolden said of his play in the summer league. "Not to say that I have done terribly. It's just not up to my personal standards."
Bolden feels like he's "gotten better and better with each game." He's just not as consistent as last summer.
A year ago, Bolden was the talk of the Sixers' summer league. Fans drooled over his all-around game and imagined how he would fit in alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons on the team's regular-season roster. But that never materialized because the Sixers didn't have a roster spot available for the No. 36 (second round) pick in the 2017 draft.
So, on July 21, 2017, the power forward signed a three-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israeli Premier League and the EuroLeague. But the plan was always for him to play there for just one season. The Australian will use the NBA-out clause in his contract to join the Sixers this upcoming season.
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As a result, there's been a lot of hype surrounding his playing a second summer in Vegas and being on the Sixers' 2018-19 regular-season roster.
But, as Bolden admitted, his level of play was substandard leading into Saturday night: he shot just 6 of 22 overall and was 1 for 10 on three-pointers combined in four games.
On Saturday, the 6-foot-10, 217-pounder had 13 points, eight rebounds, two steals and one block in the 91-89 second-round victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at the Thomas & Mack Center. With his team up one point, the 22-year-old stole Jordan Barnett's pass to Christian Wood underneath the Bucks' basket with 1.9 ticks left. After being fouled, Bolden split a pair of free throws to give the Sixers their two-point victory.
Bolden shot 5 for 10 overall while making 2 of 4 three-point attempts. He was eager to build off that performance in Sunday night's quarterfinal against the Memphis Grizzlies at Thomas & Mack.
It didn't happen.
Bolden scored five points on 2-for-5 shooting – including 1 of 3 on three-pointers – in an 82-73 quarterfinal loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at Thomas & Mack. He graded out at a minus 21 at the half and minus 22 for the game.
Unlike like last year, Bolden was rusty when he joined the summer-league team on July 5. Last summer, he joined the Sixers after a one-year stint FMP Boegrad in Serbia. Bolden played a lot for Boegrad. At the conclusion of the season, he flew to the United States to work out for NBA teams in the predraft process. Shortly afterward, he was drafted by the Sixers before participating in summer league.
"This year, not too many people know about the rules in Israel," he said. "You have to sit three foreigners. I was one of the guys that sat out the last four games, which was over a span of three, four weeks. I hadn't played any organized basketball for four weeks to end the season."
So he sat and watched as his Maccabi teammates won the Israeli championship. Bolden said, as one of the youngest guys on the team, he accepted his role.
"Would I had loved to play? Of course," he said. "But I think that's the main thing just coming out in comparison to last year."
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In addition, Bolden had private workouts to stay in shape in Los Angeles following his season with Maccabi. He didn't even find out that he would get his FIBA clearance to play in summer league until July 3.
"There's no excuses, but there's a big difference in last year and this year," he said.
Bolden said he also put more pressure on himself to produce this summer, knowing that he would be battling for a roster spot in the fall.
"I put myself in that situation where I said you have to go out there and do this, you have to do that," he said, "rather than last year coming in already in shape, listening, knowing your role and going with it."
That helped with his comfort zone and confidence last summer.
"This year, I wanted to come in and rush things, to an extent," Bolden said.
Despite his mostly lackluster performances, he said he intends to play for the Sixers this season. While he has mostly struggled offensively, he has been a solid rebounder and defender. If he comes over to start the season, the Sixers have to either put him on the roster or waive him. By waiving him, they would lose his NBA rights.
Bolden said his agent and the Sixers are discussing if he'll spend the rest of the summer working out at the team's practice facility in Camden.