76ers

Jonah Bolden took a strange path, but now among familiar faces with Sixers

Jonah Bolden took a strange path, but now among familiar faces with Sixers

There are essentially two paths for young international players to enter the NBA.

They can stay overseas and play pro ball there until their number is called, or they can come over to the U.S. and hone their skills here before entering the draft.

Jonah Bolden kind of did both.

The 21-year-old Australian-born forward went to prep school in Las Vegas and New Hampshire before landing at UCLA. After not playing his freshman year for academic reasons, Bolden left the program midway through his second season to go play in Serbia.

"Coming from UCLA going to my first year professionally was a big difference," Bolden said at the Sixers' practice facility Friday. "Coming from the American style of play to the European style was also a big difference — the physicality, the speed of the game kind of slowed down. IQ level was a lot higher. There was an adjustment phase. Once I got through that, it was kind of a smooth ride."

Bolden shined last season with Beograd. He averaged 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds a game on his way to receiving the Adriatic League's Top Prospect Award. That award has gone to the likes of Denver Nuggets budding star Nikola Jokic and, of course, one of the Sixers' Rookie of the Year candidates, Dario Saric.

Bolden's time with Beograd was almost as rocky as his time with UCLA. The team changed coaches three times during the course of last season. 

The Adriatic League is already difficult enough for a young player, making Bolden's season all the more impressive.

"That's a man's league," CSNPhilly Sixers analyst Mark Jackson said on draft night. "The NBA is a tough, physical league but we're talking about when you go to the hole, you better be praying while you're in the air. 

"For him to be that young and play 28 minutes a game … first of all young players in EuroCup, in Serbia, don't play. They play them maybe 10-15 minutes max. This guy's playing 28 minutes and averaging 12 points on a major team in Serbia. He must've really impressed his coaches to play him because they don't do that."

Other than the 6-foot-10 forward's athleticism, 7-foot-3 wingspan and ability to stretch the floor (he shot 42 percent from three last season), Bolden's tough style of play is part of what drew the Sixers to him. 

His father, Bruce Bolden, spent 17 years playing professionally in Australia. Brett Brown may have been anonymous in Philadelphia before becoming the Sixers' coach, but if you grow up in Australia playing basketball, you know the name.

During a brief conversation when Bolden arrived in Philly on Friday, Brown told him why the Sixers drafted him.

"Coming from Australia you hear about Brett Brown all the time," Bolden said. "I had about a 45-minute meeting with him and my dad and my agent were here. It felt comfortable. Like we were just back at home in Australia. 

"He just knows that I have that gritty, grindy Australian demeanor. He loves that. That's kind of what he's about."

Bolden is also familiar with another Aussie native: Ben Simmons. Bolden and Simmons are close in age and grew up playing against each other. Simmons left for America before Bolden, but the two spoke whenever Simmons came back.

Simmons was pretty happy when the team took Bolden No. 36 overall. It only added to Simmons' excitement level for the future, something he communicated when the old friends caught up.

"He said 'I fell in love after my second day [here],'" Bolden said. "He said, 'When you get here you'll see how it is. The fans, they fall in love with you. Just work hard and it'll happen for you.'"

Bolden may not have a ton to prove back in Serbia, but he's still under contract. The Sixers also have a crowded roster at the moment. And that's before free agency even starts.

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo made it clear that all of the international prospects drafted last Thursday would likely be returning back to their respective leagues. He didn't completely close the door, saying "everything's up for discussion and debate" when it comes to how the Sixers will build their roster.

Bolden would love to be in Philly next season but will respect the team's decision.

"I could start today," Bolden said of when he'd like to play for the Sixers. "But there's uncertainty with that. The organization drafted me with a plan and I'm going to stick to the plan. I'm subject to a European contract at the moment but whatever the organization wants and they say is what'll happen."

Joel Embiid stars, Russell Westbrook struggles in Sixers' NBA2K simulation win over Rockets

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NBCSP

Joel Embiid stars, Russell Westbrook struggles in Sixers' NBA2K simulation win over Rockets

Give virtual Russell Westbrook credit for one thing — he never stopped shooting.

Westbrook put up 28 shots Tuesday night in NBC Sports Philadelphia’s NBA2K simulation of the Sixers’ game vs. the Rockets, missing 22 of them in a 72-47 Houston loss (eight-minute quarters). 

Here are a few observations on the Sixers’ 2K win: 

Not Westbrook’s night 

Westbrook’s 21.4 percent mark from the field was his worst a Rocket. Shake Milton guarded him well, sagging off and encouraging Westbrook to shoot while also not allowing him to accelerate on drives toward the rim.

Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni left Westbrook in for the bitter end of the blowout, apparently not concerned with giving one of his best players a little rest. 

Coming up big 

Though it took the Sixers a few minutes to get comfortable with the Rockets’ style, Houston was always going to be vulnerable against Joel Embiid and Al Horford. The Rockets don’t play a true center, which meant players like P.J. Tucker and Austin Rivers were guarding Embiid. He took advantage, scoring 24 points (22 in the paint).

Horford was effective down low, too. He hit his first four shots and had the Wells Fargo Center crowd very much on his side.

There was even a Horford Fathead visible in the stands early in the second quarter.

Thybulle is not a point guard 

It’s nitpicking in a game in which the Sixers were very strong across the board, but 2K Brett Brown’s insistence on using Matisse Thybulle as a backup point guard remains perplexing.

Sure, the Sixers don’t exactly have an excess of capable ball handlers with Ben Simmons injured, but Josh Richardson, Alec Burks and  Furkan Korkmaz would seem to be better suited for that job.

Thybulle's defense was excellent, as usual. 

What’s up with the blimp? 

Sixers fans were obviously very excited during the action, enjoying Embiid’s dunks and Westbrook’s woes. They were generally quiet during timeouts, however, which is one reason why we couldn’t help but notice that a large Sixers blimp — seemingly close to the size of an entire section of fans — floated around during breaks in the action. The blimp is certainly a curious addition to the game presentation experience. 

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Sixers Talk podcast: Dr. J, A.I., The Process and our best Sixers moments

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Dr. J, A.I., The Process and our best Sixers moments

On this edition of Sixers Talk, we debate which era of Sixers basketball we'd like to see a documentary on, our top Sixers moments and much more.

• Would you rather see a doc on the 80's Sixers or Process Sixers? (8:09)

• What if the Sixers didn't draft Markelle Fultz? (17:59)

• We pick our top three Sixers moments (33:56)

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers