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Player Review: Christian Koloko, pretty good for a second-rounder

It was an up-and-down season at best for the rookie, but by any realistic measure of expectations, a successful one.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that, prior to June 23, 2022, most Toronto Raptors fans had never heard of Christian Koloko.

Sure, a few maybe read some mock drafts, a couple of which had Koloko as a high second rounder. But Koloko, who played three years at Arizona, was not highly touted nor any sort of household name.

All of which makes sense. After all, the Raptors were picking 33rd in the draft. Second-round picks are a crapshoot, a time to take a flyer on a great athlete or a one-dimensional shooter, or pick up a project player, and hope that you can hone and mold them into something more.

That’s exactly what the Raptors got with Koloko, who they selected with that 33rd pick, their only pick in the 2022 draft. A true 7-footer, but rail-thin, Koloko had only been playing basketball since age 12; he was coming off a junior year where he averaged 13 points, 7 boards and 3 blocks in 25 minutes a game.

Given all of that, expectations should have been extremely low for Koloko. Second-round picks rarely have much of an impact — heck, they rarely play! — in their rookie season. But Koloko was thrust into a big role early on.

He averaged 16.3 minutes per game in the first four games of the season, even starting the fourth. He went on to start 16 of the next 24 games, averaging 17.4 minutes per night.

Those are massive minutes for a second-rounder!

That Koloko was able to do that, at all — to actually stay on the court and compete — already tells me that his rookie season was a succesful one.

Now, I’m not going to argue those were particularly impactful minutes. Koloko was regularly in foul trouble, had extreme difficulty finishing at the rim, and was tossed around like a rag doll on the boards.

But, his timing on blocks and help was solid, he generally knew where to go on offense, especially in the pick-and-roll. Sure, he struggled to finish plays but that’s something that can be taught, that can improve as he adds muscle; the timing and awareness are much tougher to teach and it’s clear that he has those.

All told, Koloko played 58 games, and averaged 3.1points, 2.9 boards, and 1 block (and 2.2 fouls) in almost 14 minutes a night. Again, not impactful, but also, more than I would have expected from him as a rookie.

In fact you could say that the main impact Koloko had was he showed management how much better the team looked with a traditional centre. His early play might have inspired the team to acquire Jakob Poeltl at the trade deadline (uh, for better or worse).

Koloko also got some G-League time in towards the end of the season; he blocked a ton of shots but didn’t seem particularly motivated to be there, which isn’t a great sign.

Hopefully his rookie experience — being roughed up on the boards, being in foul trouble, being unable to finish, being sent to the 905 — motivates him to work on his game and muscle this offseason, and he can come in next year as a true backup to Poetl — and make a real impact as part of the second unit.