Leandro Bolmaro has so much to offer the Utah Jazz — if he can improve on just one (big) thing

Bolmaro wasn’t the centerpiece of Minnesota’s package for Rudy Gobert, but he could be an intriguing part of the Jazz’s rebuild.

Washington Wizards' Montrezl Harrell (6) is defended by Minnesota Timberwolves' Leandro Bolmaro, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

There’s a lot to love about Leandro Bolmaro.

If you were compiling a list of pros vs. cons for the 6-foot-6 wing, the ink used on the pros side of the ledger would greatly outweigh the few scratches on the con side. You’d eagerly draft him, or in the Utah Jazz’s case, trade for him, just based on knowing everything he does well.

There’s just one concern — and unfortunately, it’s the one most fundamental skill, the most basic element of the game of basketball. Can Bolmaro score?

Let’s dig in.

The resume

For a 21-year-old, Bolmaro has a pretty impressive resume. The Argentinian was signed and played first-team minutes for Estudiantes de Bahia — where Manu Ginobili also played pro basketball — at just 16 years old. He was impressive enough there to move to Europe at just 17, playing for one of the world’s top non-NBA clubs: FC Barcelona.

He started playing for Barcelona’s reserve team in the Spanish second division, then began splitting time between the first and second division when he was 18. By 2020, he had shown enough at that level to be drafted in the first round — first by New York Knicks with the No. 23 pick before the Knicks shipped him to Minnesota in a three-team deal.

Bolmaro didn’t come to America right away, spending one more year with Barcelona. It was the best year of his overseas career, as he played 63 games for the Spanish club in between the ACB (the top Spanish league, which Barcelona won that year) and the EuroLeague. He wasn’t the biggest player for Barcelona, playing just 15 minutes a night, but he stood out on highlight reels: he was the ACB’s “Most Spectacular Player” award winner, an honor selected by tallying which player appears most often in the weekly Plays of the Week list.

Minnesota paid a reported $900K to break Bolmaro out of his contract with Barcelona, then signed him to a rookie deal. That same summer, Bolmaro played in the Tokyo Olympics for Argentina.

In the NBA, Bolmaro mostly was out of Minnesota’s rotation, save for a two-week period where he was given a chance — he impressed at first before tailing off in a big way. After Christmas, Jake Layman and Jaylen Nowell got more playing time, and Bolmaro rode the bench and spent time in the G League.

Bolmaro’s defense

It’s genuinely delightful to watch Bolmaro play defense. Just listen to his former coach.

“His one-on-one defense is outstanding,” Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch told The Athletic. “He picks up. He’s quick. He’s long. He’s active. Bothersome. He has all the attributes there. He’s fearless. Not afraid of any matchup. Scheme-wise he’s also very good, so he’s a pretty advanced defender.”

That’s really quality praise from an NBA head coach, especially for a 21-year-old rookie. But it’s true: he tries so hard on the defensive end, and he’s really smart about how he defends without fouling an outsized amount. He’s 6-6 with a 6-7 wingspan — reasonably well-sized for defending guards and even small forwards.

If you look at video from his Barcelona days, ask yourself: was there any Jazz perimeter defender that gives that effort on the roster last season?

While we’re here, it should be noted how responsible a rebounder Bolmaro is: unlike many guards, he fights down low for rebounds, blocking out bigger guys, staying engaged on either the front or back side. He’s also a frequent rebound tipper; if he thinks he’s going to lose a rebound battle to a taller player, he’ll try to tip the ball to a teammate.

Bolmaro’s playmaking

Bolmaro also has NBA-level dribbling, pick-and-roll, and passing instincts — again, you can tell that he’s played 5-on-5 basketball for a very long time.

Like here, he gets lightly pressured coming up the court, but no big deal: he spins out of it. He gets into a pick and roll, then finds his roll man for an easy bucket at the rim.

He’s good at impromptu playmaking, too, attacking closeouts and in transition. This no look pass beautifully sets up Nowell for a wide open three, completely fooling the defense.

Remember that he was the Most Spectacular Player in the Spanish league — most of those were wonderful passes. He’s not committing a lot of turnovers, either.

Bolmaro’s scoring

Ah, yes, the weakness. Right now, Bolmaro simply cannot score at an NBA level.

The first thing to note is the 3-point shot: critical for nearly every NBA guard. In the NBA last season, he shot 28% from deep; in his 11 G-League games, he shot 27%. At summer league, he shot 20%. He was a better 3-point shooter at Barcelona (40%) but only took 1.6 per game.

So much revolves around this skill. If he can’t shoot, defenders will just go under pick and rolls, minimizing his passing effectiveness. They’ll also not bother closing out, preventing those cool no-look passes like the ones above. Even former Utah Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio has shot over 30% from deep in his last seven seasons — Bolmaro needs to get to that level to be an acceptable role player.

Bolmaro isn’t a great finisher around the rim, either. He’s just not bouncy enough.

Take a look at this play: he’s got a pretty open baseline, but even post-injury Jusuf Nurkic finds it easy to meet him, not especially high up the basket.

Frankly, to have success in the paint, he’ll need to go into full foul-drawing mode to have a chance.

The result is a player who is less effective at scoring than just about every perimeter player in the NBA. He averaged only 7.5 points per 36 minutes last year. The only perimeter players who played more minutes than Bolmaro with a lower total were Golden State Warriors: Andre Iguodala and Chris Chiozza. Unfortunately, former Jazz guard Trent Forrest was a more frequent scorer than Bolmaro last year. He’s shown flashes of scoring — his fourth summer league game, an 11-point outburst in Game 82 last season — but needs to find it far more consistently.

It’s incredibly difficult to thread the needle of becoming a non-scoring yet valuable player in today’s league: there are a handful of examples, but they’re in perfect situational fits among the league’s best talent. Bolmaro can’t, and shouldn’t, count on that.

You can tell how Bolmaro’s basketball experience has impacted his game: unlike nearly every other NBA player, he’s never really been the best player on his team at any point in his past. As a result, he is really good at the role-player aspects of the game — but maybe doesn’t have the experience in scoring that everyone else does. I wonder, then, what would happen if you gave Bolmaro a full season at the G League level, and asked him to be The Man. Would he develop those skills?

If he can figure out how to score — and especially shoot — Bolmaro could be one of the best role players in the NBA. If he can’t, he’ll likely find himself out of the league. At 21, and with three more years on his rookie-scale deal, he has time to figure it out.

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