Loco for Koloko
While plenty of other big men in the 2022 NBA Draft class are generating some buzz, it's time we start paying attention to Arizona center Christian Koloko.
When you see something special in life, you struggle to put words into motion. Your eyes tell you that what you’re watching is different. You start to play mind games with yourself. “Am I the only one that sees this?” Thoughts run around in your head like a group of cars racing around the Daytona 500. Time seems to suddenly slow down and the volume of the outside world suddenly hits the mute button.
It was two years ago when I first got my eyes on a freshman big man at the University of Arizona. It’s not often that a player who goes on to finish the year averaging 2.3 points per game in 8.3 minutes of action get’s my immediate attention, but my curiosity was overflowing.
“Who the f**k is this kid?”
A lengthy big man with a promising frame that could have his picture in the dictionary under the word “raw.” But I was hooked immediately. When you see a special talent, you make note of it right away. But this felt different. There was talent that was still realizing how much of a force he could be on a consistent level. There was ability that was begging to rise to the surface. This was a project that could become a lottery ticket. It was going to take patience, especially with the staff and team moving forward. Things were going to need to line up perfectly in the upcoming years. There would be growing pains, but there would need to be a strategic plan in place to unlock the reward of upside that was at the end of the road. I found myself locking that name in the back of my mind, knowing there was a serious chance it could blossom like a flower down the road.
That name was Christian Koloko and it looks as if that flower has finally started to bloom.
The joy of seeing a player take strides forward throughout their collegiate career is special for evaluators. While we work hard to point out players strengths and weaknesses, you’ll never find a draft evaluator that is actively rooting for a young talent to fail. We are simply pointing out areas that will require more work in order for them to improve their stock in the NBA Draft. Arizona big man Christian Koloko has not only taken a leap this year…he’s taken a “holy s**t” type of leap. I got to spend some time with Nathan Grubel on the Draft Deeper podcast talking about some of the notable Arizona prospects for the upcoming draft class and I couldn’t withstand my excitement when Koloko was brought up.
After generating some early buzz last year as a potential NBA Draft prospect, the water around Koloko started to cool off quickly. He finished his previous season averaging just 5.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in 17.3 minutes. But I found myself intrigued that Koloko could be ready for a big step forward in his upcoming season. At 7’1”, 230 pounds, Koloko had the tools and quickness to become a valuable asset at the next level. The only thing missing was the confidence. If that could rise to the surface, there was going to be a heck of a player brewing in Tucson. Fast forward to now and Koloko has taken a colossal leap in his junior year. As of right now, he’s currently averaging 13.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game while shooting 62.4% from the field. If you haven’t guessed it already, then let me explain this in one sentence…
It’s time to start paying attention to Christian Koloko.
Now before I dive into the film, I know there’s a lot of fans of mathematical characters AKA stats. So allow me to hit you with some knowledge (I would never hit you). Koloko is putting up some horrifying numbers. I mean that in the best possible way I can. He’s also doing it in some pretty impressive company. So allow me to get a little wild.
First off, let’s start with the basics and take a look at the growth over the years.
8.3 MIN, 2.3 PTS, 2.4 REB, 0.9 BLK, 48.3 FG%, 35.0 FT%
17.3 MIN, 5.3 PTS, 4.8 REB, 1.3 BLK, 52.0 FG%, 62.5 FT%
2021-22 (As of 12.17.21)
23.8 MIN, 13.8 PTS, 7.0 REB, 3.4 BLK, 62.4 FG%, 76.2 FT%
Everyone good so far? Now we are about to dive a little deeper. This is where my analytics squad out there might start licking their chops
Christian Koloko Ranks in College Basketball
6th in Blocks per game (3.4) (Chet Holmgren at 3rd with 3.8)
6th in Win Shares per 40 MIN (.332) (Keegan Murray 3rd with .352)
4th in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (7.3)
9th in Defensive Rating (75.1)
6th in Block Percentage (14.9) (Chet Holmgren 7th at 14.8)
96th percentile in Overall Defense
82nd percentile in Post-Up Defense
95th percentile in Overall Offense
93rd percentile Post-Up Offense
76th percentile P&R Roll Man Offense
Now as you can see, Koloko is on a warpath this year, especially when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. When you flip on the tape, you quickly realize just how special of a talent Koloko can be with his defensive versatility. Sure, any big man with his size and length can put up a big number of blocks per game. But it’s what Koloko is doing before the play and all over the court that has me watching his film at 2 A.M. while playing Metallica on repeat. Let’s let the film do the rest of the talking.
The most difficult part of this article was trying to limit the number of impressive sequences that Christian Koloko has on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, the 3.4 blocks per game will grab your attention immediately when you’re looking at the stats. But what impresses me the most is how versatile Koloko is defensively. Above we get a great look at the recognition and timing that Koloko has. Great job of reading this play and then timing it perfectly for the block up top.
If you haven’t been watching college basketball closely over the last couple of years, then you might not understand why these next two plays are so impressive. Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn is a FORCE in the paint. He’s listed at 7’0” 285 pounds and he’s currently averaging 21.4 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. His worst shooting performance so far this year…came against Arizona and Koloko was a big reason why. This first clip shows Cockburn trying to overpower Koloko and get to the basket. Koloko does a great job of maintaining his position and then meets Kofi up top to send a statement.
The best part about this follow up clip is the fact that Cockburn was convinced that the first block was a fluke, so he goes right back at Koloko again. This time he tries to really overpower Koloko with his strength and yet again Koloko goes up and basically tells him “I’m your worst nightmare.”
Shot blocking around the rim is cool, but I can already tell you want to see more. How about we get a look at the footwork of Koloko. Notice the lateral quickness and chase down speed he has on this rejection. Koloko is like a King Cobra, he patiently waits for the opposition to commit to a move and then he attacks with vicious intentions.
This play was just so absurd that I couldn’t help myself but to put it in here. Notice where Koloko is to start out this clip. This is just a great example of awareness and timing. Look at how much ground he covers to come over and make this play. There’s simply no room for the timing to be off on this rejection and his reaction time is spot on.
I can already hear you saying into the computer “can we get some bigger competition?” Fine, how about the game against Michigan in which the junior center dropped 22 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks on 8-of-13 shooting. Again, notice where Koloko starts this play. He’s basically at the top of the screen before he analyzes this play and reacts with purpose. That is a statement block to start the game that tells the opposition “Yes, I’m ready to roll you better buckle up.”
I’m going to be completely honest with all of you because I love you guys. You know the scene in the Dark Knight where the Joker has one of the most terrifying “laugh out loud” sequences while being interrogated by Batman? That’s basically the same laugh I had during this play. Koloko shows good quickness to stay with the smaller guard here and then quickly reacts and doesn’t give up on the play. Then he sends a rejection that if I’m being polite says “you are not allowed inside this establishment.”
This is just an erotic sequence from a 7’1”, 230 pound big man. Koloko reads this pass and pursues the ball in mid-air. Quickly he gives the ball up to a guard and then Air Koloko is ready for takeoff.
I know I have talked plenty about the defensive side of the ball, so I wanted to make sure to show the raw potential that Koloko posseses when it comes to his tools offensively. There’s a serious amount of improvement offensively this year when it comes to the 21-year-old big man. Not only does Koloko have the length (reported 7’4” wingspan) and explosiveness to be a lob threat, he also has some great hands that show on tape in a variety of ways.
There’s also some serious feel to the game that Koloko flashes on tape. There was a number of examples that I could have included here that showcase the impressive footwork that Koloko has but I like this one the best. You can tell there’s no panic when he receives the ball in the paint. He takes his time and makes the defense react before he finds a window to attack. What also impresses me with Koloko is the number of times he uses his frame to create passing opportunities. Koloko works his butt off to seal opponents and once he gets position, defenders freeze up and don’t have a chance to disrupt him.
The NBA Draft season is still a bit young, but this is the popular time of the year in which prospects start to make their move up the ranks. There’s a number of intriguing big men in this upcoming class that will stand out with their own uniqueness. When it comes to Arizona Wildcats junior Christian Koloko, I’m quickly starting to buy as much stock as I can get my hands on. The thing that is so enticing about the 21-year-old is the fact that I believe he’s still got so much upside to his game.
The treasure chest of tools are starting to come out at the right time and NBA teams are going to be fascinated about the rapid growth this year. If Koloko can keep up this type of play, while continuing to show his feel on the offensive side of the ball, I believe there’s a serious chance he starts to make some noise as a first round prospect. NBA teams are always looking for rotational big men that can contribute early while offering serious upside.
That could be just what Christian Koloko is and it wouldn’t surprise me if NBA organizations are starting to feel the same way.