Notes from The Benchwarmer: Big Thoughts, starting with the defense of Marques Bolden

Before a full slate of basketball action this Saturday and Sunday, check out this week’s Benchwarmer Notes, which center on three of the, um, centers in the ACC. First up, Duke’s Marques Bolden.


Marques Bolden: Trust The Process

You could see the light start to come on late last season with Marques Bolden. In the middle of Duke’s zone, Bolden provided added rim protection behind Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., and some production at the rim (61.5 2P%).

This season, however, what we’re seeing with Bolden — his evolution — is different. It’s also more impressive. After battling injuries for chunks of his career, Bolden is healthy and in great shape. Compared to his freshman season, his ability to move in space and get in a stance have improved leaps and bounds.

A year ago, Duke moved to the zone to avoid ball-screen defense with Bagley and Bolden; earlier this season, Gonzaga put Bolden and Duke in the blender, too. Recently, there’s been a change. His movement is more fluid. Now, against teams like Virginia — a top-five offense that features multiple future NBA wings — Duke feels comfortable switching 1-5. Same with Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s, another dynamic guard with professional basketball on the horizon. (Sit close enough to the court and you can hear Bolden confidently calling out ball screens, too.)

On defense, Bolden has emerged as a force — capable of corralling dribble-drives in space and defending the hoop: 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes (3.3 per 40 in ACC play), which is up from three a season ago. He’s done all of this while getting his foul rate flat — 4.4 committed per 40 minutes.

Watch him stick with another speedy guard — Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs — and block the shot. Bolden even recovers to quickly contest John Mooney’s put-back attempt, too.

According to KenPom, Bolden has blocked 9.8 percent of opponent 2-point field goal attempts while on the floor this season — a top-30 number nationally. He’s one of 21 Division I players currently with a block rate of eight percent, an offensive rebound rate of 10 percent, while shooting above 60 percent (26 dunks) on 2-point attempts (62.7 2P%).


Elijah Thomas: Stays Steady

Hey, speaking of rim-protecting centers in the ACC, Clemson’s Elijah Thomas (13.2 points per game) has been rock solid, too. With inconsistent backcourt play (Shelton Mitchell, specifically), Thomas is a steady force in the middle for Brad Brownell’s play.

For three seasons now, Thomas has been one of the ACC’s top sources of post-up offense. In terms of effective shooting, Thomas hovers just under 66 percent — a top-20 number nationally, up from 56 percent last season. According to Synergy Sports, Thomas is shooting 64.3 percent (1.04 points per possession) on post-ups, good for tops in the ACC.

During ACC play, Thomas has reminded efficient with a high usage rate: 65.3 percent effective shooting on 27 percent usage. Turnovers — 4.1 per 40 minutes — are the one real source of concern. Thomas has even shown the ability to make plays or hit shot in space after ball screens; he’s not just a back-to-the-basket plodder.

Thomas also leads the ACC with a 12.2 percent block rate in conference play.


No Sleep Walking: Wyatt Walker

After three straight losses, it’s clear that NC State’s season is at an interesting juncture, currently. The power outage against Virginia Tech is behind them; so, too, is the track meet UNC ran on Tuesday night. There’s still plenty to play for, though; the next three weeks are critical for Kevin Keatts and the Wolfpack.

Even with a few uneven team performances recently, the Pack has still received good output from Wyatt Walker. While platooning at the 5 with DJ Funderburk, Walker has played 15+ minutes in each ACC game so far with one exception — Pittsburgh, when he was ejected.

For the season, Walker is shooting 60 percent from inside the arc, although that’s down in ACC play (47.1 2P%). Walker pounds the offensive glass, which is big for State. Walker’s offensive rebound rate of 18.4 percent in ACC play (7.5 per 40 minutes) leads the conference; overall, NC State has grabbed 35.3 percent of its own misses in league action, good for third in the ACC.

Also: Over the last three games — Virginia, Virginia Tech and UNC — Walker has eight blocks in 66 minutes of action (4.8 per 40 minutes). NC State has issues, but both Funderburk and Walker have offered nice contributions at the center position.


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