Christian Koloko: 2022 NBA Draft Scouting Report
A big man with rim protection upside, Koloko fits the traditional mold of a screen-and-role big. Where does that slot him in a draft class deep on high-upside wings?
Since 2016, there has only been one center drafted in the first round when 21 or older on draft night: Mfiondu Kabengele.
Christian Koloko will be 22 on the date of the 2022 NBA Draft.
As we try to look for and notice trends in the draft landscape worth following, one of them has been the delineation point of 20-years-old for many big men worth investing in and developing. The position, heavily dependent on NBA-caliber rim protection, takes a few years to develop for on-court impact. Decision-makers have smartened up to the notion of drafting those players when younger, knowing it will take a couple of seasons to turn into a competent defensive anchor. The timing of a prospect’s next contract, and how long they’ll stay in their prime after acquiring that polish, absolutely factors into the decision of whether to give them a four-year rookie scale contract.
The math isn’t very kind to Koloko. The first time he hits free agency, he’ll be 26, a full three years older than Jabari Smith and a whopping four years older than Jalen Duren. That four-year difference is, in essence, the lifespan of an entire new contract: after four years in the NBA, Duren will be the same age as Koloko is on draft night.
There’s a point in the draft where age isn’t a dealbreaker and indicator. From 2012-2016, most of the big men drafted in the twenties were older than 21: both Plumlee brothers, Festus Ezeli, Fab Melo, Rudy Gobert (he turned 21 on draft day) and Mitch McGary all fit into that category. With the exceptions of Gobert and Mason Plumlee, none have returned anything close to first-round value.
Let’s be perfectly clear: age alone is not a disqualifier for Koloko. It simply raises the bar for how polished he has to be upon entering the league, how monstrous his upside must be and how little margin for error there is in drafting an older big.
Koloko is big: a legit 7’1” with a 7’4” wingspan, really light feet and the ability to finish above the rim. He’s an ideal screen-and-roll big who is more of a touch-and-go screener but quickly opens up to locate the ball. His catch radius is impressive and he can cover ground from the dunker spot.
While the size and athletic tools are clearly above-average, there’s nothing that jumps out as truly elite or irreplacable. The same goes for the rest of his offensive game. He doesn’t reliably stretch the floor. He’s a solid passer and playmaker but not an elite one. His touch around the rim when he can’t get a dunk leaves a little bit to be desired.
All this does is place a heavier burden on his defensive ceiling truly reaching an elite level. We talk a lot about positional scarcity with big men — the idea that getting a perfectly serviceable big for the role they play isn’t that difficult to do, therefore the return on investment for a young guy really isn’t that major. To stand out from the crowd, Koloko needs to be that damn good on defense.
No doubt, there are indicators he is or can be a very good rim protector at the NBA level. On-off metrics, the overall defensive impact he had at Arizona and per-40 block numbers all place him on incredibly high pedestals as a big man prospect. The questions to answer about Koloko is how much growth really is left and will he have an advantage early in his career at reaching an impactful defensive point?
Koloko’s upside is firmly centered around his ability to protect the basket. Scouting skills and seeing how guys fare on a college court is not the most important or difficult part of this process. The challenge comes from projecting if what a player does well on a college floor can be done effectively in the NBA.
Big men like Koloko are somewhat transferrable in a clearer way than other positions. Koloko was played in Drop coverage at Arizona; they simultaneously gives him a leg up over other bigs on being taught Drop skills and directly shows his ability to be successful there.