Christian Koloko's role in NBA next season rests on Raptors' vision

Amit Mann and Joshua Howe look at the unique skills Christian Koloko brings to the Raptors and how Toronto may use the rookie. Listen to the full episode discussing training camp battles at each position on our 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed or watch on our YouTube channel.

Video Transcript

JOSHUA HOWE: I really do legitimately think Koloko is lurking.

AMIT MANN: Oh, we're getting to that. Oh, yes, he is.

JOSHUA HOWE: Because--

AMIT MANN: Yeah, I like his tone. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's do it. Do it. Do it. Go, go, go.

JOSHUA HOWE: He's just-- I mean, he's the only guy on the roster who can bring exactly what he brings, right? He's more of a traditional big man.

AMIT MANN: Exactly.

JOSHUA HOWE: And he's the only guy-- I mean--


JOSHUA HOWE: Like, if you go back and look at some of those games last season, and you could imagine sticking Koloko in those Khem minutes--


JOSHUA HOWE: --would you do it? I mean, I think a lot of people would say probably, yeah. I mean--


JOSHUA HOWE: --he helps out with-- and while Birch is-- everyone knows what Birch is at this point, right? The team has a very good idea what Birch is. Birch knows what he is.


JOSHUA HOWE: And he's a very reliable, very solid, good defender. Has that little push shot at the top of the free throw line, can make some plays on the short roll. He's a good player, a solid backup player.

But when you have a guy who'd come in and potentially be, like, a rim protecting lob threat type guy, who can make an impact maybe right away--


JOSHUA HOWE: --maybe he jumps in in the rotation, you know? I don't know if it's necessarily from the get-go, but maybe it is. Maybe he has a great camp, too, and Nurse sees that, and likes that, and that's what they go to. But I mean, it's just going to be tough. It's going to be tough for him to get minutes, I think, right away, and especially as the season goes on, unless there are injuries, of course, which always happen to the Raptors. But--


JOSHUA HOWE: --I mean, yeah, you're going to start with Siakam, then Precious.


JOSHUA HOWE: Then maybe, like, Koloko? Maybe Boucher is at some of those center minutes, you know?

AMIT MANN: Uh-huh.

JOSHUA HOWE: Like, and then Birch is in there somewhere, so--


JOSHUA HOWE: Yeah, I think it's going to be tough.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, man, and that informs the DJ Wilson and Juancho conversation, too. Maybe, just in case something were to go down, maybe you want a little bit more of a veteran presence at the center position because you are thinking about investing in a Christian Koloko. If things aren't going a little up and down, and so forth, maybe you think DJ Wilson might be a better option. Because while he is a forward, like, he's 6' 10", so he can play center. At least on the Toronto Raptors, he can play center. So there is that possibility.

Like, I'm looking forward to seeing Khem Birch return to his form of what we saw early on last season. That's when he showed that, like, he is the same player that he was during that Tampa season, which is why he got that contract from the Toronto Raptors. Like, when it comes to filling gaps, being a tough post defender, he can do it. And he can run the floor a little bit.

He's been working on his 3-point shot, at least according-- I mean, from what we're seeing, he is. And I think he probably knows that that is something that is important. So if he's able to hit those corner 3's, which he wasn't getting as many opportunities-- I think he actually hit his first corner 3 of the season in that 76ers series, which is hysterical.




AMIT MANN: But if he's able to do these things, like, he's got a spot on the Raptors if they want to go that route, or maybe on a different team. But this is why I mentioned, like, right now, there are two spots available right now. But that can change very, very quickly.

And I think the Rico Hines Runs, I'm looking forward to stop-- to not talking about those-- those things anymore. But I found it interesting. I think I've said it once, twice, three, four times that Christian Koloko consistently played with the starters.


AMIT MANN: Always. He always played with the starters. If it wasn't Precious Achiuwa, it was Christian Koloko. And then you got that clip of Fred VanVleet saying, like, man, I haven't been throwing passes like that, in terms of lobs, in a long, long time.

That is what Christian Koloko offers over anyone on the Toronto Raptors. He could be an easy source of halfcourt offense. That pick and roll, I think we all want to see more pick and roll from the Toronto Raptors, from Nick Nurse's halfcourt offense. And I think we're going to see more of that for a few reasons in the upcoming season-- separate conversation. But I think we're going to see more of it.

If he's able to be a lob threat, and he's able to collapse the defense, that's going to open up kickout 3 opportunities from the corners for other teams-- for other players.


AMIT MANN: That's going to instantly improve their halfcourt offense, instantly. It is a dynamic that they just simply haven't had for quite some time. And if he's able to do it, if he's able-- I think he's going to be decent defensively because he's already-- jeez, he's 7' 5", 7' 5" wingspan, people. Like, that means something.

And he was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was very good in Summer League. I think he showed exactly what he's capable of.

And you give him a few weeks during training camp, regular season, and so forth, his role defensively isn't going to necessarily-- to be that anchor big, necessarily. But they want him to be a reliable low man, a rim protector. And with the array of rangy forwards that the Raptors have, the plus defenders that they have, his responsibilities are going to be fairly limited.

But you might say--


AMIT MANN: --but hey, I mean, Christian Koloko, he's a project, right? His offensive game isn't really there. Why would they have him be an offensive rebounder, a lob threat, and that's it in the NBA, when he can go down to the 905, and he could play, and he could learn about his offensive game, and develop, and get some post opportunities, and develop his skills there?

He can do both, just like Dalano Banton did last season. That's the advantages of having the Raptors 905 in Mississauga. There could absolutely be scenarios where he is playing a game with the Raptors on Tuesday, and then 905, he's going down there and he's playing another game.

Dalano Banton on "Hustle Play," he's like, yeah, all I do is play basketball. Every single day, I'm playing basketball. And that was by design. And I think it's going to help him this upcoming season. But Christian Koloko, 21 years old, 22, he can do the exact same thing when the 905 are down the road.

JOSHUA HOWE: Yeah, and he-- it's interesting too because he gives the Raptors just a different defensive look, right? I mean, the Raptors did not play drop very much last season except with Khem Birch, who--


JOSHUA HOWE: --not always the best.

AMIT MANN: Injuries--

JOSHUA HOWE: --defensive schemes played.

AMIT MANN: Injuries were a factor.

JOSHUA HOWE: Injuries were a factor, for sure. But I mean, it's not something that the Raptors went to a lot, for obvious reasons.


JOSHUA HOWE: But yeah, so that was pretty much the only time you saw it. And now, this is more of a legitimate drop defense big man, right? You know, and he-- he can come out a little bit as well, to the level of the screen and stuff like that.


JOSHUA HOWE: But you probably mostly want him protecting the rim, just staying back a little bit there. And he's got such length that he can easily recover. And--

AMIT MANN: That stuff, you try that kind of-- yeah, yeah, you try that kind of stuff in a blowout game, right?


AMIT MANN: You throw Christian Koloko out there and, like, all right, let's see how you do on the perimeter. Like, that's not something you're going to do within your competitive--


AMIT MANN: --competitive NBA games. But you want to see that. Because I think that's the future with him. You want him to be able to guard on the level.