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The untapped potential of Raptors’ Christian Koloko

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Amit Mann is joined by NBA Draft analyst Rafael Barlowe to look at the strengths and weaknesses of Christian Koloko, how he fits with the Toronto Raptors and why the 22-year-old center already has way more to his game than what he's shown so far. Full podcast that also touches on Ron Harper Jr. is available on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed and on our Yahoo Sports Canada YouTube channel

Video Transcript

RAFAEL BARLOWE: Well, one, here has energy. And one of the best shot blockers in this class, athletic. And I like how he's trending in the right direction. So if you look at his stats from his freshman to sophomore to junior year, you see improvements. Made the big jump this year.

Ironically, I was in Los Angeles last summer. And I went to a gym to watch some friends play pickleball. And when I go into the gym, I see this tall, skinny guy blocking shots from the floor. And I'm like, dang, who is he? That dude is good.

So I looked. And I thought it was him. But then I noticed, OK, he has on Arizona shorts, Arizona backpack. OK, that's Christian Koloko. And kind of looked at the stats and was just like, eh, maybe this is someone I'll keep an eye out on. The stats weren't impressive from his sophomore year.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

RAFAEL BARLOWE: And then he just made a big, big jump this year. So I was at the Combine. And I had a chance to interview him. And I had mentioned that, hey, I saw you playing this summer. Based off of what I saw there, I should have known that you were due to make a big jump.

And then I was asking him about his shooting, which is where I felt like at one point he was kind of underrated. And at the Combine, I remember tweeting the photo from the-- I can't think of the name of it. Like the screen, the Jumbotron.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, yeah.

RAFAEL BARLOWE: And at the Combine, they had all the stats that guys did. And it was only accessible to the people that were there. And I took a picture of it. And he made like 16 out of 25 from his 3-point starting drill.

AMIT MANN: Mm-hmm.

RAFAEL BARLOWE: And I remember when I tweeted it, I kept getting all these comments, like is that an error? And I was like, no. And we're talking about a guy that didn't make a single 3-pointer in his college career. And he I think he only made 12-- it was either 12 jump shots-- no, I want to say he made-- I think he made like 18 jump shots total in his three years at Arizona. But he made 12 of them this year.

And so when I talked to him, I was asking him about the shooting. And he said, yeah, he's been working on it. He just wasn't really allowed to shoot at Arizona. I guess they kind of put him in a box as, whatever he probably came into the program with, they probably just, hey, stick to running this floor, blocking shots.

AMIT MANN: Yeah.

RAFAEL BARLOWE: Get your butt on this paint.

[LAUGHTER]

And he had told me that he's been working on shooting maybe 1,000 shots a day from pick and pops to 3-pointers to just shots at the elbow. So he told me he does two-a-days. And it makes sense after the way he shot the ball. So still don't have to say this, if he ends up being a rim-protecting, vertical lob threat that can switch out on space and knock down open shots, you've definitely got a steal at 33.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, I mean, that's not even a starter that could potentially be someone who's a lot more than that. Because right now, I look at the Raptors, and they've got a pretty solidified top six or so. And I thought Koloko, like, OK, you take a chance on him. They do need some level of size because they got Khem Birch as their backup center. And that's good. But for certain matchups, just as we saw against Joel Embiid, you just need a bit more size, just someone.

And he said himself-- I'm talking about Koloko-- I just got off his media availability. First off, very bright young man. He's clearly raised right, very humble, just wants to work hard. And what you're talking about, his work ethic, shooting 1,000 3's a day, I get it. I see it.

But he said that moving the way I do at my size, I think it's really rare. And that perfectly encapsulates why the Raptors wanted him. You got a 7-footer with a 7-foot wingspan who's 230 pounds right now, who can guard on the perimeter, who can D-up forward, who believes himself that he can guard one to five at some point in his NBA career.

But then on the other side you think Nick Nurse. And he's like, we're going to use this kid in drop coverage. We're going to use him in zones, because he just needs to be vertical. The Raptors have so many good defensive players already on the perimeter that it allows them to be even more aggressive on the perimeter and just funnel them to him.

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