|Notre Dame (Sr.)
Bonzie Colson doesn’t have the prototypical look or style of a star basketball player, and even if you have watched him many times, he still manages to surprise with his productivity. Many would call him an overachiever, but given that he possesses many of the intangibles needed to succeed, it may be more accurate to say that he is underestimated. Heading into the NBA Draft, the odds appear to be stacked against him to be one of the 60 selections, but Colson is one of those players that you do not want to bet against.
In his junior season (2016-17), Colson was one of the most productive players in the country, shooting 53% from the floor and averaging 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.1 steals per game. As a result, he headed into this past season as the favorite to be the ACC Player of the Year, and as one of the top candidates to be the player of the year nationally. Through the first 14 games of the season, everything was going well – Colson was posting big numbers, and the Irish appeared to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. At practice before the 15th game, Colson broke his left foot, and he would subsequently miss the next 15 games. By the time he returned, the Irish were barely on “the bubble,” and despite a solid showing by both Colson and the team in the final five ACC games, Notre Dame fell short of making the “Big Dance.” Instead, the Irish headed off to the NIT, where the unthinkable happened – Colson broke his left foot again, in exactly the same place (the fifth metatarsal), on March 17 against Penn State.
To repair the latest break, Colson sought the services of Dr. Martin J. O’Malley, a team physician for the Brooklyn Nets, who has performed similar types of foot surgeries on NBA players such as Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons. Like Colson, Durant fractured his fifth metatarsal twice during the 2014-15 season, and the former MVP’s foot has been fine since.
Colson is an undersized 4, who consistently outperforms players who are bigger than him because of his length, heart, and intelligence. He is not a great athlete, lacking straight-line speed and playing mostly below the rim. He is not dynamic off the bounce, nor is he much of a threat in transition. He is, however, an extremely effective rebounder and half-court scorer. He is solidly built and strong, and he has quick feet and sticky hands.
For the past two seasons, Colson has been one of the top rebounders in the country, averaging 10.1 boards per game, with a rebounding percentage of 17.6. He constantly battles for position, using quick footwork and strength to get to where he wants to be. Those skills, plus his long arms and reliable hands, also help him to grab a lot of rebounds out of his area. He also is relentless in terms of tipping and re-tipping the ball to keep it alive, and that often results in either him or one of his teammates scoring on a putback or getting another offensive possession.
In his early days at ND, Colson was mainly an inside scorer, but he steadily expanded his game over time. Even so, he is still most effective around the basket, especially in post-up situations, where he averaged 1.2 points per possession this season (96th percentile). In the low post, he will often go to his patented right-hand turnaround fadeaway – a high-arcing shot that is difficult to block, and one that he knocks down regularly. With deep position, he absorbs contact well and powers his way up for layups. He altered his game so that he doesn’t always set up on the block, often receiving the ball on the perimeter, driving into the post, and then turning to a back-to-the-basket position. This can get his defender on his heels, and gives Colson a lot of options. Among other things, he can go to a hook shot off a drop step, shoot a turnaround fadeaway, or feign a turnaround and step through with an up-and-under.
Colson is not strictly a post-up player. He is very effective scoring on cuts to the basket and off the pick and roll, and he respectively ranked in the 81st and 85th percentile in those categories this past season. He is versatile as a pick-and-roll player, capable of scoring off pops, slips, and rolls, and when popping, he is able to score off the bounce (pump fake and go) as well as catch and shoot. Colson is not a huge threat to put the ball on the floor for more than a few dribbles, but he can straight-line drive and score with different variations of right-hand runners. He will also occasionally pull up off the bounce and use a stepback.
The big difference in Colson’s game from his junior to senior year was the number of outside shots that he took. I believe that he was trying to prove to the NBA that he could shoot, and it appeared at times that he was forcing the issue. As a senior, his percentage of half-court jumpers increased by more than 10 percent, as did the percentage of jumpers that he shot off the dribble. He is reliable with his jumpers inside of 17 feet, especially between the “elbows,” but beyond that, he can struggle. As a junior, when he was more selective with his shots, he made 43% of his 3-pointers. This past season, he made just 29% of his shots beyond the arc.
Taking more outside shots in his injury-shortened senior season did not prevent Colson from frequently going to the free-throw line (5.2 attempts per game), and he made 76% of his free-throw attempts, which was just slightly below his career average. His FG% dropped to 50.3, but he finished with career-high averages for points (19.7), steals (1.7), and blocks (2.2) per game. He also set career high with a PER of 29.9.
Defensively, Colson spent much of his time at ND guarding bigs in the post, and he usually held his own despite a height disadvantage. As it is with rebounding, he relies on his footwork, strength, and long arms, combined with good timing and awareness. That same skill set also helps Colson be an effective weakside defender, frequently blocking shots or breaking up passes. Of course, there are limitations that his size disadvantage will not allow him to overcome, but Colson is generally a solid post defender. However, when matched up with wings on the perimeter, which happened more often as a senior, he typically has trouble. Concerned about being beat off the dribble, he often gives up too much space and/or is slow to close out, so he often gets burned by good shooters. And if he decides to play tight on the ball, players who are adept at going to the basket often burn him as well.
Colson’s latest foot injury is probably not a huge long-term concern. However, he will not be able to do any basketball-related activities until late May at the earliest, so there little chance that he’ll be 100 percent for any pre-draft workouts. Complicating matters is that Colson teeters on the heavy side, and appeared to have gained a bit of weight during his first two-month layoff earlier this year. All in all, I suspect that Colson will not be his at his best until sometime in August.
Regardless of the injury, look for some NBA teams to express interest because Colson does bring a lot to the table. He rebounds, is a versatile and reliable scorer inside 17 feet, flashes potential as a 3-point shooter, and is a solid post defender. He is tough, competitive, and crafty. And he scores high in all of the overall metrics (win shares, plus-minus, PER, and FIC). On the down side, he is not a great athlete, is not dynamic with the ball in his hands, struggles to defend on the perimeter, and perhaps most importantly, he is very undersized for the four spot.
There are not many NBA players of Colson’s size who spend a great deal of time at power forward. Draymond Green is the quintessential undersized four/five. Other similarly sized players who spend a fair amount of time at power forward include Quincy Acy, Jae Crowder, Jared Dudley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Semi Ojeleye, P.J. Tucker, and Justise Winslow. Looking over that list, most of them are either more athletic and/or shoot the 3 better than Colson, but at the same time, I don’t believe that any of them have a superior post-up game.
Despite his foot injuries and his limitations, I still like Colson’s chances to eventually make his way into the NBA. I think that his latest injury will likely prevent him from being drafted. He may have to spend a couple of years in the G-League or in Europe, reshaping his body and developing a consistent outside shot, but ultimately, I believe that he will become a regular contributor in the Association.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports and RealGM, and occasionally from Hoop-Math.com. The photos were courtesy of the Notre Dame Athletic Department. Some of the background information included came from a recent article written by Tom Noie.