A deep dive into Christian Koloko’s impact on the Raptors

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - MARCH 24: Christian Koloko #35 of the Arizona Wildcats (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - MARCH 24: Christian Koloko #35 of the Arizona Wildcats (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors gave the Philadelphia 76ers a valiant effort in the first round of the playoffs, but there were a few notable holes in the roster that prevented them from taking the series longer than six games. This list starts with the team’s lack of a natural center.

The defensive ability of the Raptors roster was never in doubt, but against a player as physically dominant as Joel Embiid, setting wings and forwards against him is simply too tall a task.

OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, and the rest of the team fought incredibly, but giving up as many inches and pounds as they did was an advantage too steep to overcome. That’s why Raptors GM Bobby Webster set a mission for himself this summer; find the team a big man.

The first chapter of this NBA offseason is the draft. Trading away the team’s first-round pick was a sneaky savvy move from Toronto’s front office, but it meant that on draft night, they were looking at second-round talent exclusively. That’s where Christian Koloko, a tremendous shot-blocker from Arizona, comes into the picture.


How will Christian Koloko impact the Toronto Raptors?

The Raptors’ track record of finding value outside of the first round is perhaps the most celebrated in the league. So while draft night didn’t warrant the same fever fandom it did last summer, Raptors fans knew their team better than to ignore their second-round selection.

If it was a big man they wanted, the late-first/early-second round of this year’s draft had a sizeable clot of big-man talent. Names like Koloko, Auburn’s Walker Kessler, and France’s Ismael Kamagate were thrown around before ultimately landing on the former Wildcat.

Born in Pascal Siakam’s home country of Cameroon, Koloko is a 7-1 shot-blocker who averaged 2.8 blocks a game his junior year thanks to his 7-6 wingspan. Koloko earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year recognition.

The Raptors had been circling him as early as 2017. This is due in no small part to Ujiri’s influence within the African basketball community. This is something Raptors fans have come to expect.


Koloko’s size and athleticism are his selling points as a prospect. A man as big as he is provides the Raptors with that interior defensive presence they so severely lacked this past season, but his frame allows him to keep his quickness.

The 2021-22 Raptors boasted one of the more complicated defensive schemes in the league, as it was a system predicated around strong-side help, scrambling rotations, and a switch-first mentality. This was only possible because of the team’s length.

Because of this, the team has high hopes that Koloko will eventually be able to plug the Raptor’s defensive holes in the middle and also fit into their broader defensive scheme.

Offensively, Koloko has more to learn. Mostly a rim-runner in college, Koloko’s size made it easy to ram home dunks on the roll and off of alley-oop passes. Rather than simply being a bruiser, Koloko has shown flashes of more extensive offensive talent.

He doesn’t do much in the way of creating for himself or others, but Koloko has shown a soft touch around the basket. He has a crisp turnaround jump-hook that works like a charm off of put-backs and in the post.

His draft night comparisons to Clint Capela were valid. Personally, I liken Koloko to a player Raptors fans are all too familiar with. Think of an early career Serge Ibaka, before he stretched out his shooting range to three-point land. When he was all athleticism, dunks, and jump hooks.

The jumper hasn’t made it out to 3-point range yet, but Koloko could add a nice mid-range shot off the catch. The touch at the rim, the strides in the mid-range, and the fact that he shoots 74% from the free-throw line all point in the direction of greater shooting displays to come.

Summer League will be telling to see how Christian Koloko will adjust to NBA competition, as playing with NBA-level guards is bound to help him get easy looks around the basket.

With forwards Thaddeus Young and Chris Boucher entering unrestricted free agency, and five-man Khem Birch always at risk for injury, Koloko is likely to receive some quality bench minutes this year, if he can prove himself.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Raptors chose to spend their money in free agency. With the team’s core five being pretty much set (unless things get crazy), we can expect signings this summer to affect the bench. A backup point guard to ease the load of Fred VanVleet or a deadeye shooter to space the floor for the stars should be targeted.

Because of a rim-running big’s relationship with his playmaker, who the Raptors decide to empower with the backup point guard duties will be important in Koloko’s rookie year. Whether it’s trusting Malachi Flynn with more consistent minutes, empowering Scottie Barnes in a more on-ball role, or signing someone new, this will be a stirring subplot this summer.

The Raptors drafting Koloko may not have broken the internet, but this is a gifted young player who both fits the team’s needs and identity. The offseason has started, and everything is going according to plan.

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