Christian Koloko is already changing the Raptors’ defense

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 31: Christian Koloko #35 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 31: Christian Koloko #35 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images /

When the Toronto Raptors used their second-round selection in the 2022 NBA Draft on Arizona center Christian Koloko, many assumed that they were taking another chance on a long-term prospect rather than looking for a win-now addition. However, Koloko has shattered all expectations with his performance this season.

Koloko has started in three of his first eight games in the NBA, recording 3.6 rebounds per game and blocking eight shots. The 7-1 center with excellent mobility may not have the gaudiest numbers in the world, but a Raptors’ defense that coaxed 10 turnovers out of Trae Young is playing well, partly due to Koloko’s rim protection.

As pointed out by Zach Lowe in his latest column, the Raptors are recording 10.8 steals per game, which would make them the first team since 1998 to top 10.5 in a season. Koloko and some rock-solid interior play have aided that turnover generation.

When Koloko is on the floor, the Raptors are allowing 97 points per 100 possessions. For the sake of comparison, the Bucks have the best such rating of any team in the league at 103 points per 100 possessions. Koloko better not see one minute of time with Raptors 905 after this start.

Christian Koloko is impacting the Toronto Raptors’ defense.

Unlike last year, Raptors defenders can be even more aggressive on the perimeter knowing that they have a 7-foot rim protector waiting behind them to clean up the mess. If this is what he’s doing as a rookie, imagine what will happen when he gets more comfortable in the league.

Not only has Koloko played a part in making Toronto the best defensive rebounding team in the league just one year removed from being one of the worst, but his mobility is helping them be such a dominant transition offense that the gap between them and the No. 2 team is as wide as the distance between the second and 27th-ranked team.

Even though he slipped to the second round due to concerns about his offense, the Raptors knew that they have the scorers to make up for the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. If he can just rebound and defend all year long, he’ll keep earning minutes.

Koloko is far from a finished product, but he has been so impressive on defense early in his career that he has wiggled into the starting lineup semi-regularly for a team with playoff aspirations. Toronto will collectively have quite a fun time tracking his progress.

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