Everything you ever wanted to know about Christian Koloko, and then some

A film study with and on Christian Koloko.

The route to impact at the NBA level is usually a multi-year process that slowly climbs, stagnates, climbs, then starts to descend. A career in basketball, as it were. Some rookies, however, start impacting things in a positive fashion right away. Christian Koloko just so happens to be one of those young guns who continues to win minutes and make plays. Louis Zatzman and I did a deep dive on both sides of his game. For Louis, it’s the offense. For myself, the defense. Let’s get into it. 

I got to sit down with Christian and watch and discuss defensive film with him, so stay tuned for that. I also re-watched every pick n’ roll possession he’s defended to prepare for this, so stay tuned for that as well. 

The long and short of it is that Koloko moves well for a big man, is really tall, and has really long arms. The collection of those things is almost guaranteed to lead to some positive outcomes on defense, and it’s been all that and more because he’s really talented and hard working. When he’s on the floor teams are shooting much worse than they do when he’s off of it, the Raptors force more turnovers, and they flat out allow a lot fewer points. 

His instincts as a help defender have been elite, as he’s repeatedly shown a willingness to throw himself at anyone who approaches the Raptors rim. He fouls a lot, but that’s part and parcel of any young big man figuring out how to guard at the NBA level. You sort out the timing and physicality by contesting and crashing around. For reference, the rookie year foul-percentage of Rudy Gobert, Jaren Jackson Jr., Rob Williams and Koloko was: 5.8%, 5.9%, 5.9%, and 6.2%. This isn’t to say Koloko is going to be a DPOY finalist anytime soon, just that the fouls are kind of whatever. 

Of his 33 blocks on the season, 22 have come in help-side and 11 have come as an on-ball defender or as part of the primary action. He’s getting to a lot of shots and has one of the highest block-percentages among all big men in the league. He can punctuate a defensive possession, and even though the Raptors like to flurry all over the court, Koloko is capable of covering ground from the 3-point line to the basket. He’s blown expectations out of the water, quite frankly. 

Let’s take a break to watch some film with Christian:

Samson: Just for background for everyone, what is your history with coverages? From Sierra Canyon to Arizona. 

Christian: Sierra Canyon? I don't even remember what I did in high school, to be honest. But, I know at Arizona I played under 2 different coaches, and we did a lot of different things defensively. We did jumping the ball screens, we did high drop, we did drop, switching, so I think we did a lot of different coverages. And last year it was high or deep drop most of the time, and some switching when I was playing the 4. 

Samson: Where do you feel most comfortable?

Christian: I don't really know. I feel kinda comfortable doing all of it. This year, I think it was a little bit different because the NBA style of play is different. But this year with the Toronto Raptors we're running a high drop, so I'm getting more comfortable as the games go along. 

Christian: In that game especially, I know it was a big ‘no roller behind’ game because Trae Young and Clint Capela, they're really good in the pick n roll connection. So, I knew most of the time, when Trae's gonna drive like that he's going to try and look for Capela first, and then he's going to look for his shot. So, I was waiting for the last moment to see what decision he made and I saw he was going for the floater, and that's when I went for the ball. 

Samson: You had both Juancho and Malachi come over to tag in this one, how much does having a tag in these actions help?

Christian: Yeah. It definitely makes you more comfortable when you have the tag. You can be more aggressive in the pick n' roll because when there's no tag it’s like, man, it's Trae and Clint, and Clint can really jump so even if you play good defense, sometimes Trae just throws the ball up and he's gonna get it sometimes. And when you have someone behind you that has your back it's more helpful. 

Samson: You step up and they move off the action obviously, but I just liked your motion in this one. 

Christian: Yeah. My role afterwards is just to get back to my man first, depending on who I'm guarding. Here with Claxton, he's a non-shooter, so for me it's just helping as much as I can, being that rim presence. Make the other team fear driving to the basket. If I'm guarding somebody who can shoot? It's gonna be a little different, I'm gonna be a little more up and maybe more aware of my help. But here, it's a non-shooting big so I just gotta make sure that somebody will help me if I go for a blocked shot, or to contest, so somebody will track my man while I get the rebound. 

Samson: You're navigating a lot here as a big man and still coming out on top. Switch the pick n’ roll, switch the DHO, all of it on the perimeter. How hard is that?

Christian: It's difficult because NBA players are really good. It's not easy. But, that's why I'm here. I feel like I'm capable of doing that, I feel like I can do an even better job. So, I'm going to continue to learn and improve at that aspect. 

Samson: Your numbers in switches are really great, would you want to do more of that? 

Christian: I don't know about that. I just do whatever the team needs from me. If I need to switch, I'll switch. I think I've done enough switching, for me, on those dribble hand-offs, sometimes on ball screens. But, you know, it just depends on the game plan. We got a different game plan for every game, so it depends. 

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