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2021-2022 Player Review: Rasir Bolton

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round - Memphis vs. Gonzaga Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In the offseason after Gonzaga’s national championship game, the loss of two senior guards and lottery pick Jalen Suggs appeared to be the biggest hole on a talented roster. With a stable of talented yet young guards and an elite frontcourt, the big need for the team was a clearly competent, capable and experienced scoring guard. Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton fulfilled those needs in spades.

Bolton was slept on by many when he joined Gonzaga. Many speculated whether he would start or come off of the bench. How would he be injected into the offense? Is he a sparkplug off of the bench? Would he spell Andrew Nembhard at the point? Bolton was the offense for a pretty rough Cyclones team, would he expect to have a similar usage rate? All of those questions were answered almost immediately from the first tip.

The senior was a dynamic and integral component of the system. You learned quickly that his shot attempts and style last season were dictated by Iowa State’s need for him to do seemingly everything on the offensive end. When he played for the Zags, he seamlessly gelled into a lethal three-point shooter, fastbreak leader and facilitator for a team that had plenty of options. His versatility was a pressure release valve for Gonzaga whenever the offense seemed sputtering.

Bolton went from high usage, do-it-all lead guard in Ames, Iowa to one of the most efficient players in college basketball. He showed flashes at both Penn State and Iowa State as a capable three-point shooter, but the spike in shooting was still remarkable to behold. A career 34% three-point shooter, Bolton would go on to shoot 46% this season on 139 attempts. It was nearly double his attempts in his high-usage Iowa State game, undoubtedly because he was doubled and the focal point for defenses every game.

The sharpshooting speedster had the style that Mark Few and company would dream up in a lab. His speed made him nearly unstoppable in transition at the rim and he was able to feast in catch-and-shoot scenarios. As analytics advance, the highest quality shots with the best return remain to be at the rim and from three, which were Bolton’s calling cards.

The combo guard led the team in transition baskets (108 made field goals) and 40% of these shot attempts came at the rim. With those attempts, over half of his made baskets at the rim came in these fastbreak looks.

But most importantly, Bolton was an absolute sniper from outside. He would hit the shoulder of the arc as the ball was pushed and bury the attempt. 54% of his fastbreak attempts were three-pointers as he shot a blistering 47.5% from behind the arc in the break.

Bolton had the 20th highest true shooting percentage in all of college basketball this year at 65.6%. His 46% shooting from the perimeter was good for the 18th best rate in the country. He benefited from the Bulldogs’ continuity offense nearly as much as the school did from his arrival. In his two years with the Cyclones, Bolton made just 37 threes off of an assist. This season, 52 of his threes were off of a pass.

Because of the statistical anomalies of Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme, many fans may lose the significance and jaw-dropping figures that Bolton produced as the off guard. 2021-2022 was the lowest usage of his college career yet he was the steady hand for a team that reached number one in the country and the top overall seed in the tournament.

You sensed Bolton’s essentialness in the dire times. When nothing was coming for the Zags in Moraga, he fought to keep the Bulldogs within striking distance as the frontcourt sputtered. He shot above 50% in 21 of 32 games.

And none of this accounts for Bolton’s commendable efforts off the court, offering bags and accouterments to Spokane’s homeless population during the cold winter months. He will go down as one of the best role players in Gonzaga history and a notable member of their impressive transfer track record. If this truly was Fo’ Five’s one last ride, it was an all-timer.