When the Wizards traded up for Bilal Coulibaly in the 2023 NBA Draft, there were mixed reactions. Mostly because the Wizards had new front office leadership that fans were getting to know and Coulibaly wasn’t necessarily the expected pick. However, Wizards general manager Will Dawkins was sold on Coulibaly’s upside and ability to develop over the long-term.
“With him [Coulibaly], we don’t feel like it’s a risk,” Dawkins said. “We feel like it’s a player that can come in and play, and just continue to chip away, continue to get better. But his future’s much brighter than his present.”
Now that Summer League and two preseason games are under his belt, how is Coulibaly measuring up? He has actually been a refreshing addition, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Dawkins acknowledged that his defense would come along before his offense but for a team that desperately needed defensive talent, he is immediately contributing.
In his preseason debut, Coulibaly landed in the starting lineup, finishing with 5 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and a block. He followed that up against the Charlotte Hornets with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals, and a block.
“There’s a comfortability with that,” Coach Wes Unseld, Jr. said in reference to Coulibaly’s defense. “I think like I said last night, he’s leaning into that side of the ball as part of his identity. He knows how to guard at an elite level. There’s minutes, so let the offense come and stay aggressive, which you know, he showed at times playing in the open floor, playing downhill. But, you know, do your work on the defensive end and let that generate easy offense for you.”
Coulibaly’s poise and maturity is also a noticeable part of his game and overall demeanor.
“There’s a…and I’ve used this term, youthful maturity about him,” Unseld, Jr. continued. And I don’t know if that’s just because he’s played professionally at young age. He’s been around a little bit but there’s a level of composure and poise, you know, which are unique, I think, for teenagers. You know, on this stage, it’s, it’s really encouraging.”