Mo Bamba… Some analysts think that he has the highest ceiling of any big man in the draft. However, many fear he will be a bust. I agree with the former, and completely disagree with the latter.
Early on in my scouting process I kept hearing people talking about Mo Bamba. Initially I only saw pictures or quick videos people posted online of him and I thought he was just another toothpick standing around blocking shots. I went into my first viewing of him fully prepared to hate and came out as one of his biggest cheerleaders.
Besides the obvious physical gifts there was more to him than there usually is to guys that are labeled as “shot blockers.” He moved better, he looked comfortable with the ball in his hands, and he wasn’t afraid to throw up a jump shot. By no means is he a finished product, but there is a lot to work with there.
Strengths – Defensive ability
When you look at Mo Bamba you can’t help but notice his arms. With a 7’9″ wingspan and 9’6″ standing reach, he’s covering a lot of area when he has his arms up. Because of this Mo not only blocks a lot of shots, but also deters the opponent from coming into the paint to begin with. It is because of this that people compare him to Rudy Gobert, though that comparison undermines a lot of what he does on both ends.
When an offensive player posts him up, he does get pushed around a bit because of his frame. However, he has good recovery time and a quick second hop so even when he’s bumped off, he can often get back to block the shot. Similarly, contrary to what some believe, he is quick enough to keep up with perimeter guys as well. The problem currently is that he is not comfortable in these situations. With that said, even those guys who are much quicker than him have to worry about his enormous wingspan. Getting a step on him isn’t enough, you need 3.
He’s going to be put in these situations often at the next level and I believe the repetition will help him become more comfortable over time. He does bite on a lot of fakes in these situations (unlike when he’s guarding other bigs) but with some coaching this should go away as well. When you can almost touch the rim flat-footed, there is no reason to leave your feet until the ball is in the air.
Strengths – Touch Around the rim
One thing that initially disappointed me about Bamba was that his inside game involves a lot of finesse. He has a jump hook, a scoop shot, and a plethora of flip shots that he’ll use when guarded by a guy with more girth. While I’d like him to get stronger, this touch around the rim only adds another layer to what his game will eventually be. Usually, defensive big men hold the basketball like it has spikes on it but Mo is very comfortable with the ball in his hands. He’ll put the ball on the ground for straight line drives and actually has a little bit of wiggle as well. His hands are huge so he’s great at receiving the ball on the move, whether that’s via a lob or a crisp bounce pass.
Opportunities for growth – Weight/Physicality
This is going to be the biggest key for Mo. As mentioned he gets pushed around by bigger guys and he doesn’t/can’t use his body against guys on the offensive end. I’d like to see him add about 20-25 pounds to fully reach his potential. He currently does all of the things he’s supposed to do as far as boxing out, and trying to post up. However, he is not moving many people off the block due to a lack of weight and poor use of leverage. Even still he pulls down a lot of boards because of his length and that won’t change much at the next level. If he adds weight, it will only improve. I am optimistic about his ability to add weight because he has broad shoulders. He’s apparently fighting an uphill battle due to his metabolism but he’s working with a dietitian so we’ll wait to see if he’s made any progress in this area by draft day.
Opportunities for growth- Shooting
Another area of growth for Bamba is his shooting. This year he shot about 28% from 3 on about 2 attempts per game. What I noticed about his form was that he likely never adjusted his shot as his body continued to grow and he had a lot of arm in his shot. It looked like a catapult. He is currently in the lab with the man who gave Embiid a jumpshot and improved Jayson Tatum’s last year. He has changed his mechanics, and though I’m usually not a fan of changed mechanics, Hanlen has a track record. If Mo can put together any semblance of a consistent jump shot he becomes a scary prospect to deal with on both ends of the court.
Bust Potential: I mentioned earlier that I don’t think Bamba will be a bust and I stand by it. At his worst he is going to have a Gobert-like impact on the game at the defensive end. Some will say that centers like Gobert are going extinct but there is a reason the Jazz were successful these past two years and it wasn’t just Gordon Hayward or Donovan Mitchell. People want to talk about these Jazz teams being run out of the playoffs by the Warriors and Rockets (the best teams in the league) the past two years. However, in those 8 losses, they lost 6 of them by less than 15 points when they only had one real scoring threat vs teams with 3. Offense is great but when you can’t match your opponent on offense, you make up the difference on D.
Additionally, watching a lot of Mo Bamba’s interviews it’s clear the kid wants to be great. You can say what you want but this is not true of all players. It’s something I saw in both Giannis and Gobert when I called them sleepers in 2013. You can be raw and just happy to be there, or raw and hungry. Mo is hungry.
I’ll accept my bias but I believe he’d be a great fit for the Mavs. If we’re looking to compete next year we need to bring in a 4 and a 5 in the offseason. There are plenty more available power forwards than Centers on the free agent market, and getting a guy like Bamba means you can put a guy like Jabari Parker at the 4 and not worry about his ability to defend. One of the reasons the Jazz are so tough defensively is because their perimeter guys can be aggressive knowing that Gobert is behind them. The same could be said of the team that adds Bamba but I also believe that Bamba’s agility can make him better than Rudy in this regard.
Unless he adds the 20 pounds this summer, next year may be rough for him. He’ll probably be wildly inconsistent (fouling out or being neutralized by more experienced bigs) but if he continues to develop throughout the year we’ll live with the long term benefits.