NBA Position: Big
General Information: 20 years old, played for Texas. From Harlem, NY.
Measurables: 6’11.25”, 235 lbs, 7’10” wingspan, 9’7.25” standing reach.
2016-17 Season Statistics: 12.9 PPG, 0.5 APG, 10.5 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 3.7 BPG, 1.5 TOPG (30 games played, 30.2 minutes a contest) – 54.1% FG, 68.1% FT, 27.5% 3P
Summary: The Colossal Titan’s value is clear; Mohamed Bamba has top-of-the-2K-slider length, and he knows how to use it. He’s as promising a rim-protector as the NBA could hope to find, and also swallows up rebounds on both ends of the court. But while he’s been hard at work during the pre-draft process to refine his offense, neither his post-play or his deep shot are guaranteed efficiencies at this point. The Kings seem to be prioritizing potential alpha scorers with the No. 2 pick, which makes Bamba an unlikely selection.
Offensive Breakdown: Bamba is more of a project on offense than his eventual draft slot will suggest, and while he’s certainly been hard at work on his game since the Longhorns’ season ended, his performance in Texas indicates his future team will need to handle his development with significant patience.
As the role of a center in the NBA adapts to fit the modern era’s speedy pace, Bamba offers one clear, immediate advantage; when he’s fully engaged, he can go end to end ridiculously quickly. Check out this block against Alabama and watch him fly up the court.
Bamba’s best offensive skill was simply to unfurl his pterodactyl wingspan and take advantage of his gifts. He can move without the ball (82.9% shooting on cuts to the basket, 96th percentile per Synergy), and provides a top-tier lob-target with his reach and verticality. Defenders are really going to have to worry about moving to stop slashing guards when he’s between them and the basket, or he’s just going to be catching alley-oops all game long.
The other obvious advantage of that wing span is his ability on the offensive glass. He doesn’t have to move much if he’s successfully planted himself in the post.
A source told the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson that Bamba ran his three-quarters-court sprint in 3.04 seconds. As Jordan Schultz pointed out, that’s faster than the combine three-quarter sprints of Rudy Golbert (3.57 seconds), John Wall (3.14), James Harden (3.13), or Dywane Wade or Russell Westbrook (3.08). And with the exception of maaayyyybee Golbert, none of those guys can do this.
His damn head’s almost at the rim, and he’s got a whole Isaiah Thomas worth of arm length above it.
But while Bamba’s length and speed advantage are obvious advantage at the NBA level, he needs to prove he can handle the physical battles of the NBA mid- to low-post. He doesn’t have the most consistent touch in the paint; at times, he can pull out a really crafty move... or show really limited touch. Check out these two plays against Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil, a 7’0 big who battled Mo as well as anyone this season.
Bamba shot 38.8% on all post-up plays, and when he was doubled on post-ups, he was almost as likely to score (31.6% shooting) as he was to turn the ball over (28.6%), per Synergy Sports. He’s got to develop a variety of low-post moves, because a stronger Bamba with a skyhook/half-hook would be a cheat code against an opponent’s small-ball lineup. But he was moved around too easily on offense for a guy with his size, and unless he can add a ton of mass to his frame and handle the tough battles against size, a worrying number of NBA bigs will overpower and contain him.
The other obvious development Bamba needs is his shot. Bamba wasn’t the most successful shooter in college, but he clearly knows that needs to change to maximize his offensive potential. At Texas, he was 14 of 51 from three (27.5%), and shot 30% on all half-court jumpers, per Synergy. His wingspan was a limitation on his shot, as he had the tendency to pull his motion far beyond the 90 degree angle and slingshot the ball—that isn’t ideal for consistency or for a quick release.
Bamba has been hard at work tweaking his shot over the summer, and certainly knows he needs to emphasize that fact...more on that later. If he can become a consistent shooter from the corner threes (the Stepein’s nifty shot-chart shows he had few corner attempts), be a threat in the pick-and-pop, and be capable of actually playing in a 5-out offense, he can provide enormous unicorn value. But until the shot materializes as true, it should be considered a raw talent.
Bamba was also not a capable playmaker in college, finishing with just 15 assists (3.6% assist rate). He wasn’t a huge turnover liability considering his usage—2 miscues per 40, a 12.3% turnover rate. But when pressured, his handle certainly wasn’t tight enough, as indicated by his 28.6% turnover rate when he was double-teamed in the post. His offensive game is a major work in progress, and while a huge growth spike might be right around the corner, the player he was at Texas will be some level of a liability on an NBA floor.
Defensive Breakdown: The best snapshot of Bamba’s NBA potential came early in Texas’ NCAA Tournament loss to Nevada. With his impeccable help-defense timing and wingspan, Bamba turned what would have been a clean lay-up in any other college game into a tremendous high-point rejection. He then rushed down the court, got the ball on the block, drilled Nevada’s Caleb Martin into the floor with a spin move, and threw down an almost lazy dunk.
Bamba’s a legendary-level shot blocker, but it isn’t just because of that +10 wingspan advantage. He’s got impeccable timing for blocks, both on ball and on help-defense. With his long strides and great foot-speed, he can cover ground and contest shots that no other center (besides Golbert) can snag. He changes the gravity of the court defensively, both by being a dynamic help defender AND just by scaring the living hell out of any opponent who even dreams of venturing into his post lair.
He isn’t the reactionary, hyper-aware defender that Jaren Jackson Jr. is (JJJ finished with 5.5 blocks per 40 and a 14.3% block rate, compared to Bamba’s 4.9 per 40 and 13.1% rate), but Jackson doesn’t have Bamba’s same level of top-end speed, either. It’s not hyperbole to think that, at his absolute ceiling, he might become the best shot blocker since Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Manute Bol.
The concerns about his defense are two-fold—he’ll need to prove he can shadow guards in space while playing in the modern switch-happy NBA, and he needs to be much, much more physical than he was in college.
Bamba’s tools are the ultimate safety net on defense, and will help him compensate on switches until his experience level catches up with his physical level. He’s certainly not as worrying as a space defender as Marvin Bagley (thanks, in no small part, to the 10 inch difference in their wingspan). Watch how much space he can allow guards to give him and still contain them; NBA guards will be much quicker than this, but in a year, so will Bamba.
That said, he’s not the instinctual defender that Jaren Jackson Jr. is, and stretch-bigs and crafty guards could carve him up in the pick-and-roll. Bamba’s success at guarding the roll-man was in the 33rd percentile, per Synergy, as he’s apt to fixating on the ball-carrier and losing his cover. Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie sprung himself free much too easily on this play.
Finally, Bamba has to show he can body up and handle the force opponents will throw at him. Many collegiate bigs were stronger and more physical than he was, and even with his length advantage, he was in the 50th percentile for defending the post-up. Karl Anthony-Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic, and Deandre Ayton will be able to negate that length advantage when they outweigh him by 20-30 pounds.
But even smaller players will be able to drive on him and create space if he can get knocked off balance and out of the play... like Jordan Caroline did here.
Bamba was an incredibly successful defensive rebounder (9.6 per 40, 28.2% rate), even considering he relied on his ability to pin-point the ball at it’s peak rather than technically boxing guys out. With his inconsistent effort on defense, many small centers and even some forwards were able to get rebounds over him they shouldn’t have gotten. But his production against high-level talent with good collegiate bigs, such as Duke (10 defensive boards), Gonzaga (7), Kansas (7), Michigan (9), West Virginia (10) and Oklahoma (7 at home, 16 on the road), says enough.
Intangibles: Bamba is a very self-aware and articulate young man—much like De’Aaron Fox did last year, Bamba is killing the pre-draft narrative by showing himself as a determined, smart player. While he was appreciative of what he got out of his time at Texas, he made it clear he would have preferred to go straight to the NBA, and believes that would have “taken my game to the next level.” Check out his interview from the combine where he discusses his pre-draft work. He says that he’d taken (at the time) 13 interviews with teams, even those outside his projected range, because he “wanted to get a feel for everyone... you know, the same way they’re interviewing me is the same way I kinda wanted to interview them.” Applause to Mo for taking full advantage of the pre-draft process.
The Ringer did an amazing profile of his 2-a-day workouts with famed shooting trainer Drew Hanlen, and ESPN ran a piece where Bamba claimed his work on his shooting mechanics changed his release speed from “0.93 seconds (at Texas), and now I’m getting it off in 0.72.” He’s very aware of the skill improvements that NBA teams are looking from him, and during this process, the only thing he’s worked harder at than his game has been letting the NBA world know he’s working on his game.
All of this pre-draft work—both on and off the court—supports the notion that Bamba is going to be more fully-engaged at the NBA level. He knows the one-and-done rule held him back, and it’s certainly possible that the fluctuating motor he had at Texas couldn’t be fully revved up while he was playing at a talent level he shouldn’t have needed to play in.
If you believe in Bamba’s work ethic at the next level, he’s one of the highest potential players in this class. But as Hanlen said in the Ringer article...
“Be a fucking bully,” Hanlen implored. “Be an animal.”
Bamba has to prove he can handle the physicality of the NBA, because despite his outlier tools, he didn’t always handle the physicality of the college game well. Where Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley dominated most of the match-ups they were supposed to—an underappreciated strength for young players to have, winning match-ups you’re expected to win—Bamba coasted through parts of his season at Texas.
Can the dude with the never-seen-before wingspan add the needed muscle, work on his three-level scoring game, and handle the tough battles in the NBA paint? Even ignoring his tools, there’s plenty of reason for optimism thanks to his approach leading up to the draft... but based on his on-court play over the last 8 months, he’s not without risk.
Bamba’s motor is a riddle, wrapped in an offensive-ceiling mystery, inside a insane physical-toolkit enigma; but perhaps, in the right NBA situation, there is a key to unlocking the rest of his potential.
Fit with Sacramento: With the Kings big core missing a true full-time rim protector (Cauley-Stein by desire, Skal by size, and Giles by... well, who knows), Bamba seems a great fit alongside whichever of those three emerges as the long-term starter. Plenty of patience will be needed in pick-and-roll and space coverage, but if you believe in his work ethic long term, his value on defense cannot be undersold. He’s just missing the same hulk-smash gene that Cauley-Stein and Skal lack, and if you think the Kings fandom is annoyed enough by Cauley-Stein’s inconsistencies, just wait until Bamba’s biorhythm hits bottom.
With the speedy roster the Kings have already constructed, it would be pretty fun to have a big who can make a key block and get back in time for a transition dunk. But the Kings certainly don’t need any more project bigs trying to figure out how to space the floor. Bamba’s efforts this summer on his three-level game could pan out in the long run, allowing the guards plenty of driving lanes to the basket... but even the most optimistic outcomes should envision his game as a complementary, if heavily mis-matchable, scorer. Bamba has never flashed the offensive consistency or instincts to be considered an potential alpha scorer, and I expect that’s why we haven’t heard Mo Bamba’s name connected with the Kings yet. Deandre Ayton, Luka Dončić, Michael Porter Jr., and Marvin Bagley are the names we keep hearing the Kings mentioned with, and they are all more proven creators than Bamba was at Texas.
Bamba may have the top defensive ceiling in the class, and he’s certainly putting in the work this summer on skills that will unlock his offense game... but he’s also the least proven offensive player of the classes’ top prospects. It’s easy to get excited about Bamba when he comes pared with the phrase “Rudy Golbert with a jumpshot”, but turning into a DPOY candidate WHILE developing high-level shot efficency is the absolute peak of Bamba’s ceiling, and that shouldn’t be considered the most probable outcome given Bamba’s time at Texas.
Some team in the top 6 will go all in on the Bamba motor gamble, but unless the Kings have become absolute masters of the smokescreen, it doesn’t look likely Bamba’s coming to Sacramento.