Mohamed Bamba may not be available when the New York Knicks are ready to draft, but the Texas freshman is ready to make an impact in the NBA.
A winner of ten NCAA college basketball championships, John Wooden once said, “It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play.”
NBA GM’s and scouts have become enamored with long, versatile athletes that can shoot, defend and play multiple positions. Ian McMahan of The Guardian writes about the idea of positionless basketball and provides some historical context as to why basketball has evolved into a pace and space game.
“According to basketball-reference.com, in the 1999-00 season, players 7ft or taller combined for just 133 total three-point attempts (Dirk Nowitzski had 116 of those attempts). This season, 15 seven-footers attempted over 100 three-pointers with Lauri Markkanen of the Bulls tossing up over 400 threes (making 145), perhaps perfectly illustrating today’s new age ‘center’.”
Standing at six-foot-eleven with a seven-foot-ten wingspan, Mohamed Bamba has the ultimate body type for today’s rim protector. He may also join an increasing trend of big men showcasing their talents from behind the three-point line.
However, regardless of his ceiling, Bamba has the size and skill to make an immediate impact on the defensive end for any team. Don’t be surprised if you hear your local team’s announcer yelling out “Bamba mentality” the next time he blocks your favorite player’s shot.
Scouts have compared the Harlem-native to players like Rudy Gobert and Nerlens Noel. Both Steve Mills and Scott Perry have taken notice. Now let’s take a dive into the strengths and weaknesses of one of the more unique prospects ever to grace a basketball court.
Sites like draftexpress.com describe Bamba as a fluid athlete who is agile enough to switch pick and rolls. If Bamba is beaten off the dribble, he has the speed, explosiveness, and length to recover and block or alter an opposing player’s shot.
The Stepien’s scouting report highlights Bamba’s understanding of verticality as a reason he is so valuable defensively. And the numbers back this up. Despite his height and size, Bamba averaged just over two fouls per game. Compare this to Kristaps Porzingis who routinely found himself in foul trouble during his rookie season.
Watching video of Bamba, one of the things that stand out is his foot speed from side to side, especially when he is switched onto a guard. Bamba shows good positioning in guarding smaller players with his active hands and a wide stance.
By now, most people know that Bamba had an impressive combine. Per Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports, Bamba ran a 3.04 3/4 court sprint, putting him in some interesting company.
From @KCJHoop, Mo Bamba posted a 3.04 3/4 court sprint
Context: Would have T-1 at Combine, faster than Zhaire Smith & Lonnie Walker
Also faster than:🤭🔥
Russell Westbrook: 3.08
John Wall: 3.14
Terry Rozier: 3.15
Gobert: 3.57 pic.twitter.com/IRifbHXeoO
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) June 5, 2018
Now, this doesn’t mean you want Bamba running the break, but it certainly gives you an idea of why Bamba was ranked top ten in defensive box plus/minus, top 15 in box plus/minus and defensive rating, and top 20 in player efficiency rating.
Offensively there is a reason to believe that Bamba’s jump shot and overall offensive game is trending upward. One of the NBA’s resident shot doctors, Dave Hanlen, has been working tirelessly to improve Bamba’s shot mechanics.
John Gonzalez of The Ringer writes that Hanlen, owner of Pure Sweat Basketball, has created a vigorous schedule for Bamba, to show prospective teams that he is more than just a rim protector.
“Each morning, Bamba shoots 100 3s. Each night, in the second of his two-a-day workouts with Hanlen, he shoots another 150. Soon enough, they’ll increase the evening 3-point attempts to 200, then eventually top out at 250, ratcheting up to 350 per day by the time the draft rolls around.”
If the Knicks have a chance to have two seven footers, that can shoot three-pointers, on the court at the same, there is just no defense for that.
Despite Bamba’s impressive size, his lower body is fairly thin and he will certainly need to put on more muscle and weight at the next level. Weighing in at just 225 pounds, Knicks fans may have flashbacks of Porzingis and his seven-foot-three frame hitting the floor after tearing his ACL this past season.
Additionally, because of his thin lower frame, Bamba can often get pushed out of the post, sometimes by smaller players. On the flip side, players can post him up with little resistance.
Sites like The Stepien also comment on Bamba’s motor and fundamentals. At times, Bamba can be caught ball watching and his approach to boxing out on consistent basis needs to improve. On the offensive end, Bamba doesn’t always use his size to his advantage and needs to set more physical and upright screens.
Like a lot of big men, free-throw shooting is also an area of weakness for Bamba. During his freshmen year, he shot 68 percent from the stripe. Yet again, with improved shooting mechanics and practice, Bamba will not need to be subbed out during crunch time because of poor free-throw shooting.
Finally, although Bamba generally has good hands, he does commit unforced turnovers. Last year, he committed 1.5 turnovers per game and scouts see that he struggles to catch the ball at times. However, pairing Bamba with any NBA point guard will alleviate this issue.
There is something special about Bamba. It can’t be measured in statistics, but the more you read about him, the more you are intrigued and believe that he can reach star potential.
Reid Forgrave for CBS Sports writes that Bamba is the type of player that attends the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference out of curiosity. That is something you just don’t see with your average 20-year-old. Furthermore, Texas head coach Shaka Smart, when given the opportunity, speaks highly of his one-and-done star, and this also gives you reason to believe in the Bamba mystique.
“He is just so mature,” Smart said. “”He has lot of interpersonal skills that most people at that age don’t have. When you’re around his mom, she’s the same way. The first thing Mo will do if you’re with him, he’ll ask how you doing, ask about your family. He has a real way about him where he demonstrates that he cares. He’s got these amazing gifts as a person. But the exciting thing is he can still grow in so many ways, and he’s far from being a finished product.”
Regardless, it’s quite possible that one of the most hyped players in the draft will not be available for the Knicks in the later part of the lottery. My best guess is that Bamba stays in Texas and is drafted by the Dallas Mavericks at five.
But if by some stroke of luck Bamba is available he would be difficult to pass on. The obvious argument against picking Bamba is how he pairs with Porzingis. Typically, modern NBA defenses do not like to have two big men on the floor at the same time because its difficult for those players to close out to three-point shooters. This, in large part, is one of the reasons that Enes Kanter did not play much during the fourth quarter this past season.
However, if the Knicks decided to roll the dice, I would not want to be an opposing guard driving to the hoop at the garden. In the end, I truly believe Bamba is a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. I don’t know if he fits seamlessly with the Knicks but I would not pass on his current talent and potential upside, regardless of who I have on the roster.