Mo Bamba runs out of time to carve out a niche with Orlando Magic

When Mo Bamba was selected as the sixth pick in the 2018 Draft by the Orlando Magic, many saw him as a raw but super talented great man who could one day turn into something special. His player comparisons ranged from Nerlens Noel to Rudy Gobert.

Four years later, the verdict has still fallen on the height of the ceiling for Bamba. The only thing he needed was a little more freedom and opportunity. It was never a matter for the more controlling Steve Clifford.

This season with a new coach and new direction for the franchise, Bamba has secured some of that freedom. He’s averaging a career-high 10.2 points per game and 8.5 rebounds.

Although its development has been constant, it becomes clear that Orlando may not be the best place to continue to grow. The future of the team, especially at the center, is hard to see for Bamba despite the team’s current willingness to integrate him.

Especially given his upcoming contract status, it would make sense for the Magic to assess the league’s interest in Bamba and see what they could get in return.

Mo Bamba has had a career season with more opportunities. But the realities of his contract and the Orlando Magic roster will open the door to a change.

Bamba has shown enough potential this season to justify the interest of other teams. Anytime you have a 7-foot center that can shoot the tri-point and paint inside, teams will be interested. Not to mention his physical tools with a wingspan of 7 feet 10 inches.

Defensively, he’s a great shot blocker and an above average weak side defender. This season in particular, Bamba has made significant improvements in all areas of his game.

However, with Bamba’s injury history, the limits of his development, his restricted free agency impending and his fit on this list, Orlando should consider moving Bamba before the trade deadline.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that coach Jamahl Mosley prefers to use Wendell Carter at 5 when possible rather than Mo Bamba. It was Carter, after all, who got the call to defend Joel Embiid in Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers. And the Magic renewed Carter’s contract while still allowing Bamba to hit a restricted free agency this offseason.

While the two have shared the pitch a lot this year, there will inevitably be changes once the team is in better health, especially after Jonathan Isaac returns.

And there are already plenty of signs that their separation would be good for the team – Orlando has a net rating of -6.3 with only an offensive rating of 102.0 when the two share the field this season.

Carter gives the Magic more versatility on the offensive end of the court. With Isaac’s imminent return, Bamba could see even fewer minutes as Carter slips down to the 5.

Bamba started the season averaging over 29 minutes per game for the first 10 games. However, his playing time was reduced as the team deepened the season. In the last 10 games, Bamba has averaged around 24 minutes per game.

Matches are a factor in the number of minutes Bamba receives each night. It’s no coincidence that earlier this season, Mo Bamba played 34 minutes against the 76ers and Joel Embiid, and 33 minutes against Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

On Wednesday night, in a rematch against Embiid, Bamba played 28 minutes and likely would have received more had it not been for fouls. It was even with Bamba mainly defending Tobias Harris.

The point is, Mosley gives Bamba more minutes when playing against elite crosses. There aren’t enough quality crosses in the league today for Bamba to consistently win that kind of playing time. And Carter still gets the call from many of them as the main defenseman.

Bamba has remained relatively healthy this season which has not been the case in the past. So far, he’s played 30 of 39 games for the Magic and many of those nine missed games were the result of Bamba’s placement in COVID health and safety protocols.

This is a change from his first three seasons in the league where he only played 155 of 227 games. Fortunately, most of the injuries that have cost him time are quite minor. Who knows what the future holds for him, but his sustainability could continue to be an issue for Bamba throughout his career.

In both cases, this is the first real playing time that Bamba has achieved in his career. And it is clear that he is still catching up.

Bamba is far from a finished product, and although he has solidified his place as one of the best shot blockers in the league, he is far from reaching his attacking potential. Bamba is a solid three-point shooter, which is rare for a player his size. This season, Bamba shoots 34% at 3 points.

His offensive play inside the 3-point line is where he has the most opportunities to improve. According to basketball-reference.com, Bamba only shoots 32% total on jump shots and 39% on hook shots.

The hook move would be a good move for Bamba if it were more effective. By comparison, Karl-Anthony Towns is shooting 64% this season on hooks, and Embiid is shooting 63% on the same shot. Last year’s MVP Nikola Jokic is also shooting 61% efficiency on hook shots this year.

Bamba could make huge improvements as he develops his weak post-match. But he, like Carter, apparently avoided going to the station. It was not a strong place for him.

Unfortunately for Bamba, Orlando may not be the best place to continue to grow. The combination of a lack of minutes and consistent touches will hamper his ability to develop as quickly as he could elsewhere.

The five players to start in Orlando when everyone is healthy consist of the five players with under-five in the league. With the team so young, Bamba’s development won’t be the franchise’s top priority. Especially once the team has to put an amount of money into its services.

Many teams would jump at the chance to get their hands on a player with Bamba’s skill level if he was available. He would be effective in a fast attack as well as a slower team style.

Ultimately, if Orlando is to move Bamba, he will likely go to a young and up-and-coming side that has time to wait for Bamba’s future developments, as opposed to a side that is trying to win now.

Teams such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets or New Orleans Pelicans would suit the young center well. Bamba being in the final year of his contract, any potential suitor should be ready to invest in him fairly immediately, even with the protections of restricted free agency.

The Magic just has to decide before the trade deadline if they want Bamba to be part of their plans. If not, they should seek to induce him to recover some form of compensation, even if not for equal value.

A veteran winger or a top player could help this team take a new step forward in their progress.

The Magic and Mosley would benefit greatly from acquiring a talented vocal leader to help develop the young talent on this team. It doesn’t make sense to seek young players or more draft picks with Orlando’s roster right now.

They need to continue to build their team for the long haul and that will require the addition of a veteran presence. Despite their current record, Mosley is building something special in Orlando. Swapping Bamba for a few key pieces from the list could be the recipe for success down the road.

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