In drafting Mo Bamba, the Orlando Magic gave themselves more questions to answer

There’s a commonality among most high lottery teams – they’re all in search for a franchise-shifter. A prospect that can change the outlook of the future – or at the very least, a guy that will point them in the right direction.

Arguably no team at the top of the lottery needed to nail a prospect more than the Orlando Magic did. Completely flaming out after an 8-4 start, the Magic entered the summer with more questions than answers. A cursory glance at their roster revealed a hodgepodge of one-dimensional vets and intriguing prospects mostly out of their comfort zone. More than anything, the Magic needed to achieve some sense of clarity in this year’s draft.

Equipped with the sixth pick of the draft, the Magic were just outside of the top tier range of prospects. With that being the reality, the Magic opted to go with the best player available on their draft board: Texas center Mohamed Bamba.

The case for Bamba

In a vacuum, it’s easy to see the intrigue with the pick. Bamba was one of the freakiest athletes in the class, a seven-footer that runs the floor well and possesses an almost-impossible 7’10 wingspan. That length and athleticism, combined with solid touch and shot-blocking instincts, made him one of the best two-way prospects in the class.

Bamba became one of only six freshmen ever to average at least 12.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks, with the most recent example being some guy named Anthony Davis. It’s impressive enough to reach those kinds of benchmarks as a freshman; it’s even more impressive once you consider the lack of spacing and guard talent he played with.

If there’s a game that highlighted how scary he could be, and the issues he dealt with around him, peep his stat-line against Kansas in late December: 22 points, 15 rebounds (eight offensive), eight blocks in 34 minutes.

He showed off the entire repertoire. He sprinkled in hooks, cleaned the offensive glass, and slammed home lobs. He blocked shots in post-up situations, chased down some from the weakside, and, well, cleaned the defensive glass as well. Texas lost that game 92-86, and a familiar trend showed itself — they just couldn’t shoot from deep. Texas shot 7-of-25 from deep, while Kansas drilled 17 of their 35 attempts.

There’s a strong argument to be made that his situation hurt his efficiency, and he still managed to shoot 60.3% from two. He was a monster on the offensive glass, averaging 3.2 clean-ups a night while shooting over 68% on put-backs, via Synergy. After being, by the numbers, a poor roll threat in college (20th percentile via Synergy), there should literally be more room for him to flourish in that role as well. With his ability to move his feet and his wide lob radius, he should at the very least be one of the top lob threats in the league.

The swing-skill for Bamba is his jumper. He has a bit of a flat release, but he was able to knock down 16 threes and shoot nearly 70% from the free throw line at Texas. That isn’t great on his own, but Bamba has worked a ton on his jumper since the season ended. There’s a path to him becoming a reliable mid-range shooter with corner three upside. He doesn’t have to be Dirk Nowitzki, but being considered a threat from all three levels would raise his ceiling tremendously.

The case against Bamba

You can’t blame Bamba’s situation for everything. The spacing wasn’t ideal, but a player with his dimensions should convert more than 31% (not a typo) of his shots in pick-and-roll. Part of being a great roll threat is setting an effective screen. To be frank, Bamba didn’t a great job of this at Texas, struggling to find the sweet spot between holding the screen to free the guard, and shifting into roll mode to get himself open. His lack of strength hurt him as a finisher; more physical defenders were able to keep him off his spots and turn “meh” shots into impossible ones.

These issues are, in a vacuum, pretty fixable. Bamba has a frame that lends itself to adding more weight. More reps in pick-and-roll should help him gain more a feel as a screener, and a boost in strength should make him more of a threat in the paint.

The biggest issue is that Orlando isn’t a great situation for him to highlight his strengths. There aren’t many worse point guard situations in the league than Orlando’s right now; Shelvin Mack led the team in assists at 3.9 per game. The depth in this year’s free agent point guard class isn’t great, so it’s hard to see a short or long-term fixture in sight.

Orlando’s frontcourt is also pretty congested. Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and Bismack Biyombo all have varying claims to playing time, and only one (Vucevic) is a plus-shooter. Carving out minutes for Bamba while also surrounding him with enough spacing to flourish is a task Orlando isn’t really equipped to deal with right now. I’m sure Orlando envisions Isaac-Gordon-Bamba as a terrifyingly athletic front court with switchability on defense, but there are serious offensive limitations on that front.

The obvious bright side is the Magic have an entire free agency period ahead of them to try to balance the roster. Turning a big into a plus-shooter wing would go a long way. As for now, it’s hard to get too excited about the Bamba pick. As good as he could be in a vacuum, the situation around him appears bleak. For a team that needed clarity, they seemingly achieved the opposite with their top pick.

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