It's unfortunate that the treasure-hunting roller coaster of
business in the NBA often leaves player development in the
A rumor, a ping-pong ball or a phone call can accelerate a
franchise's competitive life cycle out of nowhere. With just about
every major leap, however, comes a squeeze, where young players
suddenly find their professional lives dramatically altered.
Every fan has a "What if?" story of a player who felt close to
figuring things out, but simply ran out of time as the next big
move packed him up and sent him away. Maybe it's the Los Angeles
Lakers and Brandon Ingram, or the Lakers and Lonzo Ball, or the
Lakers and Josh Hart, or — you get it. My personal wistful regret
is the Minnesota Timberwolves dealing specifically Kris Dunn (along
with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, of course) in the 2017 trade
that returned Jimmy Butler. Even if the trades and draft picks made
sense, we still wish we could have just a small peek at the
It feels like Mo Bamba is about to fall into that category. The
2018 No. 5 pick struggled to find his place in the NBA while wading
through myriad injuries over his first few years. Then, this past
season, he finally started to lay down a pattern of production with
his flashes of potential, even as the Orlando Magic languished at
the bottom of the league.
The problem: Orlando has the No. 1 pick in a 2022 NBA Draft with three game-changing bigs ranking
among the consensus top prospects. Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Franz
Wagner and *insert top pick* cannot all share a starting frontcourt
now, in three years or in 10 years. Someone is probably getting
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Bamba appears to
be on the outside looking in. And regretfully, it's understandable.
Wagner had a phenomenal All-Rookie First Team
season and Carter appears fully entrenched as a cornerstone big man. Still,
Bamba truly took a leap in his own right, and it's worth
reestablishing what makes him such a promising young player.
Bamba appeared in a career-high 71 games and averaged a
career-high 25.7 minutes per game in 2021-22. He started 69 of
those contests after earning six combined starts across his first
three seasons. The availability alone is a major positive; just
look at all of the injuries Bamba battled
through four years. With the increase in playing time came
corresponding career highs in practically every major box-score
category. But Bamba's most notable leap by far came from his
deadeye perimeter shooting.
Bamba canned 38.1% of his 4.0 three-pointers per game, including
a scorching 44.6% clip after the All-Star break. All of the
sustainability indicators are there; Bamba hit 78.1% of his
free-throws, improved from the arc as the year went on and proved
himself on high volume.
According to Synergy, over 26.6% of Bamba's offensive plays last
year were spot-ups. He also demonstrated comfort on pick-and-pop
actions, where he cashed in plenty of open threes.
Defenses dared Bamba to make them pay because he hadn't yet in
his career, and the 24-year-old fired away. Opponents will likely
pay more attention to him next season, but if you were to pair
Bamba with scoring guards who can create advantages with his
screens, he'll find open shots.
Bamba is a better screener than he gets credit for. The
screen-assist stats from this season (1.7 per game) won't show it
because Carter was the chief impediment, but Bamba averaged 3.0
screen assists per game in 2020-21 despite playing just 15.8
minutes per game. He's not a brick wall, but Bamba has greatly
improved his build and strength since entering the league.
As a paint presence, Bamba is essentially a pure finisher at
this stage. He made 70.4% of his shots in the restricted area,
which is fine, but he doesn't create chances on his own and hasn't
shown nearly enough as a passer or connector.
Then, you flip to the defensive end and you see why Bamba was so
high-regarded before the 2018 draft. He contested over 46.7% of
opposing shots at the rim this season, ranking in the 96th
percentile at his position, according to The BBall Index. A
whopping 29.5% of those contests resulted in blocks (93rd
percentile), and opponents shot over 6% worse than expected at the
rim when facing him (92nd percentile). Questions still remain about
how he guards on the perimeter and how he handles 1-on-1 drives and
post-ups. The bottom line is that few intimidate at the rim more
Despite the dissonance on paper, Bamba and Carter fared pretty
well as a tandem. Together, they anchored Orlando to the
13th-ranked defense during the regular season. The five-man lineup
of Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Wagner, Carter and Bamba was a
plus-5.8 per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Not
bad for a lineup that played a lot together on a 22-win squad.
The final pitch for Bamba is that he is an efficient low-usage
scorer who you can trust to boost teammates as a screener and cash
in on his perimeter and lob chances. He's not quite an "anchor" yet
on defense, but he is a pillar. Do teams buy that he can grow as a
switching player, and do they buy that he can stay on the floor
enough to stack his bright moments into a foundation? Those are the
major question marks.
Fortunately, several NBA teams should take interest in a 7-foot
center with valuable traits and an untapped ceiling. Bamba is a
restricted free agent, which means a pursuing team has to overwhelm
Orlando with a contract and, most likely, a trade package. But
loads of avenues exist for a deal that benefits Bamba, the Magic
and his possible new franchise.
So, let's look at where Bamba could end up this summer.
The Magic hold all the power at the end of the day. They can
match any contract opposing teams try to throw at Bamba, and maybe
they want to. Orlando isn't a probable playoff contender, so why
lose a young talent when the current objective is to amass young
talent? The guessing game comes down to what the contract extension
Bamba has the pedigree of a No. 5 overall pick and the
trajectory of a sturdy starting center with a concerning injury
history and still-unrealized potential. it's pretty difficult to
estimate what his next salary could look like.
If (and it's a big if) I had to compare,
the most similar scenario would be the Boston Celtics inking Robert
Williams III to a four-year, $48 million deal last summer. Like
Bamba, Williams had a prior history of ailments and flashed starter
ability. Williams had shown a lot more for a competitive basketball
team — but also didn't carry the same stature Bamba does. So I'd
say those cancel out, and for visualization's sake, we can estimate
his extension would look something like $12 million per year .
Should Bamba stay in Orlando, he likely won't have long as a
starter if Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero are
waiting in the wings. But he'd absolutely continue as a high-end
back big for an Orlando roster that boasted a pretty solid defense
Nic Claxton (restricted free agnet), Andre Drummond, Blake
Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge all hit free agency this summer. This
is Brooklyn's chance to mold a center rotation that complements
Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons and (most likely?) Kyrie Irving. Those
three, plus Bruce Brown (also a free agent), are all excellent
playmakers and passers. Bamba would simply be asked to finish his
looks, be it as a stretch-5 or a lob threat. He'd have no burden to
create on offense and could fill similar rim-protecting roles as
his predecessors on defense.
How could a trade work? Let's stick with Bamba's current salary
estimate of $12 million for at least next season. Fanspo's trade
machine says a deal exchanging Bamba for Joe Harris, Kessler
Edwards and a future first-round pick works financially.
I think this is a fair starting point. Harris is making just
over $18 million for the next two years, but Orlando shouldn't be
concerned with cap space, and I actually love the idea of the Magic
adding a movement shooter on the wing. Orlando is going to have a
tough defense again next season; this is an easy way to give its
slashing guards an outlet.
Bamba is absolutely not Kristaps Porzingis, but he can take on
some of the same responsibilities as an above-the-break shooter,
screener and rim-protector while playing as a more versatile
defensive center than Porzingis has ever been. The Mavericks
desperately need size on the glass as well, and Bamba can grab
rebounds while fitting into the team's overall spacing.
Dwight Powell is a solid NBA player. His minutes also decreased
in every subsequent playoff series this spring, and he played just
9.8 minutes per game in the Western Conference Finals. Does Bamba
have the two-way versatility to stick in these matchups against
Golden State Warrior-like squads? It's difficult to say for
certain, but I think he can get there.
Trading Bamba for Powell, Josh Green and/or the No. 26 overall
pick works in the trade machine. It would be a complicated move to
pull off because Bamba's restricted free agency begins after draft
night, but this would be my guess at the framework.
How does Miami feel about Bam Adebayo as its long-term center?
Obviously, he's a core piece to the overall team,
but is he best-equipped anchoring a smaller lineup or working
alongside another big man? Bamba might be the ideal test.
Adebayo can operate as his All-Defensive self, taking on any
matchup on the floor, while Bamba lurks as a shot-blocker and
helper. Then, on offense, Bamba can space for Adebayo and Jimmy
Butler. If the move doesn't work out, Bamba would at least be a
significant upgrade over Dewayne Dedmon in a worst-case development
This deal, like with the Nets, starts with trading an elite
movement shooter in Duncan Robinson. The Heat also have the No. 27
overall pick at their disposal and could add another flier prospect
like Omer Yurtseven.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Thunder have an exciting backcourt duo in Josh Giddey and
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who could both use a pick-and-pop big to
heighten their impact. OKC does not yet (though the draft could
change things) have a certified stopper in the frontcourt. Enter
Bamba, who plugs the on-paper hole at center and could reasonably
fit alongside any of the top picks in the draft.
With picks and prospects galore, OKC can kind of take this deal
in any direction that gets Bamba to the city. Lu Dort and Aaron
Wiggins seem to fit some Magic needs at first glance.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The Trail Blazers surprisingly have oodles of cap space this
offseason and a vacant starting center spot with Jusuf Nurkic
hitting free agency. It's certainly possible Portland re-signs
Nurkic, extends Anfernee Simons and heads on its merry way. But
we've all expected some roster overhaul, as the franchise tries to
throw one last contender together around Damian Lillard. Bamba
won't vault Portland to the playoffs on his own, but he might be a
suitable replacement for Nurkic on a manageable contract with room
Keon Johnson feels like an obvious return target for the Magic
as a long, athletic wing with two-way upside. Perhaps the trade
conversations start there and include an additional rotation
player, plus some draft compensation.
I do ultimately hope that Bamba lands in a situation that is
willing to be patient with his development. He's hit some rotten
luck with injuries and deserves a extended chance to shine —
whether that's in Orlando or somewhere else.
Looking to go to the hottest concerts, sports, theater &
family shows near you? Get 100% guaranteed tickets to more than
125,000 live events from TicketSmarter, the official ticket
marketplace of BasketballNews.com. Order online now!