Mohamed Bamba is one of the greatest physical outliers to come out of the NCAA, which gives him a wide margin for error. But that alone will not be enough to propel him to NBA success.
With what would be the NBA’s largest recorded wingspan at 7-foot-9, Mohamed Bamba is long enough to envelop the entire restricted area almost without taking a step. He is long enough to recover for blocks when perimeter players beat him off the dribble. He is long enough to block shots in mid-air rather than at their release points, reducing rotation distances and making it easier to defend without fouling. And he is long enough to diagnose plays late but still be in a position to affect the play.
Get the idea?
He and Jaren Jackson Jr. have one major thing in common: for different reasons, they are able to swallow up plays that would be outside the radius of a normal player.
Think of them like baseball outfielders. The Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton uses his unique tools to snuff out offensive plays that against a replacement defender would be an advantage gained. If a normal outfielder covers a little less than one-third of the outfield, Buxton not only covers a full-third but might encroach on his teammates’ thirds, frequently making plays with a catch probability less than 10 percent.
The value of this is hard to properly appreciate without looking at his contributions from a bird’s-eye view and understanding that not only is he preventing one successful offensive conversion, he is also preventing that conversion’s potential domino effect on the defense.
In basketball, it might be a shot with higher expected value or the opening up of passing angles to shooters, compounding the magnitude of the initial advantage.
During the course of a full game or season, the impact above a replacement player is massive. It is often a combination of recognition, top-end speed and closing speed that allows an individual player to have a wider-than-average event horizon.
Similarly, Bamba and Jackson have unique tools that allow them to prevent offenses from gaining advantages or capitalizing on advantages that replacement players would not prevent.
But Bamba has a radius for defensive playmaking wider than average. All because of his wingspan.
This ability to affect plays beyond the ball and the individual’s primary coverage is what makes a defensive player not just good, but genuinely impactful. Both Jackson and Bamba have demonstrated that ability through different processes. But the question is who is more likely to continue doing so in the NBA regardless of what opposing offenses do schematically to minimize that impact.
Bamba’s offense remains a concern. His lack of elite explosion could be a red flag for his rim-running potential. But he is able to reach above the rim so quickly it might not matter. His abysmal assist and turnover numbers have also been a major point of criticism but his offensive awareness might not be as dire as they indicate.
Bamba’s intrigue is primarily as a defender. But he will need to also be an effective offensive player to be worth a top-five pick.