Mohamed Bamba’s future with the Orlando Magic depends on his shooting

Mohamed Bamba has all the athletic tools to be a great player. But to be a star in the NBA for the Orlando Magic, he must be able to shoot the three.

While the when is in question, through three games it is clear Mohamed Bamba is taking the starting center role from Nikola Vucevic. Bamba, after only three games, is clearly more athletic, more versatile and potentially a better overall player and contributor to the team. Bamba still looks like a rookie in many ways, but the potential is clear even at this early stage.

Bamba still has a long way to go. And it is clear he is the direction the team is headed.

Bamba has been using his large frame and length to alter shots left and right. Opponent drivers attempted awkward layups to avoid clashing with Bamba. Through three games, opponents are shooting 50.0 percent against him at the rim according to NBA.com’s player tracking stats.

Simply put, he has looked electric in the early going.

He still looks like a rookie in many ways. His defensive rotations are a tad late and he gets bullied on the block. Bamba is nowhere near ready to start. Coach Steve Clifford said that is not even a consideration at this point. At this early stage, Bamba just needs to get experience.

But that day will come. And how quickly that day will come will depend wholly on Bamba’s ability to shoot to complement his potential defensive impact.

This is where Nikola Vucevic still has the advantage over him and likely will keep it for much of the season.

Vucevic has always had the post skills on offense. That was on full display as he recorded a triple-double Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers. But his struggles at the defensive end has limited his value as a player.

This year seems no different. Vucevic has shown some improvement defensively but much of the same frustrations that have seemingly limited him and the team. His pick and roll coverage is still relatively poor — dropping too far to defend pick and rolls. In the early part of the season, the Magic have the worst defensive rating with Vucevic on the floor than any other rotation player.

The reputation on Vucevic has not changed. He struggles to cover the pick and roll and lacks the footspeed needed in today’s NBA.

 

Bamba’s willingness to shoot the three so far this season has been encouraging and has been a sign of his expanding offensive game and potential. Bamba was not drafted as a 3-point shooter, but the development of his shot will define his career. It was something he put in tireless work on throughout the offseason.

Bamba, with his physical tools, can be a major impactor at the rim defensively. But what differentiates him now and moves him from defensive-minded bigs like DeAndre Jordan to potential superstars like Joel Embiid is that shot. That is what makes him a potential star and someone the team can pin its hopes to.

Bamba made one of two three-point shots opening night versus the Miami Heat and showed no hesitation to shoot against the Charlotte Hornets. So far this season, Bamba has made two of his six 3-pointers. He is not turning it to every game but is more than willing to shoot and take good shots from the outside.

The improvement here is notable. In college, Bamba shot 1.7 three’s per night. And while he shot 27.5 percent on those attempts, his shot looks fluid. Add in improvements in pre-draft workouts and working with pro shooting coaches, Bamba can very well find his shot.

Right now, it is a great sign that Bamba is willing to take threes without any hesitation. If he is open, he is confident to take the shot. Already, this is paying dividends, as Mohamed Bamba is stretching out the defense and allowing for more space inside for drivers and Aaron Gordon post-ups.

There is nothing more important in the long-term to Bamba as a player than his shot. Bamba has the freakish length and the athleticism to succeed. But to be a true star, he will have to be a dynamic offensive player.

All the star centers around the league have this in common. They developed an outside shot to fit in with the new wave of shooting offenses. And it expanded their reach and impact.

Even DeMarcus Cousins, who was a prototypical center in his first few years as a pro, always averaging around 0.2 threes per game, saw the 3-pointer as a way to take his game to the next level. The last few seasons, Cousins has averaged around 5.5 threes a game, a huge increase from the 0.2 early in his career. He makes them effectively enough to keep defenses more than honest.

Bamba’s shot will determine his career arc.

If his shot does not develop, he will be a serviceable center — not ideal given the draft capital. But, if he can, Bamba is destined for greatness. He would become a building block for the Magic.

Right now, Bamba just needs to keep shooting. His career depends on it.