Mohamed Bamba flashing brilliance, Orlando Magic hope for steady progress

Expectations are still tempered for Mohamed Bamba as he plays behind Nikola Vucevic. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Expectations are still tempered for Mohamed Bamba as he plays behind Nikola Vucevic. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Mohamed Bamba has turned in a strong week of games as he continues to flash the brilliance that made him a vital pick and part of the Orlando Magic’s future.

On one of the first possessions of Mohamed Bamba’s first-quarter stint in Tuesday’s game against the Sacramento Kings showed how far he has to go.

Fellow rookie Marvin Bagley posted up Mohamed Bamba on the block and sized him up. A quick spin move toward the baseline and Bamba was beat. Even a rookie was able to overpower Bamba in some ways.

That was not completely unexpected. Bagley was the second overall pick and has an advanced offensive game for a rookie one year out of high school. The Orlando Magic drafted Bamba as a bit of a project. They knew he would require patience and development — maturing his body and his skill to match his physical attributes.

Tuesday night, they did not have to wait long.

As the game continued, Bamba’s presence grew bigger and bigger.

De’Aaron Fox was on the break, where he is at his best and the Kings have made their mark this early in the season. And Bamba caught him from behind and swatted his shot away perfectly to Aaron Gordon who started a fast break ending in a Jonathon Simmons dunk.

It was one of five blocks — all of them fairly impressive including a straight jump-ball grab on Willie Cauley-Stein.

He was a critical component of the game. His defense in the fourth quarter especially was a major reason the Magic suddenly had a chance to win the game despite trailing by double digits for most of the second half.

As the clock ticked down, coach Steve Clifford opted to leave Mohamed Bamba in. It was his first taste of real crunch time minutes. And despite a few turnovers, Bamba acquitted himself well. Nikola Vucevic only returned into the game because the Magic were desperate for offense.

There were a few difficult moments for Bamba. A few turnovers late as the Magic’s offense started to run into the ground. But they were good moments for the young player.

"“It felt good that coach had that much faith in me to keep me in late games,” Bamba said a day after that game. “I wish we capitalized off that to pull it out. It’s always something you can build from and learn from.”"

Bamba followed up his hallmark game with a seven-point, five-rebound effort against the LA Clippers. It was his second game this season without a blocked shot and he tracked much of the team’s struggles to find energy in the game.

But he then followed it up with his first career double-double against the San Antonio Spurs. His 12-point, 11-rebound performance was impressive for how nondescript it was. He attacked the offensive glass and cleaned up messes around the basket. Defensively, he was strong around the basket.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic are not running plays for Bamba yet. But the team raves about his smarts and knowing where to be. He is a constant threat offensively and his defensive impact is starting to show in brighter flashes with each game.

This is all part of Bamba’s overall growth. The steady progress he will make. And the flashes of brilliance in between.

For the season so far, Bamba is averaging 6.6 points per game and grabbing 6.0 rebounds per game. As expected, he has an impressive 1.7 blocks per game. He is averaging 11.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per 36 minutes.

That is a good place to start for him as he continues to grow. No one is expecting him to play that much yet. And his impact, like it is for most rookies, is still inconsistent.

"“I think that his growth has come offensively quicker frankly,” Clifford said after practice last week. “Defensively he has had stretches where he is really good. If you watch him offensively, he has the potential to develop into a guy who can shoot threes, have a roll game, have a short roll game. He can score on the block. But he can play in a way that helps his teammates play better. He’s getting more and more comfortable as he sees ways to do that.”"

Bamba said the coaches have asked him to bring energy on the offensive end first and foremost. His success is less about production and more about the approach he brings to the game.

Games like Sunday’s against the Spurs are exactly what the Magic want to see from him. He attacked the glass, kept the ball alive and changed enough shots to be a threat.

The added production is a bonus and part and parcel to that energy he brings.

The game against the Kings represented the first real signs of what he might one day become. But everyone involved knows Bamba still has a lot of work to get there. And the Magic, at least, are not looking to rush him.

Just like after that strong professional debut against the Heat, the Magic are not getting too far ahead of themselves.

Neither is Bamba.

"“This league is all about consistency and what you can do on a nightly basis,” Bamba said. “I am trying to learn as much as I can in practice so in games it’s a dress rehearsal and guys can rely on me and coach can rely on me.”"

That is the biggest thing for any rookie. They must prove to their coaches they are reliable.

Bamba is entering the league raw. He has a lot of growth to come. Clifford has said he will look like a different player in a month than he does now at the beginning of the season. The Magic seem to expect him to continue growing and building.

But Bamba has gained some trust to contribute immediately. That is born out on the court so far.

To this point in the season, Orlando has a 110.7 defensive rating with Bamba on the floor. It is a poor number, but still better than the team average. It is also somewhat inflated by Mohamed Bamba’s pairing with Nikola Vucevic and his playing out of position at the 4.

Take those lineups out and the Magic’s defensive rating drops to 89.2 points per 100 possession with Bamba on the floor, according to NBA WOWY. NBA WOWY lists the Magic’s overall defensive rating at 113.1 points allowed per 100 possessions (the two sites use two different formulations).

Either way you cut it, the Magic seem to be much better defensively with Bamba playing center. The offense also craters, but that is a concern for another day.

There are hints of Bamba’s defensive impact being there. And slowly those hints are getting louder and louder as he gets more comfortable on the floor within his current role.

"“He’s definitely skilled,” D.J. Augustin said. “He has the size. He’s athletic. With his mindset and his IQ, it’s going to help him push forward than a lot of other rookies. He doesn’t make the same mistakes twice, and he wants to learn and get better every day.”"

Clifford too has constantly praised Bamba’s basketball IQ and willingness to learn and grow from mistakes. Clifford said Bamba rarely makes the same mistake and is eager to study film to improve.

That is all a good sign of his future growth and what the Magic hope he can become. Bamba has impressed through the first nine games, that is for sure.

Bamba is not putting up the gaudiest numbers. At least, not yet.

And he is not the defensive impact player the Magic hope he can be. At least, not yet.

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