Orlando Magic fans must remain patient with Mohamed Bamba

Orlando Magic fans must give Mohamed Bamba time to grow into his body and develop. Bamba’s time to shine is not too far, but it will consist of some growing pains.

The Orlando Magic drafted Mohamed Bamba in June and most Magic fans were ecstatic.  Many turned their memories back to Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard, two superstar centers the Magic drafted, and envisioned another big defensive force anchoring the team in the paint.

But Mohamed Bamba’s game is far different than those two ex-Magic generational centers. And his development is taking a bit longer and requires more patience than those runaway hits.

And Magic fans have to be willing to give him that time. As much as it feels like he is struggling, he is showing plenty of signs of growth. Coach Steve Clifford has said throughout the season the goal for Mohamed Bamba is to see him get better as the season goes on.

That growth might be coming slowly. But it is happening and the team will be better for it.

Yes, Bamba has similar shot-blocking ability to those great centers. Bamba is averaging 1.4 blocks per game in 16.4 minutes per game — that is 3.0 blocks per 36 minutes. Howard averaged 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes in his rookie year and O’Neal averaged 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes as a rookie.

But that is about all he has in similarity to those all-time greats. Bamba is very lanky, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Bamba just needs more time to grow and gain muscle.  He has all the skills to be a once-in-a-generation type center.

Certainly, Bamba’s defensive skills compare favorably already on the defensive end. He just has to continue growing and building on those skills.

He has plenty to work on as he has displayed this year. There is plenty to like.

His ability to shoot the ball from deep. His prowess to run the floor and chase down a block.  And of course, his 7-foot 10-inch wingspan cannot be ignored, whatsoever.

But Bamba has had a tough time transitioning into the NBA. And it is not surprising.

In about 16 minutes per game, Bamba is averaging 6.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. He is shooting 48 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep. His free throw percentage is around 57 percent.

Those numbers are not impressive. Magic fans are growing concerned and judging Bamba based off of his rookie year, which was supposed to be tough due to other NBA big men simply being a lot bigger and more developed body-wise than Bamba.

But Bamba has shown glimpses of greatness on the court. When locked in on both ends, he can make a clear difference. He had a very impressive NBA debut versus the Miami Heat on opening night.  He had a very impressive block on the strong Hassan Whiteside and a few good putback and hustle plays that game.

A couple weeks later, he followed it up by recording five blocks versus the Sacramento Kings. Making very impressive blocks, while displaying his ability to go straight up vertically, which enhanced his wingspan even more.

Lately, Bamba has looked refreshed following a four-game absence with a sore foot. He is averaging just 5.8 points per game since that time, but shooting a more robust 60.9 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from beyond the arc. His rebound is still a frustrating 4.5 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per game.

There is always good and bad with Bamba. But his impact is slowly starting to increase as he gets more comfortable in the game.

But Magic fans simply expect those high-impact numbers from the sixth overall pick every game. That is tough due to fatigue of the NBA schedule that can catch up to a one-and-done college player like Bamba.

Expecting all that is simply unfair to Bamba and his development.

Fans must give both the Magic coaching staff and organization, along with Bamba himself time to develop and slowly be brought into heavy NBA action. He will be good, he has all the tools both skillset-wise and body-wise to succeed.

The concern from the fans is understandable. But the Magic are also in the Playoff race and need to put out lineups that will help them win.

Bamba has looked completely lost at times on both ends. The Magic have a team-worst -15.1 net rating with Bamba on the floor this year. That is part and parcel to playing with a lot of the Magic’s poor bench lineups. But Bamba’s raw impact on court is hard to decipher in the numbers.

But improvement comes through those struggles and gaining experience. Even in a limited form.

Bamba has already looked a lot better and stronger in just a few months of NBA action. His basketball IQ is something Clifford has marveled at throughout the season. At one point, Clifford said, “He just always wants to learn. He is such a smart guy.”

As Bamba grows into his body and stays around the game, he will grasp things quicker and quicker and become exactly the player Magic fans want and need him to become.  He is the future, there is no doubt about it.

It just will take some patience.