Orlando Magic Draft Evaluation: Redrafting the Jeff Weltman Era

Jeff Weltman has collected some solid players for the Orlando Magic through the draft. But is still seeking the big fish. (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jeff Weltman has collected some solid players for the Orlando Magic through the draft. But is still seeking the big fish. (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Mohamed Bamba, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons
Mohamed Bamba’s growth has been slow and steady for the Orlando Magic. He is finally starting to produce on the court. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Mohamed Bamba (6th pick, 2018)

At one point in high school, Mohamed Bamba was considered a cannot-miss prospect. He was the top guy on mock drafts and the top guy in recruiting rankings (he ultimately finished fourth). A mobile center with long arms and a penchant for blocking shots seemed to have a lot of value.

The NBA changed dramatically even in the year Mohamed Bamba spent with the Texas Longhorns. And perhaps he proved himself to be more of a project than the initial high school recruiting rankings made everyone believe. Bamba needed a lot of work.

It is incredibly unfair to evaluate Bamba before he even finishes his second season. The Magic drafted him as a project. perhaps they believed they would be able to push him into the starting lineup quicker and Nikola Vucevic’s sudden All-Star turn slowed those plans.

That could end up being a bit fortuitous. Bamba has shown progress and some smarts as he has gotten more NBA time. But he is still a long way from being ready for a starter’s role.

Bamba is averaging 5.8 points per game, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in his career.  The shot-blocking at least is as advertised from the young big man.

Admittedly, he is still regaining full strength from a leg injury that cost him the second half of his rookie season. It has indeed been a slow progression for Bamba with even his shot becoming inconsistent.

Centers take longer to get acclimated to the NBA. And that is certainly the case for someone like Bamba. Especially because he still has to mature physically.

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If we are taking a snapshot of the league today, then Bamba certainly would not be the sixth pick. Among the 2018 Draft class, he ranks 13th in his draft class in win shares, 11th in box plus-minus and 11th in VORP, according to Basketball-Reference.

Statistically, at least, it seems he is in a similar boat to Jonathan Isaac (the sixth pick the year before). Anecdotally, Isaac’s impact seems much clearer. But this is at least a silver lining to Bamba.

The notable players taken after Mohamed Bamba that are ahead of him on those charts are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Mitchell Robinson.

There is certainly an argument to be made that Orlando should have one after a combo guard with length like Gilgeous-Alexander. He would seemingly fit perfectly into what the Magic are trying to do and would fit the style of play that the Magic’s management seems to prefer.

Robinson is a more interesting case. As a fellow center, he has come in as an equally adept shot blocker and made an impact. But even on the New York Knicks, they have struggled to find the best way to use him. Maybe in a more structured environment, his impact would be more pronounced. Or maybe it is the freedom and lack of pressure in New York that has allowed him to accumulate stats.

It seems the Magic did not miss as badly as it would seem on Bamba. The 2018 draft turned out not to be a great one outside of Luka Doncic and Trae Young — a separate argument for Magic fans entirely.

Drafting even Gilgeous-Alexander at the sixth pick would have been an extreme reach with the information at the time.

It would seem the Magic need to keep being patient with Bamba and see if he can add the strength and grow into a better player within the class.