Orlando Magic have secret weapon in Mohamed Bamba

Mohamed Bamba's development has taken some time but he was making progress and figures to be a key player for the Orlando Magic when the season resumes. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Mohamed Bamba's development has taken some time but he was making progress and figures to be a key player for the Orlando Magic when the season resumes. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Orlando Magic center Mohamed Bamba has progressed and improved as the season has gone on. As the season gets set to resume, he could make a difference.

During the final stretch of the 2019 season, the Orlando Magic were without their young, athletic big man and prized rookie in Mohamed Bamba.

Mohamed Bamba suffered a stress fracture in his left leg that cut his season short 30 games before the finish line. He was hardly impressive — especially with the prestige that comes with being the No. 6 pick — averaging only 6.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

It was difficult to find a way that Bamba consistently impacted games. There were flashes of his outside shooting ability and shot-blocking. But it also did not feel like a coincidence that Orlando made its playoff run the moment Bamba stepped out of the lineup.

Bamba spent the Playoff run learning and watching as he healed from his injury.

But this year is a different story. The Magic now have Bamba in their arsenal of weapons. He has become a player the team can rely on more and someone who can make a bigger impact in his time on the floor.

In his second season, Mohamed Bamba has continued to grow as a back-up center to Nikola Vucevic. His averages are virtually the same as last year — 5.5 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game, 1.4 blocks per game and a 53.4-percent effective field goal percentage.

But that hides much of his progress.

Offensive progress

He has grown in his reserve role, becoming a weapon offensively with his jump shot. Bamba has good form on his jumper, and he is shooting 46 percent from the field and 35 percent from the three-point line, which is an improvement from 39 percent he shot back in November.

Since Jan. 31 — the one-year anniversary of his departure from the lineup with that stress fracture — Bamba is shooting 50.7 percent from the floor and 44.0 percent from beyond the arc.

Any game, Bamba can hit a hot streak and start draining threes. A center who can hit 3-pointers consistently instantly becomes a dangerous offensive weapon. And Bamba has already shown that potential.

In November against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he went 5 for 5 from three, a career-high. In February against the Atlanta Hawks, he knocked down 3 of 4 3-pointers in scoring a career-high 15 points.

Both games were wins for the team and made it hard to take him off the floor. He added a lot ot the team and helped them climb over the hill in these big wins.

The Magic are not quite ready to trust Bamba with a full starter’s job. And the team was pinching his minutes as it ramped up toward a playoff rotation — Vucevic was rounding into All-Star form.

Defensive progress

But Bamba has started to make good on the defensive potential he always had from the time he entered the draft. He was making a major presence as a shot-blocker and rim protector.

Bamba became a weapon defensively.

He can fill up the stat sheet with his blocks. Bamba is averaging 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes. He tied a career-high with five blocks against the Brooklyn Nets in February. He has recorded three or more blocked shots nine times this season.

Bamba has used every inch of his 7-foot-10 wingspan to alter shots.

Bamba’s defense is still a work in progress. While he is capable of making those defensive plays and blocking shots, he is still learning how to read offenses better and be in the right spot. Positioning is the real key to him becoming a better defensive player.

But there are a lot of signs of how much better he can be on defense. This has been a season of progress for Bamba.

According to Second Spectrum’s player tracking stats, opponents shoot just 51.0 percent against Bamba at the rim, the best mark of any rotation player on the team. Opponents shoot 51.4 percent at the rim against Jonathan Isaac and 60.2 percent against Nikola Vucevic, for some reference.

The Magic have a 103.0 defensive rating with Bamba on the floor this season. Their season average is 108.7 points allowed per 100 possessions. Bamba plays with the typically defensive-heavy second unit. But still, he has the best mark of any player on the team.

That number does not wholly belong to Bamba. But it suggests that the team’s defense improve with him on the floor.

Bamba is already establishing himself as someone who can challenge shots at the rim. That is at least the start of a dominant defensive player.

That is not to say there is no room for improvement.

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Bamba still needs to put on strength and muscle — something he reportedly worked on during the quarantine, adding more than 20 pounds. He has to become better at reading offenses and continue to work on his positioning.

Statistically, some metrics do not like him. He ranks 54th among center in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus metric, near the likes of Ian Mahinmi and Justin Patton. Bamba’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus has him 59th among centers.

All the signs are there for Bamba

There is still a lot of growth and awareness Bamba has to go through to turn that raw defensive potential into actual defensive impact.

But all the signs are there and were there for him to do so.

Bamba has improved in all facets of his game throughout the season.

Like so many on the Magic, the season coming to a halt in March came at the worst time. Bamba appears to have made the most of that time. But now he needs to bring those physical gains to the court.

With teams being cautious and mindful over injuries and overusing players as they ramp back up to the playoffs, depth is going to play a big role in the seeding round. Bamba should get an opportunity to play more than he would have otherwise in these pressure-packed games.

Bamba was tracking in the right direction.

He has improved with his positioning in the post since his rookie year. The added weight should help him take his game to the next level.

Next. Orlando Magic eager for chance to return to Playoffs. dark

At NBA Disney, Bamba has the potential to be the Magic’s x-factor.