Orlando Magic center Mohamed Bamba’s weight gain is real

Mohamed Bamba told Orlando Magic season ticket holders he had put on considerable muscle during the hiatus. He was not lying as he looks different.

The Orlando Magic have been conducting player interviews while inside the NBA’s Disney campus via teleconference and ZOOM in conjunction with the NBA.

After practices end, Joel Glass, the team’s chief communications officer who joined the team inside the campus (you can read his blog for his perspective on life inside the bubble), and a representative from the NBA bring a player over to the camera they have set up.

Like any other teleconference we have all experienced then, a person just magically shows up on the screen. It is part of the new reality.

When Mohamed Bamba came into frame for his media availability Sunday, you almost had to do a double-take. This was no computer glitch. Mohamed Bamba was noticeably different.

Like a shark in the deep waters of the ocean, there suddenly appeared a massive figure. This could not possibly be the same wiry young center from before?

There were plenty of reports about Bamba putting on massive amounts of weight during the league’s hiatus, changing his diet and committing to the Magic’s weight training program. But to see it?

Well, seeing is believing:

Bamba indeed added some noticeable muscle to his frame during the league’s four-month hiatus. He did not waste that time and all the reports seem to be completely true.

“It’s pretty noticeable,” Bamba said after practice Sunday. “My mentality the entire time we were in quarantine was to gain an inch every day. It literally took every day going through it to get to where I am. It took changing my diet. It took intense workouts and leaning on the Magic strength and conditioning staff to provide a plan for me.”

The Magic list Bamba at 231 pounds on their Web site. Bamba said he now fluctuates between 254 and 249 depending on his workouts with the potential he could look to gain more once the offseason begins.

That is already a 20-pound gain. He said his initial goal was to get to 240. But he said that happened quickly and he felt he should get to 250 to be at his ideal playing weight.

Bamba said he hired a personal chef in March to help prepare the 5-6 meals per day he eats. He said he lifted weights for about an hour to an hour and half each day. The Magic provided him with weights and workouts to help him take advantage of this time.

A necessary step

Adding this kind of strength and muscle mass was a big part of Mohamed Bamba’s development. A necessary step he was going to take in the offseason. The offseason came early for him in the form of the pandemic.

Now it seems Bamba can check off one of the question marks and begin to see if he can fulfill the rest of his potential.

The Orlando Magic drafted him as a bit of a project, banking on his physical length and shot-blocking as a template for him to grow from. It would be impossible for him to reach his potential if he did not put on the muscle to match.

Even this season, opponents were able to move him off the block and push him off his spot. Bamba still largely hangs around the perimeter offensively, unable to take the banging down low.

A significant number of his shots come from the 3-point line — 104 of his 282 field goal attempts are 3-pointers this year, 133 come within five feet. This could help change his potential offensively, allowing him to dive down the lane on pick and rolls, set better screens (still a weakness of his) and not rely solely on popping to the 3-point line.

Defensively, Bamba has shown a lot of positive signs. He is already a pretty strong shot-blocker — 1.4 blocks per game in 14.5 minutes per game, 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes and an 8.9-percent block rate. And he leads the team in rim protection, giving up 51.0-percent shooting at the rim according to Second Spectrum.

All that defensive potential is still there. But he still has to continue improving his understanding of defensive positioning and his consistency there. That is something that will come with instruction and experience.

The Magic drafted him for his wingspan and potential shot-block prowess. But they also drafted him because he showed the athleticism to defend players on the perimeter too. It will be just as important as he adds strength that he maintains his mobility.

“I definitely feel as mobile as before, but it definitely took some extra work,” Bamba said after practice Sunday. “Gaining 20-something pounds is no joke. You really feel it in my joints. I got in the mentality that I have to run at this weight, jump at this weight and move laterally at this weight to feel good at it. I truly feel good at this weight.”

The added weight will help Bamba match up with other centers and should enable him to stay on the court longer and make a bigger impact. That is if he does the other work to keep his skills with his weight gain.

Khem Birch said that going up against him, it did seem like Bamba kept his athleticism along with his weight gain.

These gains make Bamba almost a complete wild card that could change a lot of the Magic’s fortunes once the season begins. it is hard not to get excited that he hit this step.

Like with everything else, it is still too early to make any determinations about anything we might see on the floor.

The Magic played live 5-on-5 games for the first time Sunday. That is an important step in the team’s return to the court.

But for now, the focus is on playing and trying to build conditioning. It is not necessarily on preparing for games much more beyond getting wind and legs back.

Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz Update

Jonathan Isaac got the day off Sunday as the team continues to be cautious with him in his recovery from the posterior lateral corner injury to his left knee he suffered on New Year’s Day.

Coach Steve Clifford said Jonathan Isaac has been participating in the team’s practices but has not done any of the contact drills. So he is not playing in any of the scrimmages.

That does mean he is doing any non-contact drills and running up and down the floor as the team tries to get back some of its conditioning. That is certainly a positive sign for the young forward.

Additionally, Clifford said Isaac was doing some “near-contact” work with assistant coach Mike Batiste and player development coach Rick Higgins. That amounts to the coaches using pads to bang on him and simulate contact some.

Clifford said it is still too early to tell if Isaac will be able to play at any time during the resumption of the season. He would have to reach a point where the performance staff feels comfortable allowing him to play contact first and then Clifford would like to see how he responds to that first.

That may still be far away.

Additionally, Steve Clifford said the team does not have a definitive time for Markelle Fultz to arrive in the campus. But he said it should be soon.

Next: Orlando Magic have no way of knowing how far they have to go

Markelle Fultz will have to clear quarantine before he can rejoin the team once he enters the league’s campus. Fultz’s absence was excused by the NBA to handle a personal matter and he did not travel with the team to Disney.

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