Injuries and illness again slowed Mohamed Bamba’s development. He showed signs he can push for more minutes from the Orlando magic when healthy.
In the past few seasons, Mohamed Bamba has struggled to remain healthy. Whether it be illness or a physical injury, the Orlando Magic have not gotten a complete look at Bamba. In many ways, the team still does not know what it has in him.
In his rookie season, he suffered a stress fracture in his leg just as the team was shaping into form. It takes a while for big men especially to recover from leg injuries like that. He was starting to assert himself and improve as he reached that year mark since the injury.
The hiatus for the pandemic gave Mohamed Bamba essentially an offseason to work and he did so, putting on nearly 20 pounds of muscle. This was an important step in his development process. But just as the season was getting set to restart, Bamba revealed he contracted COVID-19 in June and was still struggling to build up his conditioning.
Bamba again missed the Playoffs, sitting out virtually the entire play in the bubble. Bamba is still not cleared to play even as the preseason begins. He said he is doing all he can to return, but clearly the virus has been tougher to kick for him than for others.
It is becoming frustrating that Bamba can not catch a break. To this point, all anyone can talk about are his injuries. What he has actually done on the court and how he has improved are vastly overshadowed.
The funny thing is he was starting to play very well before the season was postponed. And even during the bubble, the extra weight he put on seemed to help him.
Still, while there is little doubt the Magic will pick up the fourth-year team option on Bamba’s rookie contract, there is still uncertainty with how he fits into the team’s overall plan. Quite frankly, the Magic have not seen enough from their young big man to draw any conclusions.
But as the team ponders its future and tries to map its way forward, Bamba still has an important role to play.
Bamba must use this season to prove he is still the center of this Magic team’s future. He must use this season to put pressure on the front office to decide where he fits. And if he fails to do so, then suddenly his expiring contract might become trade fodder — or filler — as this team makes its next moves.
This season will answer a lot of questions about this team and Bamba is no different.
Bamba was playing well after the all-star break, but the statistics will not show that. Bamba only averaged 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. But beyond the raw counting stats, he showed improvement and is part of the reason the Magic picked up their play.
Bamba looked more comfortable on the floor defensively and was in position often.
While most of his improvements are not on the stat sheet, there were improvements on the stat sheet as well. Bamba shot 38.1-percent from beyond the arc, which was huge for a team that traditionally struggles to shoot from deep.
He also recorded 1.4 blocks per game and grabbed 12.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. His shot-blocking potential was always vital to the team, but his 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes and 8.8-percent block rate were among the best in the league.
According to NBA.com’s tracking statistics from Second Spectrum, opponents 51.4-percent at the rim against Bamba. Only Jonathan Isaac had a better mark. Among players that faced at least 4.0 field goal attempts at the rim or more per game, Bamba ranked eighth in the entire league.
The Magic were better defensively with Bamba on the floor too. The team had a 103.4 defensive rating with Bamba on the floor. After the All-Star Break, when the team’s overall defensive rating ballooned to 114.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, the Magic had a 113.9 defensive rating with Bamba on the floor.
Teams are certainly still testing him. But the potential as a true defensive impactor is there. He has to find a way to prove he can be the solidified backup center and even push Vucevic for minutes in the rotation.
If there was one complaint about how the Magic used Bamba last year it was that they did not use him enough — he averaged only 14.2 minutes per game down from the 16.3 he played his rookie year. Bamba definitely needs time.
He has to earn it. But Bamba showed pleasant strides that suggest there was an argument to increase his minutes. Once he is cleared to play, the team will have to find a way to grow him within this role.
For Bamba to have a good season he needs to take this step in the development.
Bamba said he feels 100-percent healthy and wants to have a bigger role with the team this season. Bamba sounds like he is healthy and hungry to take the next step.
Overall, Bamba has shown flashes of what he can be. He can be a shot blocker and can finish around the rim. Added that to his 3-point shooting, and Bamba has the complete package the Magic are looking for. He just needs the opportunity.
Bamba has yet to be healthy for a full season to prove he can be the center for the future. This has to be the season whether Bamba shows that he can be the future center or the Magic are going to move on from him.
But regardless the front office is going to make the decision. And this season will likely help cement and form those decisions.