Mohamed Bamba needs time to make the most of his time for Orlando Magic

Mohamed Bamba scored 11 points in his reintroduction to the Orlando Magic's rotation on Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports
Mohamed Bamba scored 11 points in his reintroduction to the Orlando Magic's rotation on Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports /

38. Final. 124. 118. 109

The moments for Mohamed Bamba this year have been brief but brilliant.

It is easy to see when everything clicks together what he can do. The physical gifts alone are enough to make an impact every time he steps on the court.

It has always been about putting them together, digging into the details and executing them for him to make an impact. Someone with that length and skill only has to know how to use it to make an impact.

Just look at a couple of key plays in the Orlando Magic’s 124-109 loss to the Utah Jazz.

He opened the game by hitting a 3-pointer off a pick and pop, displaying the spacing the Orlando Magic have missed from much of their lineup.

He followed that up one play later with a display of his length as Evan Fournier sent him an alley-oop pass that he could only catch. He threw it down and let out a primal scream as he came down.

This was a long time coming.

Mohamed Bamba finished Saturday’s game with 11 points and four rebounds. He made four of his six shots and all three of his 3-pointers. He added one block for good measure.

For everything that has been said about Bamba, his ability to impact the game on both ends is ultimately what drew the Magic to him. And at a time when the team is hunting for any little offensive kick, it makes sense to try him.

There were still moments where Bamba looked a step off. That is as much a product of his lack of playing time as his inexperience. And so now the important part for Bamba is to reduce those moments where he looks unsure or a step slow and build up consistency to help the team win.

The Orlando Magic are set to keep Mohamed Bamba in the rotation giving him the time to get back into game rhythm. This is an opportunity where Bamba needs time and has to make the most of that time.

Bamba has not necessarily had his minutes toyed with. He has spent most of this season outside of the rotation.

Coach Steve Clifford cited his need to rebuild is conditioning after spending the entire offseason dealing with the after-effects of COVID-19. Khem Birch’s solid play made it harder to supplant him from the rotation and the team was dealing with all kinds of injury issues everywhere except at center.

Bamba had to wait and hope for his chance.

The frustration for Bamba and fans knowing he has all this potential has been in the waiting. Bamba had a lot taken out of his control this season as he waited his turn. The opportunities were few.

But now the door is open. Clifford said after Thursday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets the plan is to give Bamba his opportunity for the next few games. The only thing he will continue to preach is some patience with the young big man as he gets his timing down.

To be sure, this is Bamba’s opportunity. There will need to be some patience to get back into rhythm. But Orlando will need to see Bamba make progress and improve, proving he is an impact player. Bamba’s tenure with the Magic, at the very least, feels in the balance.

"“It’s huge,” Bamba said before Saturday’s game against the Jazz. “This is what I have been asking for and working toward. Now it’s a matter of time getting out there and making the right plays. Not necessarily making the right plays but doing the right things.”"

Bamba still has a lot to clean up and it is very much things that are fundamental to the Magic’s defensive identity.

Clifford said the reason the team lost Saturday night is because of the team’s poor rebounding and fouling. The Jazz recorded 24 points off 10 offensive rebounds and went to the line for 24 free throws on 18 personal fouls.

These are areas Bamba still struggles with at times.

Bamba has a defensive rebound rate of 30.3-percent, which is the best of his career. That number is in line with Nikola Vucevic’s 30.8-percent. Bamba has shown he can collect rebounds. But watching the tape, it still looks a bit rough.

The numbers suggest the Magic can be fine with Bamba as the anchor rebounder (the team has a 79.4-percent defensive rebound rate with Bamba on the floor).

Bamba admitted before Saturday’s game that some of his perceived rebounding issues are about timing. It takes timing to know when to go after rebounds and even blocks. So a lot of this should correct itself the more he plays.

The same would go for any perceived fouling issues.

In Saturday’s game, Bamba committed a foul that led to free throws. He has often been a step late on defensive rotations averaging 1.3 fouls per game in 9.3 minutes per game — 5.1 fouls per 36 minutes after averaging 4.8 fouls per 36 minutes in his first two years.

These are probably the two biggest criticisms Bamba has faced in his young career. But there are all these signs that he can get them under control if there is the time and patience to let him develop and grow.

Bamba’s supporters have often pointed to his per-36 numbers as a sign of the impact he can make. This year, he is averaging 19.1 points, 14.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per 36 minutes. He is scoring and rebounding at a higher rate than in previous years.

But those per-36 minute numbers should be taken with extreme grains of salt. Bamba’s minutes have been so sporadic and mostly at points when the game was already decided to draw too many conclusions from them.

They are impressive enough to test out in real playing time. But should not be taken as gospel.

What Bamba will get at this point will be his most sustained minutes of the season. This stretch will be where the team really gets a sense of what Bamba can do, how much he can contribute and where to go with him next.

"“I think it is a step in the right direction,” Bamba said before Saturday’s game. “Now it’s a matter of contributing to our team’s success.”"

Bamba certainly showed all he can do and how far he still has to go. It is going to be impossible and unproductive to assess him on a game-to-game basis. He needs time to get himself back into “game shape” or game rhythm.

It feels like the Magic are finally giving him that time.

For how long? That part is still the unknown.

After spending most of the year sticking with the sure-handed veteran in Birch, the Magic might be shifting toward the gamble on their future. That may say something or it may not.

But for Bamba what this means is he has to improve. He has to focus on limiting and decreasing his mistakes and learning from them. For him it has to be about getting better and trending in the right direction.

Naturally, he will affect the game and have more performances like Saturday’s game just from doing the right things. It is impossible for him not to impact the game if he is playing with any kind of intensity (even if he is making some mistakes).

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His pathway to playing has finally opened. He will seemingly get the time to get back into the rotation. Now it is up to him to make the most of this chance.