2022 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Mohamed Bamba’s make or break year

Mohamed Bamba has made an impact every time he has stepped on the floor for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Mohamed Bamba has made an impact every time he has stepped on the floor for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

Orlando Magic fans were excited by the potential of Mohamed Bamba when the team made him the sixth pick n the 2018 NBA Draft.

Mohamed Bamba was billed then as a 3-point shooting Rudy Gobert. Someone with tremendous physical length to block and contest shots who had shown signs of his ability to step out beyond the 3-point line.

In a league obsessed with so-called “unicorns,” Bamba seemed like the perfect fit to drive the Magic’s new era. He would need time to fill out physically but the skill set was undeniable.

Things changed quickly though. Instead of celebrating the next generation of center, Magic fans have watched Bamba struggle during his first three years in the league with injury and a changing role as the team’s expectations suddenly changed.

Bamba now finds himself at the end of his rookie contract. He finally appears healthy and ready to contribute. But his place in the league is more precarious than ever.

Gone are the expectations for him to be the best center in the league or an All-Star, let alone a game-changing offensive player. Instead, the magic are just hoping Bamba can play a role and prove his worth to a young team. Perhaps even enough to earn a new contract and stick with the team a bit longer.

Mohamed Bamba entered the league with big expectations to redefine the center position and join the list of unicorns. Now the Orlando Magic center is just trying to stay healthy and prove he belongs in the rotation beyond this year.

In his first two and a half years, the former sixth overall pick found himself behind now two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic, and then eventually Khem Birch, as the team found itself in the playoff race. A veteran coach in Steve Clifford was hunting for wins and did not have the patience at times to stick with the raw rookie.

Bamba then dealt with numerous injuries in his early career too, playing in only 155 out of a possible 236 regular-season games thus far in his early career.

He fractured his tibia in the 2019 season, exiting the lineup just as the team went on its 22-9 run to make the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

Bamba was set to come back in Summer League but had an ankle injury that limited him to just one game in Las Vegas. Then when camp began, he was still dealing with lingering effects from that leg injury.

Just as he was building consistency in the lineup, the pandemic shut the league down. Bamba put on noticeable weight at that point in preparation for the bubble. But he revealed he had COVID-19 and then struggled to rebuild his conditioning.

By his third year, Bamba was struggling to stick in the rotation on a team with playoff aspirations and the need for precise play.

Bamba has always put up numbers when given the chance to play. But, overall, the time Bamba has spent on the court has been up and down.

For his career, he has averaged 6.4 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game with a 52.9-percent effective field goal percentage for his career. Those numbers certainly depressed because of his inconsistent playing time.

He has struggled with conditioning, defense and excessive fouling throughout his career. But he has shown potential on the offensive side, especially in the second half of the 2021 season when he was finally given more playing time.

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That 20-plus-game spurt to end the season showed Bamba’s potential. He averaged 11.1 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game as his minutes jumped to 20.8 per game.

Magic fans have both complained of his lack of playing time and his lack of development. Getting playing time helped Bamba begin to develop in earnest. And the numbers showed it, even if they come with the usual warning about typical end-of-the-season struggles for teams at the bottom of the standings like the Magic.

Of course, he still struggled with his conditioning, defense and fouling, especially against bulkier or more athletic post players like Montrezl Harrell, Clint Capela and Steven Adams.

But Bamba also showed just how good of an offensive player he can be at times. In the closing weeks of the season, he posted career highs in points multiple times, improving from 17 to 19 to 21 to 22. He also recorded career highs in total rebounds and offensive rebounds, with 18 and 7, respectively.

That is not to say Bamba is going to start averaging 22 and 18 and become an All-Star. Nobody is expecting that. But it is to say the potential for Bamba to be a high-level contributor is there.

He has the rebounding potential of someone like Gobert, but with a higher ceiling on his scoring ability. He does not have the same defensive acumen or awareness as Gobert. But with the ability to block and change shots simply because of his reach, he still brings some value as long as he can get his positioning right.

The issue for Bamba and the urgency that comes with this season is his contract status. he can become a restricted free agent at the end of the season and it does not appear likely the Magic will offer him a contract extension — instead, there are many who believe Wendell Carter could get an extension, entrenching him as the starting center.

Despite his injuries and lack of playing time, he has no choice but to prove himself this year.

He does have some things going in his favor, though. It is the first offseason he has been able to go through fully healthy. And the Magic have a new coach who does not have any of the preconceptions or baggage with Bamba that it seemed Clifford may have had.

After the hiring of new coach Jamahl Mosley, Mohamed Bamba took the initiative to reach out to him immediately and got in the gym with him the next day. He also headed out to Vegas to practice with the Summer League squad.

Bamba seems to have put in the effort on the practice court this offseason. But it also looks like he has put in some work at the weight room. His shoulders look broader and the added weight should help him deal with bigger guys in the post as long as he can keep it on throughout the season.

Bamba has done everything he can to put himself in a position to succeed. And through the first two preseason games, Bamba has looked solid.

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The Magic should expect to see an improved Bamba this year. One that shows why he was drafted sixth overall. Bamba knows that this is a make-or-break year for him in Orlando. He seems poised to make sure he sticks around.