Trade deadline week has arrived and it promises to be a much quieter window than it was for the Orlando Magic last year, when the front office made the decision to blow everything up and embark on a new rebuild.
But it would also be surprising if there was no activity in Orlando before the deadline passes.
The interesting blend of veterans who would probably rather be in winning positions and young players who are still at different stages of their development poses some interesting questions.
Perhaps none more so than whether the Magic decide to trade Mo Bamba or keep him until at least the end of the season — when a decision on a contract and facing restricted free agency will have to be made.
The Orlando Magic must decide whether or not to trade center Mo Bamba before the NBA trade deadline.
Bamba has had his best NBA season to date — averaging 10.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game across an average of 26.4 minutes per game. It has been satisfying to see him finally get an opportunity after a difficult start to his professional career because of injury and a lack of opportunity under previous head coach Steve Clifford.
But the arrival of Wendell Carter in the Nikola Vucevic trade at last season’s deadline cast doubt over Mo Bamba’s future in Orlando.
Coach Jamahl Mosley has surprised a lot of people with his decision to start Carter at the 4 and Bamba at the 5 this season. But how sustainable that is long-term is questionable. The duo after all has a -5.2 net rating in 703 minutes with just a 102.0 offensive rating.
Carter still has a lot of developing to do. But his performances and ability to play big, defend the post and grab rebounds has exposed some of Bamba’s shortcomings. And Bamba’s slow development has been frustrating.
But moving off a guy who still has a lot of potential and was taken sixth in the draft just four years ago is a bold step to take and clearly comes with its own risks. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has taken some enormous decisions over the past season and a half after a quiet start to his tenure and what he does with Bamba will be another one.
Bamba has gotten better since being given more opportunity after Vucevic’s exit – but there is still a long way to go until he can become a quality starting center in the NBA.
His rebounding has continued to prove problematic. The 23-year-old does not rebound as well as someone at 7-foot tall and with a 7-foot-10 wingspan should do.
This issue is particularly prevalent on the defensive end, where he averages just 5.9 defensive rebounds per game which ranks 38th in the league. While he ranks well in grabbing defensive rebounds, only 26.2-percent of his rebounds are contested according to Basketball-Index, and his actual defensive conversion rate is merely average around the league.
Some of it is instincts and not being in the right place to grab the board, but it also comes down to a lack of boxing out — averaging just 1.6 box outs per game according to NBA.com.
Giving up second-chance points has been a problem for the Magic this season — ranking 21st in the NBA for that category at 13.5 per game. This cannot all be put at the feet of Bamba, but his lack of rebounding and boxing out has certainly been a factor in this.
There is no doubting Bamba’s effectiveness in certain areas, but it is always felt like more should be expected for someone with his physical tools.
An interesting comparison to make is to a fellow member of the 2018 draft class Deandre Ayton — a big man of similar size to Bamba but that often punishes smaller matchups and makes opposition teams feel his size.
You just do not get that with Bamba.
On offense, there are things to like about his game but without the power to back down defenders, he is limited as to what he can do. Bamba’s offensive game has mostly consisted of being a lob threat and shooting threes — which he is pretty over-reliant on considering his game should theoretically be more paint-oriented.
Most of Bamba’s potential rightly concerns what he can bring on defense, but on offense he has not really shown enough to make up for his other shortcomings.
If you want to contend in the postseason and your center is not a superstar level talent like Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic then he has to be someone that can at least counter what they are going to bring, whether it is scoring at the other end or causing problems for them on defense.
The Magic might not be in a position to contend in the playoffs right now, but the front office must decide whether they truly believe Bamba can be that guy in the future. If they are not confident, trading him would be the best solution.
But what could the team realistically get for him?
A young player the Magic are higher on or a draft pick in return are probably reasonable expectations for trading the former Texas big man. But the front office would have to be confident that what they are getting back has the potential to be better now, or in a few years, than Bamba.
Whoever takes him on would also have to be confident enough in his ability to pay him a bigger contract than he is currently on with his rookie deal coming to an end.
But despite his weaknesses, there is a lot Bamba can offer another team, or the Magic if they opt to keep him longer-term.
Mo Bamba’s main selling point going into the 2018 draft was his enormous 7-foot-10 wingspan and what he could do as a rim protector. The Magic have seen flashes of the presence he can bring in the paint.
He ranks fifth in the league for blocks at 2.0 per game and his ability to stretch out and get his hand in the face of opposing players has caused disruption this season.
The Magic have given up only 44.2 points in the paint per game this season and Bamba’s length to challenge and block shots has no doubt been a big factor in that.
According to NBA.com, he has contested10.1 shots per game this season which is enough to rank him a pretty respectable 18th in the entire NBA. Perhaps it should be a bit higher given the length he possesses but there’s no doubt that having Bamba inside the arc is and has been a deterrent this season.
It is not all bad on offense either. He might lack the power to bully his way past matchups but Bamba has an unusually good shooting ability for someone of his size.
This season, Bamba is making 34.4-percent of his threes. It is not a figure to shout loudly about, but the Magic big man has shown he can space the floor effectively from the 5 spot which is a massive tool to have in the modern NBA.
In a defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers last month, Bamba scored 32 points thanks to seven made threes during the game — showing there is absolutely reason to believe that he can grow even more as a shooter in the coming years.
He has also on occasion shows he can shoot off the dribble and from mid-range too. Bamba’s intriguing skillset makes deciding whether to keep him, trade him or let him go somewhere else an extremely difficult decision.
It is just about whether that intrigue can someday turn into consistency.
In theory, keeping someone who can space the floor from the center position and provide rim protection sounds like a no-brainer. There is also no doubting he has gotten better with more opportunities and could continue to do so.
But with Carter on the team — a player more suited to the 5 even if he likes playing the 4 — and Bamba continuing to develop only at a steady pace, the team has a tough call to make.
It would be interesting to see what his skillset would look like on a healthier Orlando team with more talent in the coming years. But the team must ask itself if it wants to pay someone an extension that has yet to truly convince as a starter. Especially with Wendell Carter, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac having already been extended for the future.
If a decent first-round pick or exciting young player that better suits what the Magic need becomes available then trading him this week makes a lot of sense.
What the team should not do is trade him for the sake of it for little return — the Magic would be better off waiting until the end of the season to see how he continues to develop and making a decision then in that case. Holding him even as a potential sign-and-trade candidate would net some return for him if they wanted to kick the decision down the road.
If he is traded before the deadline though, Orlando would certainly take a hit in some areas. It would be entirely plausible to see opposition points in the paint go up, for example, should Bamba leave.
There is still the same potential there with Bamba. But at some point, a decision has to be made on whether that potential can become a true talent.
That time has come.