Mo Bamba found his niche but Orlando Magic still need more

The biggest question facing the Orlando Magic this free agency is figuring out Mo Bamba's free agency. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
The biggest question facing the Orlando Magic this free agency is figuring out Mo Bamba's free agency. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

The biggest offseason question for the Orlando Magic after their draft selection was what they would do with restricted free agent Mo Bamba.

Perhaps the biggest question was what the league would do with him.

Bamba’s first four seasons in the league were a mixed bag for sure. He struggled to find his place on a playoff-bound and competitive team with a hard-driving coach in Steve Clifford who demanded immediate results.

Playing for a developing team fit him better. He had a breakout season with many of the pressures and restrictions of a winning team lifted.

Bamba has always been able to fill up a box score. There is a reason he went sixth overall in the draft. And it all still comes out.

He is a gifted 3-point shooter for a player his size, enabling him to pick and pop. His length and timing allowed him to be a dominant shot blocker and rim protector. Orlando was able to use him as a free safety to block shots and patrol the paint.

The Orlando Magic got a lot out of Mo Bamba last year as he found his niche with the team. But there is still a lot more the team needs to see from its young center.

Bamba got a lot of things figured out. But Bamba still has to improve to get himself where he needs to be.

After the season, Bamba found his value. The Magic signed him to a two-year, $20.6-million contract with the second year non-guaranteed. There is still risk and pressure facing Bamba this coming season.

It was earned even if there was hand-wringing about what his ultimate value would end up being.

He had a career season last year, averaging 10.6 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game and 1.7 blocks per game. For the season, opponents shot 57.0-percent at the rim against him for the season, trailing only Robin Lopez among the Magic’s centers.

The Magic got a lot out of Bamba last year. And he took some very significant steps forward as a player. Playing time will have that effect. He had the space and freedom to operate and improve. And it was clear he made some important strides.

The counting stats for Bamba always look good when he gets his minutes.

After the All-Star Break, Bamba’s averages increased to 12.2 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per game. He shot 50.2-percent from the floor and a 61.2-percent effective field goal percentage.

Bamba had a strong finish to the season. He tracked with the rest of the team in playing better and getting better as the season raced to its conclusion. And he made major contributions to the team.

That part was encouraging. And Bamba is still an interesting mix of skills. There is still plenty to develop and believe in.

Orlando has a place for him. But there is still a lot for Bamba to work on and improve. There is a reason the uncertainty hung over him. And now the roster is starting to get crowded, likely pushing Bamba to the bench next season.

Bamba found his niche and some comfort for sure. But now he has to sharpen his skills and play a role for this team. That is not always easy.

While Bamba was a strong shooter, especially for a center, that included shooting 40.7-percent on above-the-break threes, there are a lot of parts of his offensive game that he needs to improve and grow on.

Bamba popped on 60-percent of his pick and rolls, according to Basketball Index. He was virtually unused in that NBA staple, especially for a big man. According to’s tracking stats, the Magic scored 0.94 points per possession when Bamba was the roll man. They ran only 1.4 pick and roll possessions per game.

Bamba remained stuck on the perimeter.

That did not mean he was not solid as a screener or used screens. Bamba averaged 2.4 screen assists per 75 possessions. The threat of his shooting still made him a valuable screener even if everyone knew he was going to the perimeter.

And one area where Bamba is surprisingly good is working off screens to get his shot. The Magic ran more than a few sets for him where they had a player screen for Bamba to set up an open three at the top of the key.

There are not many centers that know how to navigate a screen like that to set up a three. And Bamba is big enough to shoot over smaller defenders if they try to switch that.

If Orlando is aiming for a truly versatile lineup, this skill inversion is a big way the team can put pressure on defenses.

With the Magic seemingly trying to go to a 5-out offense and spread the floor, his shooting will remain valuable. And with Bamba likely now coming off the bench, he could likely feature in more pick and rolls and have more opportunities to crash the lane with a split from Wendell Carter in the lineup.

That could be an area though that also is a place to continue improving.

The Magic finished in the top-10 in defensive rating after the All-Star Break, giving up 111.2 points per 100 possessions. With Bamba on the floor after the All-Star Break, the Magic gave up 112.0 points per 100 possessions.

There are still areas were Bamba needs to improve, especially when Carter was off the floor. Carter had the best on-court defensive rating after the All-Star Break at 104.7 points per 100 possessions.

Bamba is still trying to make his mark consistently defensively. That is the biggest area he needs to improve — just being consistent overall.

The blocked shots are an easy counting stat way to measure his success. And Bamba is indeed one of the best shot blockers in the league — his 2.36 blocks per 75 possessions is in the top five percentile in the league and opponents shoot 6.16 percentage points worse with Bamba at the rim.

The length alone is enough to deter shots and was one of the big attractors for the Magic to draft him sixth four years ago. There is an incongruity between Bamba’s counting stats and the actual numbers with him on the floor.

But what Bamba was able to accomplish last year was show there are a lot of ways to use him offensively and get a lot out of him. There is also something there to build with him defensively — and the opportunity to play him alongside Jonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke should only help the team’s defense improve with him out there.

Bamba undoubtedly had a breakthrough year last season. He found his niche. And as the season went on, Bamba continued to get better.

The goal for this season is to continue to get better and continue to make an impact in whatever role he might play. Certainly, with Carter’s injury history, the Magic will need Bamba to start for anywhere between 15 and 20 games this season.

Next. 5 Orlando Magic games we are already looking forward to. dark

But the questions about him still remain. And his contract status only reflected that. He still has a lot to prove this coming season.