Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter will need to succeed on their own for Orlando Magic

Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba were an interesting pairing last year for the Orlando Magic. But they will need to find their way on their own now. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba were an interesting pairing last year for the Orlando Magic. But they will need to find their way on their own now. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

As Orlando Magic fans sat before training camp last year examining their young roster, they were imagining a whole bunch of different lineups and scenarios. They imagined small lineups, they imagined big lineups, they imagined lineups with Jonathan Isaac.

What the Magic ultimately did for opening night and for much of the season was not a lineup many had imagined.

In a league that was trending smaller, the Magic were ready to go bigger. Reports of Mo Bamba’s progression in camp quickly gave way to the possibility and the reality the Magic were going to start both of their centers — Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba — for the start of the season.

That became the Magic’s front line the entire year. And it was a lineup that helped both players have fantastic seasons.

Things evolve though.

The numbers would say that pairing was OK, but nothing special. And the Magic have drafted another big forward in Paolo Banchero to pair with Franz Wagner. It seems inevitable then that the experiment of playing Carter and Bamba together is coming to an end.

Or at least a full-time end.

The Orlando Magic experimented with a lineup with Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba last year to some success. But they are likely to be split up this season leading to greater mystery to how they perform.

And so this season will be an interesting one for both after career seasons.

Both Bamba and Carter are expected to thrive in their roles. But the reality is too that they are going to have to rely on themselves in a way they did not last year.

That becomes one of the great unknowns and one of the big questions for both — especially with both hitting the start of new contracts.

They are both capable of playing well on their own. And so this question may not be as pressing as it sounds. Orlando should have confidence that both can perform. But they will both have to do different things and fill in some of the gaps that they relied on each other to fill as solid complements for each other last year.

Carter turned in a career season last year, averaging 15.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last year along with a 57.6-percent effective field goal percentage as he added a 3-point shot in earnest.

Bamba too had a career season, averaging 10.6 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game and 1.7 blocks per game. Jamahl Mosley’s arrival gave Mo Bamba an opportunity he was struggling to get under the playoff expectations Steve Clifford put on the team with a group centered around All-Star big man Nikola Vucevic.

Combined, those two players made some impact on the team. The Magic had a -5.4 net rating (105.8 offensive rating/111.2 defensive rating) with the duo on the floor together, according to

It is not a particularly strong number, but still better than the team’s overall net rating. Both players were part of positive lineups for the group — including the team’s surprisingly solid starting group.

The question for the Magic is just how successful can the team be when the two split up?

That is one of the problems analyzing this team. Carter and Bamba played a significant amount of time together. Carter played 1,013 of his 1,852 with Bamba last year (54.7 percent) and Bamba played 1,013 of his 1,824 minutes (55.5 percent) with Carter.

The two played roughly half of their minutes together. So what about the other nearly 50 percent?

That is a bit more difficult to decipher and analyze.

The Magic scored 108.2 points per 100 possessions, according to with Carter on the floor and Bamba off the floor. The team’s overall average was 103.9 points per 100 possessions, according to But still, that would be 26th in the league.

Defensively, the Magic gave up 109.4 points per 100 possessions for a net rating of -1.14 points per 100 possessions. That is encouraging, but still not quite over the hump of an effective lineup.

The most-used lineup that featured Carter without Bamba was with Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner and Chuma Okeke. That group played just 79 minutes with an overall plus/minus of -7. Again, some encouraging notes though, especially considering this is virtually the Magic’s starting lineup.

That explains why Carter is probably the starter at center. The numbers match that eye test.

Lineups struggled when Bamba was left alone in the lineup.

The Magic had a -14.7 net rating with Bamba on the floor and Carter off the floor (101.1 offensive rating/115.9 defensive rating). The Magic’s most-used lineup with Bamba on and Carter off the floor featured Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Franz Wagner and Chuma Okeke for 85 total minutes (in seven games). The group had an overall -15 plus/minus.

These are all fairly small samples. But the Magic still got at least a taste of what this could be like with some of their best players on the floor.

Both Bamba and Carter had strong moments together and strong moments separately. They both had their own struggles.

The most notable of these was Bamba’s breakout 32-point game against the Philadelphia 76ers in January when Carter was out. But that was also the game where Joel Embiid scored 50 points in three quarters. Embiid made only 14 of 37 shots (37.8 percent) and committed six turnovers in 24:41 of head-to-head time against Carter, according to (he scored 36 points on 12-for-22 shooting against Bamba).

That is an unfair comparison because Embiid is an MVP candidate and there is one heavy outlier game. But it shows in stark comparison the defensive difference.

What is hard to do is capture how good Carter was on defense without Bamba’s rim protection behind him. And whether Wagner or Banchero can provide the same cushion behind him.

This is one of the great mysteries the Magic have.

They have some clues of course about how the two will play on their own. But the team is so young there is inevitable growth that will take place. Players may well return to training camp next week with completely different players. That is the reality for the Magic too.

And that does not even count the addition of Banchero and other players that are added to the rotation. The Magic may have ideas of what might work, but they do not really know until they get on the floor and try it out.

This was the case with Carter and Bamba last year. Orlando was willing to try it and the team found something it kept turning to — and experienced at least limited success with.

Orlando still needs to add depth and see some of its young players mature. That will help create a clearer picture of this team.

Despite how well both Carter and Bamba played, it is still a real question how they will do apart and what the Magic will look like. Their pairing, despite some of the criticisms, was a key part of the team’s identity last year.

dark. Next. Franz Wagner aims to take the leap

And the team will need to figure out how to make them work separately this coming season.