SUMMER LEAGUE STANDOUT: AMATH M’BAYE
Eric Patten, Clippers.com
There was a point in rookie forward Amath M’Baye’s Summer League stint with the Clippers when it appeared he was the best player on the floor.
It was the Clippers’ only win of the five-game jaunt in the Las Vegas desert and M’Baye showed a year removed from going undrafted as a fourth-year junior out of the University of Oklahoma he is likely on track to someday realize his NBA dream.
Gone are the questions that crept up after going undrafted in 2013. Gone are the doubts that he belongs.
“Last year, coming out of college I was asking myself a lot of questions,” M’Baye admitted. “It was a tough period for me because there’s so much unknown and so much pressure and so much relies on performance on the court. A year later, everything slows down. I understand that I did a good job last year, so there is less pressure on my shoulders. I’m going to find a job.”
That job may come with the Clippers or another organization. It may come thousands of miles away in a place with a difficult language or new culture. M’Baye, a 6-foot-8 forward with unlimited athletic potential, spent 56 games with the Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins in the Japanese League last season.
There was a bit of culture shock, even for a guy who grew up in France, lived in Senegal, and attended college at the University of Wyoming and later Oklahoma, and speaks four languages. But the experience allowed M’Baye to grow as a player.
He returned stateside a refined player from the previous summer when he was viewed as a raw athlete during draft workouts that included a June stop in L.A. to workout for the Clippers. He also returned from Japan with a renewed confidence as a small forward, a position he rarely played in Norman, and a shooter after averaging 18.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and shooting 48.6 percent from the field with the Dolphins.
“The experience in Japan was special, but I think it was for the best,” said M’Baye, who lived in an apartment alone in the several months he was in Nagoya. “It was hard. My girlfriend was there with me for most of the time and my mom came to visit. The coach was American and we had another American on the team. We tried to keep ourselves busy and not just be a loner. It was kind of hard, though, especially because Japanese is such a hard language and it’s such a different culture.”
The cultural differences likely made the basketball part of the experience seem easy.
“I started as a 3 over there,” M’Baye said. “I played 95 percent of my playing time on the wing. There’s no better way to learn a position than playing it. I think it gave me great diversity in my game as in I didn’t forget how to play the 4 and now I can play the 3. I think it’s something that the Clippers are looking for, especially with players like Matt Barnes, who play the stretch 4 and play the 3 and stuff like that. I think that’s the model I can fit in and so far it’s been good. I know there are a lot of things I still need to improve on, but I think I’m taking the right steps in the right direction.”
The ability to play both positions was something he knew he needed to address after he was not drafted a year earlier. Even after a season at the position and a summer playing there with the Clippers, he’s still learning.
“He’s like a sponge,” Clippers Summer League coach Brendan O’Connor said. “He wants more and more information. He’s always asking for stuff, asking for film and he wants to watch our practices to make sure. He started at the 3 spot and the 3 and 4 are so different in our system that he wanted to learn and he really wanted to do it.”
M’Baye averaged 13.0 points per game playing for O’Connor, including a breakout 27-point performance in a 91-85 win over the Miami Heat. He showed the ability to shoot from distance, a soft touch inside, a willingness to go after every blocked shot attempt and, of course, the athleticism. He had three highlight-reel dunks, led by a one-handed dunk along the baseline over a Heat defender.
But people from Blake Griffin, who M’Baye communicates with when he is ever in Los Angeles, to Clippers’ front office staff already knew about the dunks. It was the other stuff, the confidence and newfound skillset that was all new.
“The fact that I was able to play the 3 all year and have good numbers and help my team win helps build my confidence and it’s pretty high right now,” M’Baye said. “I’m hoping to keep it that way.”