Mo Bamba sees a fit in the Bulls

"Chicago is a great city...I could see myself playing here"

It’s been all about the reach with Mohamed Bamba, the giant center from the U. of Texas who worked out for the Bulls Friday in the Advocate Center.

As soon as he is drafted by an NBA team high in the lottery June 21, Bamba will possess one of the widest arms extended wingspans and standing reach sizes in NBA history, with a 7-10 wingspan and 9' 3/4" standing reach.

He’ll likely immediately become one of the most feared shot blockers in the NBA.

By most accounts, Bamba is predicted to be selected somewhat before the Bulls pick at No. 7. Most speculation centers on Bamba being selected by the Dallas Mavericks at No. 5 since the Mavericks have a history of weakness at center.

But do the Bulls like Bamba enough to reach on their own, perhaps a trade to No. 4 in the draft to grab the biggest man in this NBA draft?

“Chicago is a great city. It is a very young team and I could see myself playing here,” Bamba told reporters after his morning workout with the Bulls. “Obviously the goal was to be the No. 1 pick, but Chicago had all the assets and everything. When you look at all the categories that they struggled in, those were all things that I could step in and help impact immediately. Like they were last or second to in blocked shots and I like to think of myself as a pretty good shot blocker. I could step in immediately and have an impact for this team and this organization."

“I think Lauri (Markkanen) and I, we're in a sense the front court of the future,” said Bamba. “He can step out and really shoot it really well. That gives me a lot of room to operate down low and start to develop. I think Chicago is one of the better fits for me than other places. That’s why I thought it was important to come work out.”

Though Bamba is considered a likely top five pick, he still chose to work out with the Bulls, even though he isn't working out for all of the six teams currently picking ahead of the Bulls.

Something going on?

No one will know that from the Bulls, who keep a deep state veil of secrecy on their draft process.

But it’s been widely speculated that the Memphis Grizzlies with the No. 4 pick are the team most likely to trade down in the draft.

The Suns, Kings and Hawks in the top three are said to be most likely to retain their draft picks given the optimism about projected top draft picks DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley Jr. Those players are widely considered the top three in some order. Some add Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. to that group.

Those three teams are in rebuild situations with young players. Not the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies collapsed last season with the injury to Mike Conley and the coaching change after a falling out between Marc Gasol and coach David Fizdale. Conley, Gasol and Chandler Parsons are on the roster with extensive long term contracts. So it makes less sense for the Grizzlies to add a young project type player, like Jackson Jr. or Bamba. Take a chance on Michael Porter or Trae Young? Perhaps.

But Memphis also could get a player like that, or another point guard like Collin Sexton as insurance for Conley, by trading back a few spots while also adding a player.

How much would the Bulls want to move up to, say, the No. 4 slot, for a player?

They’d obviously have to give up the No. 7 pick and not No. 22. No. 7 and Cameron Payne? Bobby Portis? Denzel Valentine? Justin Holiday? Omer Asik? OK, just reaching there, though this is about reach.

Those are some of the questions that will be preeminent during these last few weeks leading up to the NBA draft.

Memphis has given no indication it intends to trade its pick. Though such talks generally become more serious closer to the draft. Dallas with an inpatient owner and veterans like Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews. So they also could look to trade down to add a player.

There’s a chance, of course, Bamba could fall to No. 7, though that seems unlikely at this time.

He did only average about 13 points and 10 rebounds in his one year at Texas. Then Texas lost to powerhouse Nevada in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Bamba had 13 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. So perhaps it’s fair to ask if he couldn’t make enough impact on his college team, how could he expect to in the NBA?

And there’s much more to basketball than just size.

The player with the biggest wingspan and reach ever in the NBA was Manute Bol. Bismack Biyombo was pursued because of his wingspan and reach. Though so was Kevin McHale. Wingspan enabled Kawhi Leonard to become elite and did so once for Scottie Pippen. Derrick Rose had an unusually long wingspan for his size. So did Jason Maxiell.

We also have seen many times before that future NBA stars and even Hall of Famers lost early in the tournament and went on to dominant NBA careers. James Harden and Kevin Durant didn’t get their teams past the first round. Ben Simmons couldn’t even get his team into the tournament.

Bamba was correct. The Bulls were an awful defensive team, last in the league in blocks. And by a lot. They ranked bottom five in most defensive analytics and want to be a team that promotes defense. They actually have an encouraging offensive core with Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, only Dunn really regarded highly on defense.

There’s much discussion in the NBA these days about the extinction of the dinosaurs and centers, if not also the Raptors. Golden State and Cleveland in the Finals rarely use anyone very tall at vital parts of the game. Though another way of looking at it is if you don’t have players to match them, you do something else, like trying to stop them. Having a man the size of Bamba defending inside is threatening.

Though Bamba often is likened to Utah’s Rudy Gobert, he’s more athletic and draws a better comparison to Houston’s Clint Capella, who defends the rim and finishes with lobs. Heck, if they threw more of those lobs and took fewer of the threes, maybe the Rockets would have been in the Finals.

Bamba only ran individual drills for the Bulls, he said, to principally avoid injury, like a sprained ankle. It made sense. He’s an unusually articulate and polished man, though not for a basketball player, but for a human being. His language Friday in his 10 minutes with the Bulls seemed much more dignified and authoritative than that of the media members asking questions.

He agreed there was hearsay about a supposed lack of a motor for him, NBA shorthand for not trying hard all the time.

He dismissed that in noting a bias that often exists with teams being suspicious of players who read books and have interests beyond basketball.

“There’s a misconception about my motor not running as high,” Bamba offered conversationally. “I think I showed that in the workouts today. A lot of that is due to my outside interests. Like I mentioned on a podcast before, I think what’s ridiculous is Kobe (Bryant) being worldly and knowing three or four different languages. But no one really questions his motor. It’s something I kind of use as constructive criticism and just go out here and do more.”

Bamba’s parents are from Africa. He grew up in Harlem in New York City and attended prep schools in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

He only shot 28 percent on threes in college, but almost 70 percent on free throws, which suggests his shot isn’t broken. He said he’s shooting hundreds of threes per day to practice and his shooting is much improved. Plus, he said the Bulls worked him out to defend the perimeter and he believes he impressed.

“Awesome,” the 7-1 Bamba said of the workout. “This was my kickoff workout. I have been feeling under the weather for the last day or two, but I came out here and fought and I think that is what impressed them the most. I shot pretty okay from the three. We did a couple of post move stuff, a lot of pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll things. A lot of lobs. Some of the coaches had fun throwing me lobs. They kept throwing (the lobs) real low. I encouraged them to throw them a little bit higher. They had fun just tossing it up there. It was pretty interactive.”

And Bamba said he could see himself interacting with these Bulls players.

“My assessment is they have a lot of talent in a lot of different areas and this is a team for the future,” Bamba said. “It's a really young team. I think the oldest guy is Robin (Lopez) and I’m not sure exactly how old he is, but he’s not exactly the oldest guy. It’s a pretty young team and I am looking forward to really getting to know these guys.

"My mindset setting foot on campus in Austin (was) how could I make this team better from Day 1,” Bamba said. “Guys became good finishers around me and that’s the goal no matter where I go, to get guys to improve just off pure impact of my presence.”

Is it enough for the Bulls to be looking up?

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