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MikeCheck: Grizzlies Draft Files – The Case of Mohamed Bamba

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies are closing in on the June 21 NBA Draft with their options as wide open and diverse as the talent among projected top players on the board.

As pre-draft workouts continue and potential trade scenarios are discussed regarding what the Grizzlies will do with the No. 4 overall pick, we’ll examine the case of eight potential franchise-altering players in the draft who are – or should be – under strong consideration for that selection.

Mohamed Bamba

Player: Mohamed Bamba

Height/Weight: 7-0, 225

Team: Texas

2017-18 Stats: 12.9 ppg., 10.5 rpg., 3.7 bpg., 30.2 mpg., 54.1 FG%

Projected Draft Range: Picks 3-7

Opening Statement

“At Texas, one of the feedbacks that we got was (a lack of consistent motor). I may not agree, but it’s something people are saying about me. I have to internalize it and get better at it. I just have to play hard for longer spurts of time and just dominate. I think the biggest misconception about my game is my love for it. This is what I want to do, and I owe this thing my life. There’s no way around it – this is what I want to do for the next 20 years.” – Mo Bamba on questions about his work ethic as a college freshman.

The Case For Bamba

While almost every top-10 lottery prospect has staked their claim to being the No. 1 overall pick in the June 21 draft, Bamba is among the first to publicly hit the pre-draft campaign trail to prove it. In Chicago at last month’s NBA Combine, Bamba met with 13 teams in a span of 16 hours. However, the Grizzlies weren’t among the teams in his initial onslaught of interviews.

Mohamed Bamba

At a time when DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Michael Porter Jr., among others, have been mum about their respective workout schedules, Bamba hit the road last week to audition for the Bulls. Chicago holds the No. 7 pick and, by many indications, Bamba might not slip that far. But the NCAA’s fourth-leading shot blocker last season is adamant about rejecting any notion he lacks a relentless drive to be a game-changing NBA anchor.

Bamba’s 7-10 wingspan was by far the longest measured at the Combine, and places him in Rudy Gobert territory in defensive length, flexibility and rim protection potential. He’d clearly address sore spots for Memphis, which in last season’s injury-riddled run ranked 14th in both blocked shots and opponents’ field-goal percentage, 24th in defensive rating and dead last among 30 teams in defensive rebounds.

We both have switch-ability, we protect the rim. It’s just about being an elite rim protector. One difference between me and any other prospect in this class is (presence). If I’m plugged into the NBA right now – I don’t want to be cocky when I say this, but – I feel I’d be one of the best rim protectors in the league as a rookie. It’s something I’ve really tried to master early in my career, and it’s only going to get better.
-- Mohamed Bamba

“What they see when they compare me to Rudy (Gobert) is our presence,” Bamba said. “We both have switch-ability, we protect the rim. It’s just about being an elite rim protector. One difference between me and any other prospect in this class is (presence). If I’m plugged into the NBA right now – I don’t want to be cocky when I say this, but – I feel I’d be one of the best rim protectors in the league as a rookie. It’s something I’ve really tried to master early in my career, and it’s only going to get better.”

When it comes to polish and presence, Bamba is confident he’s on par with Ayton as the best true center in the draft. Because he’s not a ball-stopping big man who requires a high volume of touches, Bamba also insisted he’s a high-impact, low-maintenance alternative to Ayton or Bagley. Hall of Fame center David Robinson, who spent time with Bamba after he declared for the draft, has become a fan.

“We have completely different games, but as far as dominating, we do a lot of similar things,” Bamba said of Robinson. “The night I moved out of Texas, I was able to spend that night with David and sort of pick his brain. He told me I was really going to enjoy it, have my ups and downs, but (the NBA) would be great for me.”

The Case Against Bamba

Let’s just get this out of the way up front. Any Hasheem Thabeet reminders or worries in Memphis when it comes to Bamba are completely shallow at best and absolutely offensive at worst. If the Grizzlies prove to have limited interest in Bamba – or vice versa – it likely has far more to do with Gasol’s presence now, and the possibility that he still has several more productive seasons left before retiring.

Mohamed Bamba

Considering the depth of quality big men atop the draft board, this would be an ideal year for the Grizzlies to pluck an eventual successor to Gasol, 33. But he’s also revamped his diet and conditioning to push himself into the best shape of his career. On top of that, the Grizzlies are clearly in win-now mode coming off last season’s 22-60 meltdown, and with nearly $75 million committed in 2018-19 salary to Gasol, Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons. Plus, with the way the NBA’s ‘small-ball’ era has evolved, it’s difficult to fathom any pairing of Gasol and Bamba on the court. It’s an either-or scenario.

The Grizzlies, who ranked next-to-last in the NBA in scoring, should be targeting someone at No. 4 who can generate more firepower and offensive versatility. That said, general manager Chris Wallace isn’t convinced traditional centers, especially young and athletic ones such as Ayton and Bamba, aren’t vital.

If you’ve got the right big, the guy can still do an awful lot of damage. Even though the league has moved to the small-ball revolution, shooting the three, we still like to have guys who can block shots, score on the inside and do all the other things great big men can do.
-- General Manager Chris Wallace

“Put me in the minority; I don’t think the NBA big (man) has gone the way of the dinosaur,” Wallace said. “If you’ve got the right big, the guy can still do an awful lot of damage. Even though the league has moved to the small-ball revolution, shooting the three, we still like to have guys who can block shots, score on the inside and do all the other things great big men can do.”

Because of Bamba’s relatively limited to non-existent three-point range – unlike hybrid bigs in Bagley, Jackson Jr. and Wendell Carter – he’s a unique fit. The Suns (No. 1) and Hawks (No. 3) have clear needs at center. But don’t expect Bamba to go that high in this draft. The Mavericks (No. 5), Bulls (No. 7), Knicks (No. 9) and Clippers (Nos. 12/13) would be his next likely landing spots, with Dallas favored.

The Verdict

No player at the Combine was more prepared for team interviews than Bamba, who asked questions and described in detail how he’d fit in schemes with rotation players on rosters. He’s an intelligent player who has interests outside of basketball, but that doesn’t mean he’s not committed to dominance.

I do more, but I require less, on the court and off the court. I’m the most efficient guy in this draft class.
-- Mohamed Bamba

“Absolutely, and I think people will see more and more as draft night comes up that I’m right there with those top guys, if not the number one pick,” Bamba said. “I do more, but I require less, on the court and off the court. I’m the most efficient guy in this draft class.”

Bamba confirmed he’ll schedule three or four more team workouts before draft night. It’s unclear if the Grizzlies are among them. But it doesn’t seem likely, barring a trade down in the lottery or one creating an opening at center. Gasol can’t play forever. Memphis eventually needs to pivot toward the future. But, apparently, not right now. Bypassing Bamba at No. 4 would be based more on timing than talent.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.