Bamba Making Strides In His Second NBA Season

BOSTON – Hours after the Orlando Magic have concluded practices back in Orlando, and a number of hours before the players are required back at the team headquarters for morning shootarounds, center Mo Bamba often returns to the Amway Center for late-night shooting sessions.

As Bamba’s performance on Monday in Charlotte showed, those extra shooting sessions have paid off in a big way for the 7-footer and the Magic.

Bamba’s 12-point, seven-rebound, two-block performance in the Magic’s win in Charlotte on Monday offered further proof that he is making tangible strides as a second-year NBA player. It was his third double-digit scoring night in the past four games – something that is a welcomed sight for a Magic team that has struggled to score in recent weeks. For Bamba, it’s proof that his dedication to the game is starting to pay big dividends.

``It’s something that I really take pride in – getting in the gym after every practice and even on days when I don’t feel like it, getting in the gym at night to get my reps in,’’ Bamba said. ``It’s really paying off. I texted my cousin and texted my best friend (who often accompany him for the late-night shooting sessions) and told them, `It’s really paying off,’ and we’ve just got to keep it up.’’

Bamba has started to play better – at least on the offensive end – as he’s built confidence in his shot. Because he backs up Vucevic – the Magic’s lone all-star in the past seven seasons – Bamba plays a little more than 15 minutes a game on average. The only instances when he’s on the floor late in games is when the score is one sided – something that has taken some getting used to in his 1 ½ NBA seasons.

``It’s definitely difficult, but everyone’s process is different,’’ Bamba admitted. ``Last year, I used to watch lot of other guys (on other NBA teams) and they’re in different situations. Now, it’s just about focusing and catering on my own process.’’

Bamba also said it has helped him to not focus so much on the success of others in his draft class, while he’s somewhat struggled to carve out his own niche in the NBA because of a rookie season cut short by a stress fracture injury. Luka Doncic (the No. 3 pick) and Trae Young (the No. 6 pick) have already become all-stars, while Deandre Ayton (No. 1 pick), Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 4 pick) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (No. 11 pick) have established themselves as blossoming talents that their teams are clearly intending to build around.

Also, Bamba said he doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the long-held NBA theory that it takes big men longer to develop at the pro level because of the physicality and defensive demands expected.

``I don’t tell myself that because that sort of gives you an excuse. So, I just push myself every day to try and exceed all expectations,’’ Bamba said of his development. ``Now, that I’ve started just focusing on myself, I’ve started playing well and expanding my game.’’

TRADE DEADLINE LOOMS: With the NBA trade deadline set to hit on Thursday at 3 p.m. ET, it’s only natural that players throughout the league are curious to see if the team makes any moves.

The Magic shocked the basketball world nearly a year ago when they brazenly traded for point guard Markelle Fultz just prior to the trade deadline hitting on Feb. 7.

At the time, Fultz was out of action again with a rare shoulder condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome and the Magic were ultimately patient with him throughout the rehabilitation process to get him fully healthy. That move turned out to be a wise one as Fultz has evolved into one the NBA’s best feel-good stories this season and has averaged 11.7 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game. On Monday in Charlotte, Fultz dominated the action much of the night and handed out a career-best 14 assists to jump-start the Orlando offense.

Magic coach Steve Clifford said it’s totally understandable for players to be concerned about trades in the days before the deadline because of how disruptive it could be to their personal lives.

``In any profession, even if you love your job, there are always going to be things about it that you don’t like,’’ Clifford said. ``That’s just part of getting older and understanding the way the world works. These guys have phenomenal lives in terms of the financial (part), yet there are many, many issues that people don’t understand about the way that they’re forced to live. Think about it … you’re on a team that you like, in a city that you like, your family likes it because some of them have families and where they go to school is everything. And there’s always a chance that you wake up some day and they say, `You’ve got to move here’ and it might be across the country. That’s a difficult part of it, for sure.’’

Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who was announced on Tuesday as a participant in the Feb. 15 Slam Dunk Competition at All-Star Weekend in Chicago, said he does his best to ignore the trade chatter that dominates social media and talk among players this time of year.

``It’s a business, man. But at the end of the day, I’m just focused on the team and I’m focused on helping Orlando beat Boston,’’ said Gordon, who said prior to the game that he is close to signing a lucrative, multi-year shoe deal with the Chinese sportswear brand 361 Degrees. ``I’m focused on helping my team win and that’s it. I need to stay as focused and as present as I possibly can and let things fall where they may.’’

AUGUSTIN UPDATE: Magic veteran point guard D.J. Augustin, out since Dec. 15 with bone irritation in his left knee, has a target date for his return to action: Feb. 21stagainst the Dallas Mavericks at the Amway Center.

Augustin, one of the anchors of the Magic’s second unit, missed his 10thconsecutive game on Wednesday night in Boston. The loss of Augustin’s playmaking (4.7 assists per game), scoring pop off the bench (10.7 points per game) and perimeter shooting (34.6 percent 3-point shooting) has severely hampered the Magic offense, Clifford said.

Augustin’s days have been filled mostly with rehab sessions, of late, and he’s itching to get back out on the court with his teammates. He said his knee is feeling markedly better, giving him hope that he’ll be able to return fully just after the break for the NBA All-Star Game.

``My knee is feeling great,’’ he said prior to Wednesday’s game. ``I think I have another week or two to go before I can really test it out. After All-Star break, I’ll be able to practice with the team and hopefully play in that first game after the break.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic will be back in action on Thursday night when they face the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Orlando won the only meeting against New York this season when it grabbed a 95-83 victory at the Amway Center on Oct. 30. The 83 points scored by the Knicks on Oct. 30 are tied for the fewest a Magic opponent has scored this season.

Former Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, who played in Orlando for 3 ½ seasons from 2014-18, has played well of late for New York. He had 15 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists on Monday – the first player with at least 15-10-15 in Knicks history since Michael Ray Richardson in 1981.

The problem for the Magic could be playing on the second night of a back-to-back set of games. This season, Orlando is 1-7 on the second night of a back-to-back. The Magic’s one victory this season while playing on the second night of a back-to-back came on Dec. 4 when they whipped the Phoenix Suns, 128-114.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.