ORLANDO - One of the Orlando Magic’s top performers on Monday in the preseason opener against the Boston Celtics was Mo Bamba, now in his fourth season with the club. Head Coach Jamahl Mosley raved about his energy, intensity, decision making and focus on the defensive end of the floor afterwards, a positive sign going forward for his development.
“Mo has been wanting to push himself to get better and be better, and that showed tonight in his ability to run the floor (and in) protecting the rim. (He) got caught in a couple switches where he usually would fly out, where he sat down and guarded a couple times,” Mosley said of the 7-foot, 235-pound center. “Offensively, ducking in, rolling to the rim and then stepping out being able to make shots. I think he did a very good job for us tonight in his growth.”
Here’s a look at some of what he did well.
Bamba just simply has a knack for blocking shots, a strength of his going back to his high school days at both Cardigan Mountain School in New Hampshire and Westtown School in Pennsylvania. It helps that he has one of the longest wingspans in the NBA, which measured at 7-foot-10 shortly before the Magic drafted him in 2018. He had four blocks in the preseason opener, two of which really stood out. One was a chasedown block in transition on Payton Pritchard. The other prevented Robert Williams from throwing down a dunk off an alley-oop toss from Dennis Schroder.
Finishing around the basket was one of the main things Bamba says he worked on over the summer. Important from his performance Monday was that he wasn’t hesitant to go up strong when a pass was delivered to him near or in the paint. With the number of playmakers the Magic have, Bamba should have plenty of opportunities this season to score off drop-off passes and alley-oops.
It’s interesting thinking back to 2018 pre-draft analysis because there was some skepticism about Bamba as a floor spacer. No longer is that in question, as he has one of the smoothest looking jumpers among centers in the league. Could he become a 40-plus percent 3-point shooter? Obviously with him shooting just 32.2 percent from deep last season that would be an incredible jump.
On that note, the 23-year-old playing alongside Moe Wagner in the second unit is a big plus for the Magic as having a pair of floor-spacing big men gives the guards more room to attack the paint. Those drive-and-kick opportunities should create more open threes in the corners. The last two seasons, Orlando ranked last in the league in both corner threes attempted and made. They were 26th in corner 3-point percentage in 2020-21. That really needs to change. Most of the top teams in the league the last several seasons have ranked high in that 3-point shooting category.
It wouldn’t be shocking if Bamba led all reserve centers in the NBA this season in rebounding (assuming he indeed comes off the bench most of the year). He had 10 boards on Monday. It went a little under the radar, but not many players were gobbling up more boards near the end of last season than the Harlem, New York native, who in early May hauled down 15-plus boards in three straight games and averaged 9.7 of them throughout that final month.
Maybe most encouraging about his night was that afterwards he wasn’t satisfied. He knows what his potential is, and he’s giving it his all to eventually reach it.
“I think I came out a little slow,” he said. “I kind of let the game come to me, which I can’t do. But I just tried to put as much presence on the rim, try to change the game as much as possible defensively, even if the shots aren’t falling.”