In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s installment takes a look at Texas big man Mo Bamba.
Texas center Mo Bamba broke the mold at the 2018 NBA Draft Combine when his wingspan was measured at 7’10, the longest reading on record in the history of the event. The only player in recent years to measure anywhere close was Rudy Gobert, who measured 7’8.5 five years ago. Length does not make a basketball player, but a massive wingspan is a potentially integral aspect of the prototype player in today’s NBA game and Bamba certainly has it.
From day one, Bamba should be an elite rim runner and shot blocker. His length and athleticism will be an immediate problem for NBA opponents. Unlike most basketball prospects that are “freakishly” long at a very young age, Bamba displays the signs of an instinctive player with decent polish to his game.
Bamba, who just turned 20 (and, by proxy, is significantly older than Marvin Bagley III or Jaren Jackson Jr.), played just one season of college basketball at Texas. He averaged 12.9 points and 10.5 rebounds while blocking 3.7 shots per game. He was not the focal part of the Longhorns offense, ranking just fourth on the team in field goal attempts per game. But he showed enough promise in every phase of the game that, when combined with his incredible length, he projects as perhaps the highest ceiling player in this draft.
On the offensive end, Bamba is a strong rim runner and lob catcher. This is a skill that will immediately translate to the NBA game. Though there are natural question about his slight build, particularly in his lower half, he is so long and athletic that catching and finishing with some traffic around him should not be much of an issue.
While the rest of his offensive game is not polished, by any stretch, he is not necessarily a one-dimensional offensive player. He shot 60.3 percent from the field, including 27.5 percent from the three point line, with nearly a quarter of his shots came from behind the arc. His 68.1 percent mark at the free throw line is not elite but is respectable for a young player of Bamba’s profile.
In terms of shooting, Bamba shows a willingness to shoot without forcing shots when defenders are challenging him. He demonstrates a presence and a patience that are ahead of his offensive game. He looks comfortable shooting the ball, even from different spots on the floor. He has a mid-range jump shot to go with his long-range jump shot, and both look natural coming out of his hands, even if he is not yet proficient in making those shots.
Bamba will likely never be a primary ball handler or perhaps even a secondary ball handler at the NBA level. With that said, he is comfortable putting the ball on the floor. He has a massive DHO radius, yet another aspect of his profile that translates well to the NBA game. As his skill set and total offensive game grow, he could certainly be a player who can make plays with the ball in his hands.
One other aspect of his offensive game that is already NBA-ready is his transition game. At his height and length, he gets up and down the floor very quickly. He can catch the ball on the dead sprint and fluidly get the ball on the floor or up to the rim, depending on what spot of the floor he catches the ball. He has a long stride and can catch the ball far from the basket, but get to the rim for a dunk without having to put the ball on the floor.
While Bamba’s offense game has some NBA-ready elements and several other high ceiling aspects as well, it it Bamba’s defensive profile that pushes his name to elite prospect status. In today’s NBA game, every team strives to put a versatile, switchable defense on the floor at all times. Of course, the biggest challenge here is to play a true center and rim protector who can also get out on the perimeter and guard when circumstances dictate.
Many players in the 7’0 range with superior length, even good athletes of this size, can struggle with lateral movement that is required to keep perimeter players in from of them. At the college level, Bamba showed that he can in fact keep perimeter players in front of him. Further, when he does he get beat off the dribble he has the ability to recover from behind and block shots even when trailing the ball.
Perhaps Bamba’s best skill, on either end of the floor, is his shot blocking ability. From day one in the NBA, he should be an elite shot blocker. His length and ability to cover space in a small amount of time will keep him in position to block shots and deter shot attempts near the basket. He should be an excellent shot blocker in transition as well as working as a help defender in the half court setting. He could be an effective shot blocker as an on the ball defender as well, but will have to be a strong post defender to make that happen.
Bamba’s defensive IQ is fine for a player his age. At the college level, he was able to rely on his length and athleticism to be an elite defender. He will have a learning curve in terms of getting comfortable in an NBA defense. Defending the pick and roll requires timing and nuance that some NBA players never master. In spite of his defensive profile, Bamba has work to do to develop the fundamental reads and actions needed to be an elite defender at the NBA level.
In spite of all of his upside on both ends of the floor, there is one clear question mark about Bamba and how he projects as an NBA player. That question is whether he can develop the lower body strength to not get pushed around in the NBA. Most basketball skills require a strong base, especially when dealing with the size and strength of players at the NBA level. For a player of his build, Bamba has decent upper body strength. But a lack of lower body strength could result in a struggle to deal with physical play.
As NBA talent evaluators make judgments about NBA prospects, lower body strength ranks very high among physical attributes that are an important factor for a young player. A player can possess every skill in the game, but playing without the strong foundation that is needed for virtually every basketball skill can definitely push a player more towards his talent floor than his talent ceiling.
Lastly, one of Bamba’s best selling points as a prospect is that he is a very bright and coachable young player. He plays and carries himself with a mature and calm demeanor. NBA teams should have a high level of confidence that he will work hard, will listen and will play within the team concept.
As a prospect, Bamba is a bit of an enigma. He appears to sit outside of the top three in this draft class, though his ceiling may be as high or higher than any player in this class. The consensus is that it would be a surprise to see him go in the top three picks but is very likely he will be gone before the sixth pick. Surely, the teams picking at the top of this draft, including the Hawks, are performing their due diligence on Bamba, whether it ia for evaluating whether to spend a top three pick on him or making an assessment as to whether it might be prudent to trade back to the four or five pick and take him.
If the Hawks are considering drafting Bamba with the third pick, it is somewhat of a well kept secret, although Travis Schlenk has been playing his hand pretty close to the vest. Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will not be working out for the Hawks, the latter because he is playing in the ACB Championship in Europe. It is possible the Hawks take Bamba, but the that scenario would probably be more likely the result of the Hawks trading back a spot or two than just taking him outright with the third overall pick.