When the Orlando Magic made University of Texas center Mo Bamba the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, they placed a good deal of stock in his upside. Between injuries and strange minutes allocation, Bamba has had a hard time displaying that potential. In Wednesday’s matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, however, the 23-year-old showed the extent of his two-way capabilities.
The Magic will face a decision on Bamba, Terrence Ross, and others before the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline. However, while the franchise mulls over how to proceed in the next several weeks, Bamba’s spectacular performance against the Sixers served as a statement game.
Orlando cannot give up on the youngster. Not yet.
The Magic are sellers ahead of the NBA trade deadline, and rival executives are curious about Mo Bamba
The Orlando Magic figure to orchestrate a sell-off before the NBA trade deadline. Ross and Gary Harris are the two candidates most likely to move, but the Magic are reportedly considering making Mo Bamba available.
Bleacher Report‘s Jake Fischer reported last week that the Magic want a first-round pick for Bamba. Fischer’s colleague, Eric Pincus, previously noted that rival executives are “curious” to see how Orlando chooses to handle Bamba before the deadline.
The Magic made the playoffs in the Orlando “bubble.” But they’ve since traded Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. There’s a certain desperation for progress, with the organization possibly feeling the need to shake things up and get aggressive in attaining future assets. That’s basically telegraphed by Fischer’s report that the Magic want first-rounder for Ross and Harris.
Bamba is the guy most likely to net the Magic a first-round pick. However, his performance against the 76ers indicated Orlando would jump the gun in giving up a potential franchise center.
Bamba scored 32 points and flashed as a two-way, floor-spacing big
Joel Embiid stole the show by scoring 50 points in just over 27 minutes of action. However, Bamba took it to Embiid and the 76ers in the first half.
After scoring eight points in the first quarter, Bamba poured in 20 in the second period. He finished the first half 10-of-13 from the field, including an astonishing 7-of-8 from beyond the arc. The long-range shooting display epitomized his tantalizing skills as a floor-spacing big.
Bamba already boasts elite athleticism. The perimeter jumper has become an increasingly important element to his game. After Wednesday’s game, he’s shooting nearly 36% from beyond the arc on 3.9 attempts per game.
The Harlem native’s shooting unlocks so much offensively. Late in the game, he attacked a Georges Niang closeout and drove right into Sixers big Andre Drummond, finishing over the veteran center with a high-arcing runner. Mind you, Bamba did this all with his off hand. The play underscored Bamba’s growing confidence in taking defenders off the dribble and using his athleticism and skill to beat opposing bigs at the point of attack.
Is Orlando really ready to give up on a guy with this kind of talent?
A big decision on the horizon
The primary reason the Magic seem to be dangling Bamba ahead of the NBA trade deadline is that he can become a restricted free agent this summer.
Orlando has Jonathan Isaac eventually returning from injury. Wendell Carter Jr. just signed a four-year contract extension. The frontcourt is already pretty crowded. Do the Magic want to make Bamba the $10.1 million qualifying offer and sign him to a long-term deal in restricted free agency with other young bigs already under contract for the next few seasons? They should.
Bamba probably has the highest overall ceiling of any single player on the Magic roster. He’s already an elite defender, averaging 2.1 blocks with a team-high 1.3 defensive box plus-minus. The offensive game demands more consistency and needs honing, but it can get there if the Magic commit to giving him more consistent minutes.
It’s too soon for Orlando to end the Bamba experiment. Despite all the losses, the core is developing, with Franz Wagner adding to the bundle of young talent. The Magic should include Bamba in that core.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.