2018 Pick Number 3 – Mohamed “Mo” Bamba
Height – 7’0″
Weight – 216lbs
Age – 20yrs 1months
Wingspan – 7’10″
Position – Center
Strengths – Length, Quickness, Rim Protection
Weaknesses – Post offense
NBA comp – Rudy Gobert (with a jumper)
Confession: I first fell for Mo Bamba before I ever watched him play a game. I am personally a big fan of the Players Tribune articles where athletes give a first person perspective on big moments in their lives and or careers. Bamba remains one of my favorite Players Tribune articles ever. What struck me most was the following quote:
One of my goals right now in life is to get better at making the right call despite having incomplete information. Snap decisions will happen 150 possessions per game in college and even more in the real world, so I’m constantly trying to improve this.
This is a quote from an 19yo about selecting his NCAA program. This incredible self-awareness from a person so young is fairly rare and extremely endearing for a process-truster who gravitated to the data driven decision process implemented by Sam Hinkie.
But can he play basketball? Why yes, yes he can, and his ceiling is nearly limitless.
Why Bamba makes sense for Atlanta
The Atlanta Hawks have moved on from the motion centric offensive scheme of Mike Budenholzer. The team now is rebuilding and trying to find its next identity. A young core of Bamba, Prince, Schroeder and John Collins would represent a very clear pivot to a defense first team. There is undoubtedly pressure on Atlanta to bring in a high level scorer to what was the 25th ranked scoring team in the NBA last season, but Bamba better gives them an achor and defensive foundation from which to build a competitive team.
It is no secret to my friends (or anyone who interacts with me on twitter) that I am a fierce believer that point guards and rim protectors are the place to begin a team build. The NBA is flush with players who can flat out score the ball but advanced floor generals and dominant rim protectors are rare and extremely impactful to a teams success. So for me Bamba is the type of player virtually every team could use.
Let’s not mince words. If Bamba had better hands, footwork and a stronger post game he would likely be the top pick. Bamba has a relatively rudimentary offensive repertoire especially when it comes to post moves. He will flat out not be a threat to score 20 points a game most nights and this is unlikely to change unless he gains a significant amount of weight and develops his footwork and touch on finishes around the rim.
Doesn’t sound much like a top 5 pick right? Well Bamba is an extremely thoughtful, cerebral and likeable person and he has taken steps to develop working relationships with some very key mentors, Joel Embiid and Drew Hanlan to name just two. Take a look at the video below to see evidence of the progress Bamba is making in training pre draft.
To add to this, Bamba is developing his 3 point shooting mechanics which were not bad before. With help from Hanlan there is true reason to buy into the upside that Bamba has to be a net positive player on offense. With that type of outcome, Bamba becomes a top 5 center in the NBA when you factor in…..
I’ve made it 580 words before really talking about the defining feature of Mo Bamba’s prospects as an NBA player. Bamba has the longest wingspan ever measured as part of the modern NBA combine process. 7’10” and a 9’6″ standing reach combine with his elite quickness for a 7 footer to make for one of the best defensive prospects in the draft since Rudy Gobert. His timing, instincts and anticipation are all elite and make for a tremendous anchor for an NBA defense.
One of the things that Bamba shares with Joel Embiid is he has the deterrent factor where his mere presence in the lane will dissuade players from even attempting shots at the rim or even within 8 feet of the basket. This potential changes the calculus for opposing offenses and also opens up options for his own teammates. I would say that Bamba will walk into the NBA as a Nerlens Noel level defender and could easily develop into an Embiid/Gobert DPOY level player very shortly.
So why isn’t Bamba ranked #1? Well there was a time in December where I probably did have Bamba right there with Ayton.
Bamba may never develop the body that he will need to compete night in and night out for 35mpg. The possibility that his offensive game never develops beyond Rudy Gobert and his energy and motor keep him from consistently getting back in transition all keep him just a hair below Ayton for me as the best center in this draft.
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