1 pleasant surprise who stood out for Magic during 2021 NBA training camp
The NBA preseason is upon us and in full swing. Teams are trying to get their rosters together for the first time since the changes through the summer. Training camps began and some preseason games have already been played, with the full season starting in ten days. One team that is coming into the season with low expectations is the Orlando Magic. Still, they might have a very pleasant surprise going into the regular season.
The Magic are in a peculiar place right now. Their roster is full of great prospects, some solid players, and a lot of risks that might pay off. Also, injuries have affected them in a great way, thus ending their last season without much of a fight, even for the play-in tournament. This season, the team will probably be in the conversation for the play-in, but it would be better for the franchise to get a higher pick in the draft. Regardless, due to the past seasons for the Magic, it is really a tough job predicting exactly where they will be when the season gets in full swing.
One player, a pleasant surprise from the training camp and preseason period, might help crystalize that path forward — Mo Bamba.
Magic training camp surprise
Mo Bamba has not had a fruitful NBA career. He has been hit with injuries, did not fit in Magic rotations, and had the reputation of not focusing fully on the game. However, even through all of that, he has been solid in his last NBA season. Bamba averaged 8.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game, and increased that to 11.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per contest after the trade deadline. Clearly, he should be going into this season with a ton of confidence.
With his history of injuries and general issues, it is hard to tell. Bamba had three major health issues combined with bad timing. Firstly, he had a leg fracture as he was gaining momentum in his rookie year which affected him until Summer League his sophomore year. Then, he had an ankle injury that completely slowed down his process of development. That kept him from really establishing himself before the 2020 season stopped due to COVID.
To make matters worse, he then had COVID during the break and, similar to Evan Fournier, was really affected by the virus. All of that combined meant that Bamba really never had a true opportunity to prepare for the season. This season, however, he is entering training camp healthy and ready to fully commit to earning his next contract.
In the two games played in the preseason, Mo Bamba is currently averaging 10.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. To be completely transparent, the 10.0 points per game is great, due to the fact that the allure of Bamba was never offense. He entered the league as a potential defensive monster. Bamba is standing at seven feet tall, with a wingspan of seven-foot-ten, which is incredible. To put that in perspective, the second biggest wingspan in the league is of Rudy Gobert, at seven-foot-nine. Guys with famously long arms, like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, have seven-foot-four and seven-foot-five wingspans, respectively.
That defensive potential is still there, as Bamba is only 23-years-old and will be for the entire Magic season unless they magically enter into May as a competing NBA team. The offense will remain an issue, but it is nothing unusual, as Gobert makes the Utah Jazz an amazing team without having range or a huge offensive arsenal. Bamba has finally realized that this is the make-or-break year for him, thus his great preseason games combined with a good showing in training camp is no surprise.
He even spoke about his journey to this point during the Magic media day. Mo Bamba had this to say:
People would often mention he hasn’t had a full offseason yet and I never really saw the significance of it. I just thought in the offseason you work on your body regardless. But you can set aside trying to get back and trying to gain different aspects into your game and your body, your focus is different. It was a big help for me.
He is showing a lot of maturity and the hope in Orlando is definitely that he will be ready to really ball out this season.
Of course, Bamba will not be a difference-maker, at least not in that perspective. The Magic will have another tough season but the development of Bamba, if combined with good development of guys like Cole Anthony and Johnathan Isaac, might mean that in the future, the Magic is in a position to contend down the line. This is a pivotal season for Mo Bamba and his good work in the offseason, training camp, and preseason is his way of showing that he is aware of that.