Before entering an offseason of uncertainty, Mo Bamba made it known he wants to continue to be a part of what the Orlando Magic are building.
Bamba used words such as “us”, “our” or “we” when reflecting on the growth the 2021-22 season brought the Magic and discussing what could lie ahead for the young core.
“I want to be here,” Bamba said. “I just want to make that clear. I’ll let that stuff handle itself and continue to work.”
While that won’t guarantee anything for his future, it’s evident Bamba’s entering free agency with his sights set on returning to the Magic after having his best season.
Bamba averaged several career-highs with one category standing above the rest: games played. He made 71 appearances (69 starts), playing in a career-best 86.6% of the season.
The adage “the best ability is availability” may be cliché, but it allowed Bamba to prosper during a season when Orlando prioritized giving younger players more chances to develop.
“This whole season was about the low-hanging fruit,” Bamba said. “The lowest of the low-hanging fruit was just being available for my teammates. I was out with COVID for a couple of games, but I tried to put myself in the position where my body could handle 82 games.”
That availability led to Bamba getting more playing time (career-best 25.7 minutes) to go along with career-highs in points (10.6), rebounds (8.1), blocks (1.7) and assists (1.2). Bamba was one of four playersalong with Jaren Jackson Jr., Kristaps Porziņģis and Myles Turner, to average at least 1.5 blocks and 1.5 3-pointers.
Bamba’s increased production wasn’t solely because he played more and had more responsibilities — though that helped.
He was a better shooter, knocking down a career-high 38.1% of his 3s (4 attempts per game), helping open the floor for fellow starting big man Wendell Carter Jr. or others to attack the paint. Bamba’s free-throw accuracy, which he has increased each season, was a career-high 78.1 %.
“Mo started to shoot the ball consistently as we have expected him to grow into over the years,” Jeff Weltman, Orlando’s president of basketball operations, said during an appearance on FM 96.9 The Game’s Open Mike with the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi. “That takes time. Especially with guys with Mo’s body type, it takes longer than others. The actual consistency, getting up and down the court is on the uptick.”
Defensively, Bamba provided rim protection while fouling less frequently — one reason he had struggled getting consistent minutes.
Bamba’s blocks were tied for the league’s ninth-best mark. His block percentage his (3.3 %), although lower than in previous seasons, remained elite.
Even when he wasn’t blocking shots, Bamba did a respectable job of deterring attempts at the rim, which was an emphasis of Magic coach Jamahl Mosley’s defensive scheme. Opponents shot 57.8% within six feet of the basket when Bamba was the nearest defender, 6.2% worse than normal, according to NBA.com/stats. When Bamba was on the floor, opponents took shots at the rim less frequently.
Bamba’s foul rate of 4% was a league average mark for big men, according to Cleaning The Glass, but was a significant improvement from the 4.7%-5.2% foul rate he’d been hovering around in his first three seasons. In previous years, Bamba would often foul because of poor timing and positioning.
“He did a really good job understanding where he needed to be [with the] timing of things,” Mosley said. “Protecting and being able to switch out at times. He and Wendell, they were really good together.”
While Bamba made progress, it’s clear he can develop more.
Offensively, Bamba will need to prove his 3-point shooting wasn’t an outlier and that he can be a threat to score besides outside shooting.
Bamba remained efficient on putbacks (1.2 points per possession) but his offensive rebounding percentage (7.8%) was below average for bigs, which could be because he often finished possessions spacing either in the corner or above the key. His offensive rebounding percentages his in the previous two seasons were above average marks.
He got better as a cutter (1.39 points per possession) but can still improve as the roll man in the pick-and-roll.
Defensively, the positioning and timing when in a drop can still improve to take advantage of his 7-foot-10 wingspan.
The Magic have until June 29 to tender a 1-year, $10.1 million qualifying offer to Bamba, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft, to make him a restricted free agent. If they don’t, Bamba becomes an unrestricted free agent. Weltman suggested the offer will be made.
“He’s still got work to do,” Weltman said. “He’s got a lot of progress in front of him. Mo is a restricted free agent and right now our whole group is taking a big exhale. We will regroup and try to get an understanding of how our group fits together. Free agency is a two-way street. We ‘ll see where that goes, but we ‘re very encouraged by Mo ‘s progress his.”