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Mo Bamba blocks Marvin Bagley III

Two of the nations premiere college big men faced off against each other a couple of days ago. Marvin Bagley III of Duke, and Mo Bamba of Texas went head to head in glorious, early season, college basketball action. Duke won in overtime after Texas squandered a double digit lead, but none of that was important to this Bulls fan. The only reason I was interested in this game was to watch Bagley and Bamba. I was hoping to see if either one of these two prospects would be a good fit for the Bulls. Undoubtedly, both of these young men are talented basketball players and I think both could work for our home team, but I feel one has more potential to become a superstar than the other in the NBA.

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Mo Bamba boxing out. Picture from 247sports.com

Mohamed Bamba, the 6’ 11”, 225 lbs. Freshman forward for the Texas Longhorns, is a defensive rebounding savant. Most experts consider him a potential NBA rim protector, averaging almost 4 blocks a game through the first 5 games of the season, but what impressed me the most in his game against Duke was his rebounding. I’m not talking about the amount of rebounds he grabbed (10, coincidentally his season average) but the way he rebounded. Bamba rebounds the basketball the way Reggie Miller would shoot threes; it’s all controlled speed, graceful finesse, deceptive strength, and perfect timing. Bamba seems to have an innate ability to read the flight of the basketball as it comes off the rim or backboard and put himself in the right spot to grab the rebound. He is also able to time his jumps to correspond precisely with the flight of the ball, his opponents and fellow teammates movements, so that he is the one who comes away with the ball.

During one possession of the game against Duke, Bamba found position under the basket just as a long three point attempt caromed hard off the back of the rim. The ball bounced high into the air to the side of the basket Bamba had taken up position under. He boxed out his opponent, the ball continuing on it’s upward trajectory. As it reached it’s apex and began it’s descent to earth, the man Bamba was boxing out jumped for it… too soon. The over eager opponent found himself sliding off Bamba’s back as the big man held his ground. Flash! One of Bamba’s super athletic teammates flew out of nowhere in a wild attempt to grab the descending orb. No luck, he too had mistimed his jump. Unperturbed, Bamba held his ground. As a second Duke player began gathering himself to leap, Bamba lifted off. His elevation was effortless, his timing impeccable, he met the basketball at the top of his jump, secured it with both hands, and returned to earth, a modern day Jason triumphantly holding the Golden Fleece.

With rim protection and rebounding as his base skill set, I could easily see Bamba playing along side Lauri Markkanen for the Bulls next season. Bamba could slide into the role that Robin Lopez currently has, the solid back line defender who does the dirty work under the rim. With his length and blocking ability, Bamba would cover up some of the other Bulls players deficiencies on defense. He forced a number of Duke players to alter their shots during the game, even after they had blown past a defender on the perimeter and were halfway down the lane. Bomba was even able to block a Marvin Bagley III jump shot at a critical moment late in regulation. His speed and athleticism will also make him a threat on the fast break, something Lopez is definitely not. But for all his skills on display during my one viewing of Mo Bamba, I am not convinced he will be a star in the NBA.

Marvin Bagley III, the 6’ 11”, 234 lbs. Freshman forward for the Duke Blue Devils, is an offensive force to be reckoned with. He scored 34 points in 38 minutes against Texas on 12-19 shooting from the field. He gets his points in the paint, attacking the basket from the post, both with his back to the basket and by facing up opponents. What surprised me about Bagley was how quietly he amassed the 34 points. The majority of his scoring came from the natural flow of the Duke offense. He was also able to draw a good number of fouls with his post play, shooting 9-13 from the free throw line.

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Bagley taking a Texas defender off the dribble. Picture from dukechronicle.com

His scoring skills, and his ability to draw fouls are the keys to Bagley’s potential NBA stardom. It would be awesome to see the defensive dilemma teams would face with Bagley in the post, Markkanen on the wing, and a healthy Zach Lavine at the top of the arc. That would be a three pronged attack few teams could even hope to defend. I’m not going to wax poetic about any one play Bagley made like I did for Mo Bamba. Bagley was a solid scorer throughout the game. Check it out for yourself…

With all the praise I am heaping on these two players you might think that they are ready to dominate the NBA. They are not. Both need to grow into NBA bodies, neither one is going to be strong enough to bully an average NBA big right out of the gate. I believe both players will be NBA rotation players to start the season, Bamba because of his defensive skill set and Bagley with his superstar offensive potential, but it will probably take a season or two before either one of these kids can break out as a star.

It’s important to emphasis that this is still early in the college basketball season, and only one game, there is room to grow. Marvin Bagley III has the benefit of playing for Duke and the legendary Coach K. Mo Bamba plays for Texas and their brilliant young coach Shaka Smart. As good as these young men are, they will only get better. It might be fun to revisit these two prospects around March Madness time, after an entire season of growth.

The Worst Records in the NBA:

1. Chicago Bulls: 3-14 .176

2. Atlanta Hawks: 4-16 .200

3. Dallas Mavericks: 5-15 .250

4. Sacramento Kings: 5-14 .263

5. Brooklyn Nets: 6-12 .333