Even in this age of position-less, small-ball NBA, scouts and general managers are still intrigued by the idea of building around a dominant big man. No, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon aren’t walking through that door, but there’s still a place in the league for centers who can score in the low post and protect the rim on the defensive end.
Which leads us to the fascinating case of Texas big man Mohamed Bamba. The 7 foot freshman is painfully thin at 7 feet, 225 pounds, but he has a skill-set that just might fit in the modern game. Bamba has a nice shooting touch from the outside, and might eventually be able to step out to the 3 point line like current All-Star centers Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns. Right now his numbers are fairly modest, 13.7 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots. Bamba is shooting .544 from the field, .680 from the free throw line and .283 from 3 point range.
Where does Bamba potentially fit with the Bulls? The center position is overloaded right now with Robin Lopez, Omer Asik and Cristiano Felicio, but only Felicio has a guaranteed contract beyond next season. Bamba could anchor the Bulls’ defense for the next decade and form a nice high-low tandem with power forward Lauri Markkanen. Yes, he’ll need to get into an NBA weight room, and he’s probably a couple years away from being a major contributor, but Bamba’s shot-blocking ability and athleticism make him a lock to be selected in the first half dozen picks in June. Teams will project Bamba as a player who will develop into a defensive force with offensive potential like Utah’s Rudy Gobert.
If the Bulls wind up with the 5th or 6th overall pick, they could have an interesting choice to make among Bamba, rehabbing Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr., and star point guards Trae Young and Collin Sexton. Even in today’s perimeter based league, size does matter, and the Bulls need for a young center will make Bamba hard to pass up if he’s still on the board.
Personally, I’ve seen too many thin 7 footers fail over the years to invest such a high pick on Bamba. My guess is Porter will go somewhere in the top 5, but both Young and Sexton are dynamic guards with star potential who could slip to the 6-10 range. If the choice is between Bamba and one of the two point guards, I would take Young 1st, Sexton 2nd and Bamba 3rd.
So, the next time Texas appears on national TV, take a closer look at Bamba and try to figure how he would project playing alongside Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. It’s a question John Paxson, Gar Forman and the Bulls scouts are pondering on a daily basis as they crisscross the country evaluating all of the top prospects.