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Bulls free agent target idea: Mo Bamba

a Bulls team starved for big man depth

NBA: Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

After Mo Bamba was selected 6th in the 2018 draft, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor acknowledged that the 7’0” Bamba’s pro career had a variety of potential outcomes, but cited his physical tools (7’9” wingspan, 9’6” standing vertical) as cause for cautious optimism.

Most of what we’ve seen in his career so far were just tantalizing flashes: plenty of agility and athleticism and defensive promise, but not much consistency and a lot of injuries.

Old friend Wendell Carter Jr., drafted one spot after Bamba, had quickly supplanted Bamba as Orlando’s most intriguing big man prospect. Carter quickly became the team’s starting center after being traded from the Bulls, and then signed a four-year rookie contract extension worth $50 million during the 2021 offseason. It came as no surprise to anyone that Bamba did not receive a similar offer, and now he enters the 2022 offseason as a restricted free agent.

The Magic, owners of the No. 1 pick this year, will be able to match any contract offer sent his way, but not only with Carter signed but the top selection in the draft looking likely to be a big man, it seems quite possible they could let Bamba walk. Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report has revealed that league sources are speculating that the addition of new blood from the top of the draft seems to suggest an imminent departure for Bamba.

Would he be a good target for the Bulls this offseason? Overall, Bamba struggled to stay on the floor, and when he did play he was not the immovable low-post object he needed to be defensively, while offering a fairly limited portfolio on offense.

But a funny thing happened on his way to total league irrelevance that offers intrigue.

First-year Orlando head coach Jamahl Mosley opted for a twin towers frontline approach when he took over ahead of the 2021-22 season, promoting Bamba to a full-time starting role next to the incumbent Carter, who slid down to starting power forward. Bamba’s game appeared to blossom, albeit on a 22-60 lottery-bound Magic club. In his year-23 season, Bamba averaged 10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 assists across 25.7 minutes per contest, all career-bests.

The dude sure can finish at the rim with pizzazz now:

Bamba’s shot-blocking and ability to convert looks beyond the arc were his biggest notable leaps forward last year. He also enjoyed his first above-average season as a three-point shooter, connecting on 38.1% of his 4.0 long-range looks a night. That number improved to 44.6% following the league’s All-Star break. The shooting renaissance wasn’t restricted just to triples. A career 68.5% free-throw shooter (not terrible for a big guy, but hardly elite), Bamba made 78.1% of his charity stripe attempts last year, albeit on low volume (1.0 a game).

The one stat that has never been lacking for Bamba is blocks. For his career, he is averaging 1.4 a night in just 18.6 minutes. Last season, he averaged a career-most 1.7 blocks per game. Unlike, say, his Magic predecessor Dwight Howard, Bamba seems to already be ahead of the game when it comes to blocking a bucket but keeping the ball in play, which could ostensibly lead to easy Magic fast-break opportunities.

Watch below as Bamba slides along the baseline before rising up to block a Knicks layup attempt. The rock winds up in the hands of New York, but before they can truly reset the possession, Terrence Ross knocks it loose and breaks free for an easy dunk on the other end of the floor:

Bamba shows off his aptitude for blocking the ball but keeping it in-bound again here, against 6’8” Spurs forward Keita Bates-Diop:

The 24-year-old big man’s newly-finessed abilities as a rim protector and three-point shooter, who has also exhibited comfort as a spot-up shooter within the arc and seems to have improved as a screener, makes him a fascinating possibility for teams looking to gamble that his ascent last season was not a blip, but a breakthrough. Per Basketball News, Bamba ranked in the 96th percentile of contests at the rim, the 93rd percentile of blocked shots at the rim, and the 92nd percentile when it came to his impact on opponents at the net.

The Chicago Bulls, whose undersized, defensively-challenged frontcourt depth clearly needs a ton of work, should certainly be in the running for Mo Bamba this summer if the price is right. Should Bamba fetch something between the $6.4 million taxpayer midlevel exception and the $10.3 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception (which Chicago has at its disposal), he could be worth a gander as either the third big off the bench for Chicago or possibly a jumbo-sized frontcourt partner for Nikola Vucevic, his old Orlando comrade.