The Mo Bamba era is officially underway.
The 7-foot rookie made his debut with the Magic on Friday in the Magic’s 86-80 win over the Nets in their summer league opener.
Bamba had 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists and one block, but since it is summer league, what is more important are the things he did and didn’t do that won’t show up in a box score. What impressed me most in the 19 minutes that Bamba was on the court was the ability he showed to set a solid screen, leading to open looks.
His chemistry with Jonathan Isaac already seemed apparent, highlight by this pick-and-pop that allowed Bamba to show his range and smooth form for a 7-footer...
If Bamba is able to knock down perimeter shots at somewhat of a consistent rate (as a bonus to providing the interior presence, rim protection and you-better-think-twice-about-coming-down-the-lane wingspan) that the Magic drafted him for, it will give the Magic a balance from the center position that they haven’t had with the defensive liabilities of Nikola Vucevic and offensive ineptitude of Bismack Biyombo.
Bamba clearly needs to work on his lower body strength (those legs are pencil thin), and he needs improvement in his pick-and-roll defense and weak side defense, but he did show flashes of his ability as a help defender...
Overshadowing the Bamba debut was Isaac, who essentially gets a second chance at a rookie season after being limited to just 29 games last season because of lingering ankle issues. It didn’t take long for Isaac to show an improved fluidity as a ball-handler and a new array of offensive moves as he ran the pick-and-roll, hit some step-backs and shot mid-range jumpers with confidence, even when contested. Like this turnaround....
Isaac finished with 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. He cooled off in the fourth quarter, and for the game, failed to convert from three, going 0-for-3 from long range.
Troy Caupain, a 6-4 guard who averaged 15.6 points for the Lakeland Magic last season, matched Isaac with a team-high 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Caupain, displaying an ability to both get to the basket and also drain the pull-up jumper. He was, however, the Magic’s main culprit in their team-wide struggle from three. Caupain shot 1 of 6 from deep and the Magic finished just 3-for-19 as a team (15.8 percent). Still, the 23-year old showed that he could be a worthy candidate for a two-way contract, if not a chance at a spot in the Magic’s rotation.
While Caupain showed that he may provide the Magic more of a scoring punch, the recently signed Isaiah Briscoe had a strong game as he vies for the third-string point guard spot on the Magic roster. Briscoe, a Kentucky product, had 16 points and four assists on 6 of 12 shooting, and displayed an ability to create for himself, get to the basket and absorb contact.
In our excitement of getting a look at the new guys (Bamba, Briscoe and Caupain) and those returning from injury (Isaac), it is easy to overlook the incumbents: Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch.
While quiet compared to the performances of some of their teammates, each showed flashes of the positive qualities they exuded during their rookie seasons. Iwundu, starting at small forward, had seven points and five rebounds, displaying his athleticism and rugged defense.
Birch, even in summer league, was high-energy, grabbing seven rebounds in 14 minutes. He also provided what I thought was the highlight of the game. Whether in the NBA, G-League or summer league, YOU DO NOT DRIVE THE LANE AGAINST KHEM BIRCH AND EXPECT GOOD THINGS TO HAPPEN...
Check out this block by Khem Birch....and pretend that layup attempt by Melvin Frazier at the other end never happened pic.twitter.com/MIzKmO7WOw— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) July 6, 2018
The Magic have more rotational players, or players competing for a spot in the rotation, than most summer league teams, Their entire starting five from Friday has either a guarantee or at least a pretty good chance of being in Orlando next season, hence the reason the Magic is tied for the fourth best odds to win the summer league championship,
But for fans, it’s less about wins and losses than it is about getting a first look at Bamba, an initial reassurance on the health of Isaac, and a first look at those hoping to land a spot on the Magic bench.
While there were areas of concern (three-point shooting, sloppy finish, that should-have-been-a-dunk layup attempt by Melvin Frazier), it was an encouraging start to the summer for the Magic.
Orlando is back in action on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. against Memphis on ESPN2.