Another season has come and gone Magic fans. The 2018-19 version of your Orlando Magic provided the city and its fan base with many memorable moments to ring in the 30th anniversary of the franchise’s existence.
We were provided opportunities to celebrate big Magic road victories in Boston (twice), San Antonio, Los Angeles, Mexico City (against the Jazz and Bulls), Toronto, Milwaukee, Indiana, Charlotte, and Miami (twice). And don’t forget about those huge home wins against the Heat(opening night), 76ers (twice), Lakers, Raptors, Celtics, Rockets, Pacers, Nets, and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
But none of that compares to the emotions all Magic fans felt after coming to the realization that the team they’ve supported through so many tough losing seasons had finally clinched their first playoff birth since the conclusion of the Dwight Howard era.
My progress reports were back for another season on Orlando Pinstriped Post in 2018-19 (third season featured on this site, I’m blessed). If you missed the first volume, Nikola Vucevic earned the highest grade in the class after the team’s first fourteen games due to his stellar shooting and solid defense. Vucevic again earned the highest grade in my second volume (which covered the team’s next fourteen games). And prior to his first career All-Star selection, Vucevic earned the team’s highest midterm grade.
Let’s explore who on the roster pulled their own weight this season. As a teacher who is used to assessing on a regular basis, “grading” is right up my alley!
Included in this series of final grade reports are statistics from Orlando’s 82 regular season games played this season, along with some comments from yours truly that hopefully explain why I graded the guys the way that I did.
In the comments section below, please feel free to agree or disagree with any of my assessments, or simply just let me know if this is something that interests you. Credit for statistics goes to Basketball Reference and NBA.com. Enjoy!
Mohamed Bamba, 20 years-old (47 games played)
When Bamba was selected sixth by the Magic in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Harlem-native’s most common NBA comparison by many around the league was Rudy Gobert. The big-man out of University of Texas did nothing his rookie year that led me to believe that a lofty comparison like that (Gobert) is something that he won’t be able to achieve.
In fact, Bamba showed more of an advanced NBA-offensive game during his rookie year than Gobert did in 2013-14 (and Gobert was 21 as a rookie, Bamba is 20 years-old).
Gobert converted 48.6% of his two-point field goals, produced a true shooting percentage of 51%, had an offensive rating of 94, and posted an offensive box plus/minus of -6.1 in 434 minutes his rookie season. Bamba converted 55.5% of his two-point attempts, produced a true shooting percentage of 54%, had an offensive rating of 105, and posted an offensive box plus/minus metric of -3.3.
None of this is proof in itself that Bamba’s game will reach Gobert’s level. The French big-man was well on his way to becoming an elite NBA defensive player by his second season in the NBA. But it’s all encouraging enough for me; there’s a clear NBA archetype out there for Bamba, it’s just up to him to continue to get bigger, stronger, and in better shape.
Bamba struggled, like all NBA rookies do, with consistency over the course of his injury-shortened first NBA season. Bamba scored in double-figures seven times his rookie season, but six of those games came within Orlando’s first 25 games. He was a -15 (+/-) or more in 13 of his 47 appearances in ‘18-’19, which is a significant amount for someone who only played 16 minutes per contest.
Bamba’s greatest strength at the high school and collegiate levels was his ability to block shots, and that was something he showed he was capable of doing in the NBA right away as well. Bamba’s 3.0 blocks per/36 last season led the Magic, as did his block percentage of 7%. Bamba recorded three or more blocks in a game six times his rookie season, taking full advantage of his record-setting 7-10 wingspan.
Bamba proved that he could thrive early on in his career in a couple of other areas as well. Orlando’s rookie phenom ranked second on the team this past season in rebounds per/36, rebounding percentage, defensive rating, and defensive box plus/minus (all categories led by Nikola Vucevic).
He also converted just under 79% of his field goal attempts inside of three feet, a number that is really encouraging (and probably a little higher than I would have expected, best mark on the team). For comparison, Aaron Gordon shot 63.5% at the rim his rookie season; Jonathan Isaac shot 64% this past season (81.5% his rookie season, very small sample-size).
With all of that being said, Bamba still suffered through his fair share of rookie struggles. His shot-blocking may have been prolific, but his defensive awareness, positioning, and consistency left much to still be desired. When Bamba was on the court, the Magic were a team worst -14.1 per/100 possessions, which was -18.8 per/100 worse than when he was off the floor (also a team worst mark).
He must find a way moving forward to score more efficiently, while also fouling a whole lot less on the defensive end. Orlando finished their regular season with 18 different four-man lineups that played 200 minutes or more together on the floor. Only 3 of those 18 lineups had a negative net rating; Bamba was a part of all three of those lineups (Net Rating of -11.2: Jerian Grant, Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons, Bamba; Net Rating of -9.0: Ross, Simmons, Gordon, Bamba; Net Rating of -11.0: Grant, Ross, Gordon, Bamba).
Bamba went down with a left leg injury on February 1st (tibia) and missed the remaining three months of Orlando’s season. Now that we know Bamba’s injury was a mild one in which he should fully-recover from, it can be viewed upon as a blessing in disguise for the organization. The Magic legitimately began their playoff push once Khem Birch took over Bamba’s minutes (and Wes Iwundu took over Simmons’ role), and the injury gave Orlando’s rookie an opportunity to sit, watch, and learn from meaningful NBA games down the stretch.
Best performance of the season: October 17th vs. Miami
13 points (6-8 FGA’s), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks
2019-20 Season Outlook
Bamba will (of course) be back next season to play out the second year of his rookie contract. The organization will pick-up his third-year option in a procedural move which will be made sometime in late October/early November.
A successful sophomore season for Bamba will start with getting his body in better shape. To become the player he (and the organization) wants to ultimately develop into, Bamba will have to continually add strength and girth to his body - especially his lower body.
Gordon jumped from 47 games played his rookie season to 78 games played in year two; Isaac appeared in 27 games his rookie season, followed by 75 games this past season. Being available for the Magic moving forward will be a big step in itself for Bamba, and again - that starts with adding weight and muscle to his frame (which he will do, he’s only 20 years old).
Outside of just being healthy, the Magic will look for some more consistency from their former lottery pick. The organization will continue to be patient with Bamba, but improving upon his putrid -14.1 points per/100 possessions when he was on the floor (last season) will certainly be a welcomed development.
Bamba isn’t ready to start for an NBA team trying to compete for a playoff spot, and he’s nowhere near the player Nikola Vucevic is at this point in their respective careers. But the Magic will give Bamba every opportunity to continue to get better, and they will head into next season hoping that he can find more regular success in his individual match-ups with the opposing team’s back-up center.
Previous “Season in Reviews” in this series: