Mo Bamba recently has shown signs of two things:
1) That he is deserving of more playing time
2) That he is frustrated he isn’t getting said playing time
Perhaps we are making something of nothing on the second one, based simply on cryptic Instagram stories (posting lyrics that possibly represented the Magic’s perceived lack of belief in him) and possible subtweets (he retweeted Kevin Durant’s “FREE ME” tweet at a time when the “FREE MO BAMBA” campaign is going strong).
As David Steele might ask, is this anything? It might be something, but not sure if it’s anything. But what is without a doubt something AND anything is Bamba’s performance in the limited garbage-time minutes that he has received this season.
Bamba hammered that point home emphatically on Saturday by having his best performance of the season in a grand total of 12 minutes, which amazingly was just 60 seconds shy of his season high.
Bamba didn’t check in on Saturday until the start of the fourth quarter when the Magic were down by about three dozen points to the Bulls. He played the entire quarter, scoring a season-high 14 points, blocking a season-high three shots, and matching a season-high with 7 rebounds. Bamba scored inside by rolling to the rim and finishing inside, and outside by knocking down the mid-range J as he drained 7 of 8 shots, with his one miss being his lone three-point attempt.
He outscored everyone on the Magic outside of Nikola Vucevic (17 points) and Dwayne Bacon (16 points), who both played many more minutes and took many more shots than Bamba. Yes, Bamba’s production came against the Bulls’ second unit when the game’s outcome had long been decided, although the Bamba-led unit did make Billy Donovan nervous enough to reinsert Zach LaVine.
“He had some good rolls to the basket, which I think for his future I’ve been telling him is his important, to have a flair game and a roll game,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game. “I thought he did a good job with that...That was 12 minutes. That’s the most conditioning that he’s been able to have, probably. So, I mean, it was good for him.”
The “conditioning” rationale for Bamba’s lack of playing time has always seemed to raise more questions that it answered. And it doesn’t exactly mesh with the reasoning Clifford recently gave The Athletic’s Josh Robbins when asked what Bamba needs to do to earn more minutes:
“As I explained to him, the reality is this: Our best position by far is the five spot. By far. Vooch is playing at an All-Star level. Khem Birch is not just good now; Khem Birch is having a terrific year. So a lot of it is that. (Bamba) is playing behind two guys who (are excelling). Every night, it’s not even close — our best position is the five.”
Bamba isn’t playing more because Clifford feels the Magic have a better chance of winning with Khem Birch. That very well could be true with Birch’s offensive rebounding giving the Magic some much needed second-chance opportunities, and with the energy he brings at both ends of the floor, and with his ability to set a hard screen and defend multiple positions and play alongside Vucevic.
That decision making, however, highlights how the Magic are torn between two timelines: the desire to win now and the need to prepare for the future. Clifford and the Magic brass, for the sake of their jobs, are more interested in former. The Magic fanbase currently cares about the latter.
So, when a young player maximizes the minutes he receives for a team that is going nowhere, he deserves more minutes to show what he can do, to prove how he can benefit the team in the future.
That’s true of any player on any team, but it’s even more obvious for a player like Bamba, who was selected with the sixth overall pick and touted as a franchise cornerstone, and a team like the Magic, who have suffered crippling injuries and are taking part in what is likely a lost season and must figure out what they have in their young players.
How can a front office possibly make that assessment when a third-year player believed to be part of the team’s future plans is receiving six meaningless minutes a game? Bamba doesn’t have to immediately supplant Birch as the back-up. A happy medium that satisfies all can be reached.
But take a look at this comparison:
Player A: 25.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 48.2 FG%, 42.3 3PT%
Player B: 11.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 49.2 FG%, 22.2 3PT%
Player C: 29.9 points, 17.1 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 62.9 FG%, 30.0 3PT%
Based strictly on the raw data, it wouldn’t take a basketball aficionado to say that Player C should be playing rather than watching games from the bench.
As I’m sure you have realized, Player C is Mo Bamba, and those are his per-36 minute averages this season compared to that of Nikola Vucevic (Player A) and Khem Birch (Player B).
Mo Bamba stats:— Johnny Footlong (@RGeezyNBA) February 7, 2021
Enough is enough! I reject all of Clifford's excuses to not play him, he is bigger and stronger and seems to be finally recovered from covid
Bamba’s stats, of course, are relative and not entirely sustainable with increased volume and playing time against better competition.
But he has at the very least earned the opportunity to be on the court. So...
FREE MO BAMBA!