By Steve Lansdale
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It wasn’t a matter of if Texas center Mohamed Bamba would get drafted, or whether he would hear his name called in the first round. The only questions were how early he would get selected and where he would end up.
As it turned out, Bamba only had to wait a little over a half an hour at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn before NBA commissioner Adam Silver made the announcement that Bamba was drafted with the sixth pick by the Orlando Magic.
The 7-foot Bamba joins an Orlando team that ranked 13th in the NBA in blocked shots in 2017-18 with an average of 4.9 per game, and 26th in the 30-team league with an average of 41.6 per game. Bamba, whose 7-foot-10-inch wingspan is the longest ever measured among draft-eligible players, should help in both categories after averaging 3.7 blocks and 10.4 rebounds per game last season at Texas.
Bamba has been working hard to answer perceived questions about his future success, adding size and strength to his lanky frame since the end of the season and working to develop a more consistent jump shot after averaging 12.9 points per game in his only season with the Longhorns. The internet has numerous videos of Bamba draining NBA-range three-pointers while training in the weeks leading up to the draft. Burying three-pointers while working with a trainer and connecting from long range in games are two different games, but the videos indicate that he has worked very hard to smooth out his shooting mechanics and extended his range considerably.
The Magic is in dire need of a player like Bamba. The team had players on its 2017-18 roster listed as centers: Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, Khem Birch and Marreese Speights. Vucevic averaged 16.5 points, a team-high 9.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. But the other three averaged a combined 17.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Speights is considered likely to leave as a free agent.
Bamba became the eighth lottery pick since the NBA started the system in 1985, joining Kevin Durant (No. 2 pick in 2007), LaMarcus Aldridge (No. 2 pick in 2006), Tristan Thompson (No. 4 pick in 2011), Chris Mihm (No. 7 pick in 2000), T.J. Ford (No. 8 pick in 2003), D.J. Augustin (No. 9 pick in 2008) and Myles Turner (No. 11 pick in 2015).
In his lone season at UT, Bamba earned Honorable Mention All-America honors from The Associated Press and a place on the ballot for the John R. Wooden Award, which is given annually to the national player of the year. One of 10 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award, he was named to the five-person National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) All-District 8 First Team and the 12-person United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) All-District VII Team. Bamba also earned recognition on the All-Big 12 Conference Second Team, the Big 12 All-Defensive Team and the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team.
Bamba led the Big 12 Conference in double-doubles (15), rebounds (10.5 per game, an average that ranked 12th in the nation) and blocked shots (111, 3.70 per game, second in the nation). He also ranked second on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and fourth in minutes (30.2 mpg) while shooting 54.1 percent from the field and 68.1 percent from the free throw line.