(First posted at RealGM)
Mohamed Bamba is known for his physical profile and athletic ability. The 19-year-old measured at seven-feet and 216 pounds with a remarkable seven-foot-nine wingspan at this year’s Nike Hoop Summit, where he looked like the prototypical center for this pick-and-roll driven era of basketball due to his explosiveness leaping off the ground in a pinch to finish lobs and block shots.
But the Harlem, New York native used Texas’s preseason trip to Australia to show people his skill level is ahead of expectations as well. He was very aggressive unleashing jumpers from the elbows on post-ups and from three-point range out of the pick-and-pop, showed to have some feel for the game in terms of helping facilitate offense and looked to bring the ball up himself whenever he could after collecting a defensive rebound.
These long bombs don’t go in the basket a whole lot yet and he isn’t really one of these new age big men who can initiate offense from the perimeter but Bamba did quite a bit in that four-game trip to suggest his ceiling now goes beyond the easy comparison to DeAndre Jordan that most people like to make.
Defensively, he is a very impactful player close to the basket due to his physical prowess and hinted he might offer his coach flexibility in terms of how to defend the pick-and-roll, given his level of comfort shuffling his feet out in space but hasn’t yet developed into the sort of player who can lift his unit above its means, as Texas got lit up by two of the three Australian NBL teams it faced during the trip.
What Bamba did the most during preseason was catch the ball on the elbow area on either side of the floor, as Texas entered it to him on post-ups a fair amount. Unable to set deep position as of now, he showed a strong preference for turning and facing his defender. Most opponents sagged off him, unaware or unafraid of his potential to hurt them from range, and Bamba responded by being quite an aggressive shot taker when given the space.
His release is a bit methodical and a bit mechanical but Bamba elevates with decent balance and has enticing touch on his shot.
When his defender played up on him, Bamba often tried to drive around him. His handle is very decent for someone his size and he’s well coordinated but lacks the strength to maintain his balance and his momentum forward through contact.
The few times here and there that Bamba tried to back down his man, he worked to set up a turnaround right-handed hook over the defender’s left shoulder. His footwork was not particularly impressive but Bamba at least showed he doesn’t have cement feet. His touch is only OK, though.
But in the game against Melbourne, when a defender forced him to turn to his off hand, Mamba attempted a right-handed push shot in awkward balance, instead of opting for a left-handed hook or a turnaround, fadeaway jumper, suggesting he doesn’t yet have these assets in his arsenal at this point of his development.
His passing is a lot more advanced than expected, though. Texas played through him a little bit in the high post, on plays designed for him to catch, turn, face his man and then enter the ball to a perimeter player cutting to the area near the basket made vacant by Bamba drawing his man out. He also flashed some ability to hit cutters out of doubles with his back to the basket and kick-out to spot-up shooters out of the short roll.
He’s projected as a pick-and-dive threat out of the pick-and-roll but whenever Bamba set ball-screens in Australia, he mostly popped out the three-point line and wasn’t shy of letting it fly. He needs to speed up his release but proved he can take open shots rather comfortably. He also made a habit of hanging back changing ends, so he could get an open three up as the trailer in the transition.
Much like his no-dribble jumper out of triple threat position, his catch-and-shoot release looked a bit mechanical and methodical, though his touch seemed very decent. He gets off the ground a decent amount for a seven-footer, it’s not a set shot, but lets the ball go from the side, instead of out in front.
Though the threes he made and how confident he was at taking them were a bit stunning, the most surprising skill Bamba showed was the ability to grab and go off a defensive rebound. His handle is OK and he looked well coordinated bringing the ball up. He even flashed a light hesitation dribble to get by his man in transition and tried to take it end-to-end a couple of times but his touch on non-dunk finishes is only so-so at this point of his development.
Bamba didn’t roll to the basket a whole lot and when he did, a weak-side defender rotated in to take away the lob but he had chances to finish a couple of alley-oops sneaking behind the defense. Bamba can explode off the ground with some space to take flight and has a massive nine-foot-six standing reach to play above the rim.
But from an athletic-standpoint, Bamba struggles in plays that require strength and physicality of him due to his lean frame. He can’t set deep post position in the post, has no power moves and lacks force to go up strong through contact off a standstill after collecting offensive rebounds.
Defensively, Bamba struggles to hold his ground in the post and though he is attentive to his boxout responsibilities, it was rare to see him completely erase an opponent out of a battle under the glass.
But while he doesn’t grow into his body, Bamba can rely on that massive standing reach to contest shots effectively defending the post, even when the opponent knocks him back some, and he’s proved to have quick instincts chasing the ball off the rim, aside the fact he has that remarkable seven-foot-nine wingspan to rebound outside his position.
That said, what’s enticing about Bamba’s agility is his potential defending the pick-and-roll extending above the foul line and covering a lot of ground in help-defense. When these pro teams ran pick-and-roll with the center as the screener, Texas didn’t ask Bamba to go meet the ball-handler at the point of attack but had him step up to prevent the opponent from turning the corner right away, which he proved very comfortable doing out in space.
Texas didn’t have him picking up smaller players on switches at any moment but Bamba seems to be the exact sort of big who has a shot of keeping pace with such types out on an island, though it’s unclear if that’s truly the case yet.
What it’s clear is that Bamba will be a constant shot blocking threat near the basket, elevating out of two feet stepping up to protect the front of the rim and out of one foot coming the weak-side in help-defense. The expectation is he should average about three blocks per 40 minutes at the college level.
 Who turns 20 only in March
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara