The Phoenix Suns just finished the 2018 season with a 21-61 record to give them a 25% chance at getting the 1st overall pick. There is also a 35.8% chance that they could, unfortunately, fall outside of the top three picks. In that case, the Suns will be out on the DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic sweepstakes. Some other options outside of those two who are the most talked about prospects at the number 1 choice position are Jaren Jackson, Marvin Bagley, Michael Porter Jr., and Mo Bamba.
As a draft community, we need to start comparing Mo Bamba to Joel Embiid more often. Where Embiid makes the biggest impact on winning is on the defensive end. Embiid’s length, rim protection, and mobility are game-changing and make him a perennial DPOY candidate.
Bamba and Embiid have identical standing reaches at 9’6″ which is nearly tallest in the league, and Bamba has even better rim protection instincts at the same age. They are also similarly mobile as they can both swallow up pick and rolls in drop coverage with length and mobility.
Embiid is also an elite rebounder, and Bamba and Embiid had identical rebounding rates in college at 27% D-rebounding and 12% O-rebounding. Bottom line is that there are only two players in the league today with both mobility and rim protection instincts at a standing reach at or close to 9’6″ in Rudy Gobert and Embiid. Only a handful of players in the history of the NBA are like these two guys who are both DPOY. We are collectively underrating Bamba’s uniqueness and potential DPOY traits.
On offense, Embiid is slightly overrated in the post because of his middling efficiency and high turnover %. Embiid is most special at drawing fouls, shooting, and finishing at the rim. While Bamba will never draw fouls like Embiid or be in the same range of usage, fans and GM’s should focus on Bamba’s shooting.
Embiid only took 5 threes in his one year at Kansas. He always showed nice form, touch, and potential, and he shot 68% from the FT line at Kansas. This year Bamba shot 68% FT, similarly showing nice form, touch, and potential. Also, Bamba shot 14 for 51 from the three-point line. Both are also elite lob targets and finishers at the rim with their length and athleticism. Bamba profiles more as a Clint Capela on offense as Capela is similarly mobile and long.
On offense, Embiid is a three-level scorer and an offensive focal point. Bamba can be a two-level lower usage scorer at the rim and beyond the arc. Within an offensive ecosystem that already has an elite high usage guard that can carry the load, Bamba can be a low to medium usage high efficiency big that has most of the best of what Embiid offers without the post moves and turnovers.
For teams like Dallas with Dennis Smith and Phoenix with Devin Booker, Bamba could bring similar value to Embiid. He fills in the gaps that high usage/ high-efficiency guards cant fill with elite defense, rebounding, vertical spacing (length for rim runner/finisher), and 3 point spacing.
I write this partly because the only comparison anyone every makes to Bamba is Rudy Gobert, but most of us never saw Gobert play pre-NBA. Plus, they have different upsides on offense with Bamba spacing and shooting ability.
But in general, I encourage fans to think outside the box with our player comparisons. IMO, we collectively underate Bamba because we struggle to create player comparisons for him because he is so unique. The two players don’t have to be similar in every way. I view Bamba as a definite candidate to go top 3, and I guarantee many GM’s feel the same way.
Photo from AP Photo/Eric Gay