If the end of Washington’s 2018 season left you in a sad state of affairs, then take comfort in this: You’re not alone.
John Wall himself felt sick to his stomach after yet another disappointing postseason outing, and he voiced those concerns loud and clear during the team’s exit interviews.
Wall wants to play with more athletic big men. The sort of guys who can run, jump, or even dunk over Tim Hardaway Jr. in a single bound. He wants more rim protection, but without sacrificing the switchability needed to defend in the modern NBA.
You might say Wall has a fever — and the only prescription is Mo Bamba.
Bamba, a 7-foot-1, 20-year-old center from the University of Texas, is widely considered the 2018 NBA Draft’s most tantalizing defensive prospect. Jaren Jackson Jr. of Michigan State is his closest competitor, and for good reason, but Jackson Jr. doesn’t have the longest wingspan of any draft prospect ever. Bamba does, and a head on his shoulders to boot.
A strong defensive skillset and lanky physique have led many to compare Bamba to Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Projecting DPOY-level production for any prospect seems too optimistic, but Bamba’s other skills could let him succeed in ways that Gobert has not.
For one, Bamba is already showing signs of the lob-enabling offensive mobility that Gobert only just recently developed. Not only that— Bamba has shown more touch from outside than Gobert, hitting 27.5 percent of his 1.7 three-point attempts per game at Texas. The efficiency isn’t great, but his willingness to shoot is valuable. An elite defensive big who doesn’t clog things up on the other end is among the most treasured assets in today’s NBA.
And that shooting seems likely to improve given the strict training regimen that noted shooting specialist Drew Hanlen has instituted for Bamba, detailed in this excellent profile by The Ringer’s John Gonzalez.
Bamba has his weaknesses — his slight frame means he’ll be bullied down low on both ends; he can become too obsessed with blocks, resulting in excessive fouling; his foot-speed and ability to switch onto NBA-quality guards are still unproven — but his talent makes him a lock to go before the Wizards have a chance to select him with the 15th overall pick.
Trading up to select Bamba would take assets the Wizards don’t want to part with — Kelly Oubre and Tomas Satoransky plus a good future pick or two isn’t even enough, and that’d send the entire Washington bench up in smoke — but that’s the price you pay for a potential star.
It’s difficult to construct a reasonable deal that Dallas or Orlando (with the sixth overall pick) would consider. If Dallas is confident it can get DeAndre Jordan or DeMarcus Cousins in free agency, perhaps they would be willing to bite on a package involving Otto Porter. But the key question for Ernie Grunfeld is whether Bamba would even be worth such a gamble.
The answer is undoubtedly yes if you believe Bamba is a franchise-changing talent who would be ready to play starters’ minutes within his first two years. But that’s a tough ask, and it seems more likely that Bamba is a long-term project — and one that would probably not fit on the Wizards’ timeline for contention with Wall and Bradley Beal.
Still, ending up with Bamba would be a shocking outcome for the Wizards on draft night, and it’s one of the more tantalizing choices out there if Washington truly wants to fundamentally alter its status quo.
But whether Grunfeld is prepared to take a leap of faith on Bamba, or any top tier big man prospect for that matter, will remain a mystery until draft night.