ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The NBA draft featured several big men on Thursday night, and the biggest was Mohamed Bamba.
The Orlando Magic drafted the 20-year-old center with the sixth overall pick. The young man from New York City who played one year at Texas joins a team that went 25-57 last season and has averaged only 26 wins over six straight losing seasons.
“I’m not going to sit here and say things are going to change overnight,” Bamba said. “It’s going to take more than one person and I actually believe that with the players around me, we have the right pieces to make the organization successful.”
After a run of drafts that have helped to turn the NBA into a perimeter-oriented league, four of the top six picks selected Thursday nights were players who stand 6-foot-11 or taller. Bamba, who measured 7-foot, 3/4-inch and 226 pounds at the NBA draft combine, is a half-inch taller than DeAndre Ayton, who was drafted first overall by the Phoenix Suns.
Bamba’s 7-foot-10 wingspan is reportedly the largest ever measured at the combine.
“He will be the longest player in the NBA,” said Jeff Weltman, Orlando’s president of basketball operations, “and he has already, in his short time in college, proved to be an elite-level shot blocker.”
Weltman was “surprised and elated that Mo fell to us at 6,” and added that it would not have possible without the swap of the third and fifth picks.
The Atlanta Hawks drafted European guard Luka Doncic with the third pick and traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for guard Trae Young, who was taken fifth.
Bamba averaged 12.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks as a freshman for the Longhorns. He was second in the nation in blocked shots among Division 1 teams, and his 15 double-doubles led the Big 12 conference.
Bamba’s offensive game is considered undeveloped, but Bamba expects to make an immediate impact.
“I see myself fitting in right away as far as the trend of bigs trying to do it all,” he said. “But it really comes down to defense. You are who you can guard in the NBA, and as long as you can guard multiple positions you can stay on the floor. And as long as you can shoot the ball you can stay on the floor.”
It is the second year in a row the Magic had the sixth overall pick in the draft.
Last year Orlando drafted 6-10 Jonathan Isaac, who is also known as a shot blocker. But Isaac was limited to 27 games due to injuries and averaged 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds. Isaac was the tallest of the six players at the top of last year’s draft.
“There are so many things that you need to be successful, but length is a huge element of floor coverage,” Weltman said. “If you can have it and maintain skill level and all the other things that you could list, you would always rather have it. And when you start adding it up with a lot of players, it becomes kind of a force multiplier.”
Bamba has met Isaac, and said “he was like a role model in a sense because he was in the class ahead of me.”
Orlando’s management team, headed by Weltman and general manager John Hammond, is directing the team’s draft for only the second year.
The Magic will also have a new leader on the bench in Steve Clifford.
The former Charlotte Hornets coach was hired on May 30 to replace Frank Vogel. Clifford is Orlando’s fifth head coach since Stan Van Gundy was fired in 2012 after coaching the team’s last winning season.
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