ORLANDO – Here are three reasons why Mohamed Bamba will be a dominant shot blocker in the NBA.
Great shot blockers know their opponent’s scoring tendencies, or at least can predict what they are likely to do when they have the ball. Every player, regardless of their archetype, has their preferences, and it’s up to defenders to figure out how to make them stray away from what’s most comfortable.
Many just assume Bamba is a good, if not great, defender because of his length. Although it’s true that a 7-foot-10 wingspan helps (a lot), that’s not the only reason – or main reason – the Harlem, N.Y. native is such a prolific shot blocker.
The 20-year-old, as he showed in college at Texas and throughout Summer League, identifies opponent inclinations extraordinarily well. The play below is a good example of this, as Jaren Jackson Jr., selected two spots before Bamba in the draft, generally favors his left hand when driving or spinning into a shot.
What did Bill Russell, Mark Eaton and Dikembe Mutombo – three of the NBA’s all-time greatest shot blockers – have in common? They each had outstanding timing when they jumped to block a shot. When a defender has great timing, they typically avoid (excessive) fouls because their hand often meets the ball when the shooter is set to release.
Eaton and Mutombo, who combined to win six Defensive Player of the Year Awards, averaged more blocks than fouls when they were each in their prime. Bamba, although just at the college level, did the same this past season. Part of the reason for this is that Bamba rarely reaches, doesn’t fall for pump fakes, doesn’t lean in and doesn’t try to spike the ball away. Instead, he anticipates where the ball is going, not where the player’s body is going.
Not being stagnant is critical when it comes to blocking shots. Today’s top rim protectors – Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis and Clint Capela for example – are rarely stationary. They are constantly surveying the floor, and looking for ways to assist teammates.
Big men who don’t mind, maybe even prefer, an up-tempo style of play are rare. With the NBA being played faster than ever, it’s important for centers to be agile and mobile enough to keep pace. Bamba, although not necessarily lightning quick when he dashes down the floor, uses his long strides and terrific instincts to recover and alter shots in transition.
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