It seems to be the popular opinion that the Phoenix Suns are taking Arizona big man Deandre Ayton with the number one overall pick. Ayton is the most skilled offensive big man in the draft, with a super level of athleticism to match a polished post game and smooth shooting stroke. However, there is a very noticeable chance that as good as Ayton is, that Mohamed Bamba is the best player in the draft.
When the Phoenix Suns make their selections on Thursday, they will be looking to acquire the best player possible, Deandre Ayton being the presumed selection.
However, the title of best player in the 2018 NBA Draft, I believe, will end up belonging to the big man with the longest ever measured wingspan in draft history: Mo Bamba.
The University of Texas shot blocker, not only has a 7’10” wingspan, but also has the mobility that has become key to most elite NBA defenses. His defensive ability is already proven with 4.9 blocks per game per-40 minutes in his lone college season. Meanwhile, the Suns were the worst team in the NBA in defensive rating and also the third worst team in opponent shooting percentage from 5-9 feet, an area that Bamba can dominate.
However, he is not just limited in being a shot blocker but is also a great rebounder. Not only did he average double-digit rebounds in college, but he also held a Total Rebounding Percentage of 20.2% per basketball-reference. This means that for every rebound over an entire game both offensive and defensive, Bamba will grab one in every five.
For reference if that percentage translates to the NBA, he would have the fifth highest TRP in NBA history, and easily the best rebounder on the Suns.
Bamba is an elite athlete and moves fluidly for someone of his size. He has the build and length of Rudy Gobert, but runs and moves more fluidly then Gobert ever has. He can switch out on the pick and roll and is still able to stay in front of guards, and then use his length to make any shot difficult.
In addition to his already potent defensive ability, he has also shown flashes of becoming the ideal center for the modern NBA game offensively. He has shown the ability to step away and make 3’s, while also having changed his mechanics to become a smoother jump shooter. This, coupled with his ability as a rim runner as well as his ability to navigate the pick and roll smoothly, makes him an ideal prospect for the pace and space of modern NBA play.
There are some things that raise concern with Bamba though.
His light frame, for instance. He is currently only 216 pounds. His jump shot too is incredibly raw. But the upside of what he could become is higher to me than any other player in the draft. He has already begun work with notable NBA trainer Drew Hanlen who helped Jayson Tatum with his mechanics before he went on to shoot 43.4% from 3 in his first NBA season. It should be acknowledged that Tatum shot 34% from 3 in his one season at Duke, and Bamba shot only 27%, but he does not necessarily have to be an elite shooter like Tatum to prosper in the NBA.
The model for Bamba to succeed in the NBA already exists. Joel Embiid is already a 7-footer that is stretching defenses with his ability to hit outside shots and is a major defensive anchor.
Bamba’s ceiling is becoming a more mobile version of Embiid without the injury problems.
However, his floor is also high. His defensive and rebounding ability are things that can immediately translate to the next level, and at the very least he can run the floor and catch lobs. Even if his offensive game doesn’t develop (if you believe in empty gym workout videos this shouldn’t be a concern) he could still impact a good team the way Clint Capela does for the Rockets. Capela can defend his position and the rim, while also being able to defend the perimeter on switches and operate well around the paint. Bamba can do that, just with a better body to do it in.
Bamba’s impact can be seen by the advanced stats in which his offensive rating per-100 possessions is a whopping 118.5 while he owns a defensive rating per-100 of 89.6. That puts him at a net rating of 18.9, which is higher than anyone on the Suns.
The highest net rating on the Suns last season? Shaquille Harrison with 2.9.
We know that the numbers aren’t going to be as great in the Association as they were in college, but at the same time, if he comes anywhere close to that number, he would be in the conversation with players like Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, while also having higher net rating than players like Al Horford and Joel Embiid.
The Suns seem to have already made up their mind to take Ayton with the first overall pick on Thursday night, but I can’t help but feel that the big man they have been looking for since the missed Alex Len lottery pick will still going to be on the board after Ayton has already walked across the stage.