New Sixers big man Mo Bamba has experience playing with other bigs and would love to play alongside his mentor, Joel Embiid.
You’re forgiven if you don’t remember a Sixers preseason game from October 2018. It was the first time Mo Bamba, the sixth overall pick out of Texas, and Joel Embiid shared the floor.
“He’s really thin, can’t protect me,” Embiid said after the game. – He had four fouls in eight minutes. He’s lucky I didn’t play more minutes – he would have made mistakes in about 10 minutes.”
It was all in good fun, of course.
“But he has great potential. I’m going to keep trying to help him become what he needs to be, and I think he’s going to be really good.”
Now the big men are teammates, with Bamba signing a one-year deal with the Sixers over the weekend. That means an opportunity for the Westtown High product to play with one of his mentors.
“Me and Jo, we have a good relationship,” Bamba told reporters Monday at the team’s practice facility. “I remember when I was going through the pre-draft (process) and I was looking at what I wanted to do in the next few months, going into the league, I reached out to Jo and he said, ‘This is guy that I work with.’ From there, our relationship just kind of blossomed.
“And even when I was in Orlando, I reached out to him and he gave me advice on different things and how the league works. Recently, he was a huge driving force in me coming to the Sixers.”
It’s not controversial to say that Bamba has yet to live up to the potential that made him a blue chip recruit out of high school and a top-10 pick. People have questioned Bamba’s motor skills and desire to play, something Bamba told those on hand was the biggest misconception about his game.
Still, he’s only 25 and possesses desirable attributes for a modern-day great.
Bamba’s calling card coming out of college was his rim protection. That has translated at the NBA level, as the seven-footer has averaged 2.7 blocks per game. 36 minutes during his career. His length and athleticism also make him a legitimate lob threat. He is the type of rim-running big that the Sixers have failed to field (outside of the recently re-signed Paul Reed).
In recent years, Bamba has also developed his outside shot. Over the past two seasons, Bamba has hit 38.3 percent of his threes in over 400 attempts — a pretty healthy sample size.
And how could Sixers fans forget that the night he really went toe-to-toe with Embiid?
After four and a half seasons with a rebuilding Magic team and an injury-riddled stint with the Lakers after being traded to LA at the deadline (for new Sixer Patrick Beverley, no less), Bamba signed with the Sixers at the veteran minimum. With Embiid entrenched as starter, Reed and Montrezl re-signed Harrell and 2021 second-round pick Filip Petrusev is apparently being added to the listThe Sixers have an abundance of bigs.
But when you have versatile players like Embiid, Reed and Bamba and a creative coach like Nick Nurse, could we see two bigs sharing the floor?
“I know he’s one of the most creative coaches since I’ve been in the league with the lineups he’s put out there,” Bamba said of Nurse. “If you look at his championship lineup back in (2018-19) when I came into the league, he played a lot of big twos. He played a lot with Serge (Ibaka) and Marc Gasol in the four and five slots and he got it to function.”
A painful memory for Sixers fans, no doubt.
It was Nurse, using a two-big lineup with veterans Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, that helped the Raptors beat the Sixers in seven games back in 2019. Neither Ibaka nor Gasol shot the ball well in that series, but their versatility on both ends allowed them. setups to work.
In Orlando, it almost seemed like the Magic were trying to build the biggest team possible. Because of that, Bamba gained experience playing next to several bigs, something he believes prepared him for the opportunity to do so in Philly.
While Bamba and Nurse didn’t specifically talk about two-big lineups, they seemed to reach an understanding of what is expected of each other.
“It’s not necessarily something we’ve talked about,” Bamba said of the two-big look. “I told him, ‘Listen, I understand what’s going on here. I understand that nothing will be given, everything will be earned,’ and he appreciated that. But we talked a little bit about his vision, where he saw the team going and how he likes to play; I know he likes to play fast. … It was just a really encouraging conversation I had with Coach.”
Bamba will have plenty of incentive to play well for the Sixers after what was likely a disappointing test of the free agent market. On a one-year deal, he gets the chance to test the waters again next season. We’ve seen players like Bruce Brown and Donte DiVincenzo make money after signing short-term deals to help competitors. That was likely a factor in Bamba’s choice to come to Philly.
But you can’t rule out the influence of his mentor.
“I think before we got free agency, we talked a little bit,” Bamba said of Embiid. “And then during that, we were chatting and he said, ‘Listen, this might sound a little crazy because we’ve played against each other so much, but I think the Sixers would be a good fit for you.’ don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like as far as playing together or not playing together. But I think we can play together.”
The idea of Bamba and Embiid playing together might sound crazy.
But maybe the Sixers could use some of that craziness under Nurse.