NBA Spotlight: Orlando Magic’s Mohamed Bamba
The NBA Summer League has become a destination event for NBA elitists and fans alike. It gives newly drafted players their first taste of NBA action. Not to be outdone, sophomores looking to avoid the slump lace them up to show they have made improvements from their rookie season. Even undrafted players get a look and attempt to impress the NBA’s brass in hopes of scoring a roster spot.
Summer League for the Orlando Magic faithful isn’t nearly as exciting this time around as it has been in recent years, with all eyes on the likes of highly touted rookies Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba. Bamba and Isaac were both selected 6th overall in 2017 and 2018, respectively. After their first playoff berth since 2012, Orlando found themselves not picking in the lottery for the first time since 2012, when the Magic selected Andrew Nicholson 19th overall.
Enter Chuma Okeke from Auburn University, but, gingerly. Okeke had an impressive sophomore campaign in which he helped the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament. He was named to the NCAA Midwest Regional All-Tournament Team after his 15, 7 and 3 steal average helped the Eagles sore to the Elite Eight. Much to the dismay of NBA Scouts, though, Okeke suffered a season-ending ACL injury against North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.
It goes without saying, but the exciting Okeke was sidelined for the duration of Summer League and will be handled with caution as the season goes on. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Chuma may not see the floor at all in his rookie year. Not to be outdone, last year’s second round draft choice, Melvin Frazier Jr., was also unavailable due to surgery on his tibia. Two young players forced to sit due to injuries is not a recipe for excitement.
Did someone say “tibia”? Not to be forgotten, the aforementioned Mo Bamba was able to join the squad in Las Vegas after coming off a stress fracture in his tibia. Bamba played sparingly in game one of the Summer League to ensure he was not worked too hard. In just twenty-four minutes, Bamba recorded 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 2-2 from the three-point line. Bamba was sat for the second game due to “general soreness,” and then was ultimately shut down for the rest of Summer League the day after. Obviously, protecting Bamba’s long-term health is what is most important. Mo’s tantalizing upside has Magic fans chomping at the bit, though.
To brighten the mood, undrafted DaQuan Jeffries had a terrific summer. The former Tulsa Golden Hurricane averaged 13.2 points per game, 1.4 steal, and 1 block, while shooting at a 42 percent clip from the field. Those seem like numbers that should at least earn him a two-way contract, you’d think. However, Jeffries had other plans as he reportedly turned down a two-way contract offer to compete for a roster spot in Orlando according to the USA Today, which would earn him a guaranteed deal.
It’s often overlooked, but an underrated part of Jeffries’ game? Hitting open shots. I know it sounds pathetic to shine light on such a simple feat but with all the pressure to impress coaches and GMs it can sometimes alter your focus. Jeffries seemed poised and hit shots at an efficient rate, which always has a place on the floor. A shining light in an otherwise dark summer offers a spark of excitement.
Amile Jefferson, who was signed to a two-way contract with the Magic in July of 2018, became a restricted free agent this summer. Jefferson has dominated the G League for the past two seasons – he was named to the All-NBA G League All-Rookie First Team and All-Defensive First Team – and looked to keep that consistency going. The former Duke Blue Devil’s reliability earned him a one-year contract on the 19th of July.
Former Florida State guard Braian Angola-Rodas should also get consideration for a two-way contract. His playing time was limited in the latter half of the games in Las Vegas, but that won’t hinder his chances. His history with the team which includes Summer League experience as well as some time in the G League last season should give a sample size that will be enough for the Magic to explore. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rodas locks up two-way deal to split time between Orlando and Lakeland this season.
Another player that is most likely headed for the G League is Orlando-native Erik McCree. McCree struggled to get going defensively but made up for it offensively. Averaging 12 points in the 3 games he played in, the Murray State alum showed that he could create his own shot when given the opportunity. The Magic have enough reliable options offensively, so while McCree performed solidly, his fit in the Association is likely elsewhere.
In a wide-open Eastern Conference, the Magic may very well call on and rely on the likes of Jefferson and Jeffries for depth, especially with the serious nature of the injuries that have occurred. Look for Okeke to come back post All-Star break, unless the Magic don’t find themselves in contention. All in all, Summer League wasn’t disastrous, by any means for the Magic, and they got some of their young prospects some excellent run with athletes at the next level.