Mohamed Bamba arrived in Austin as an elite defensive prospect with God-given measurables.
Fast forward to the final stretch of what will prove to be his first and only season on the 40 Acres and the former five-star prospect out of Harlem is now so much more for the Texas Longhorns.
Of course, the rim-protecting prowess remains, and if his current pace of 4.4 blocked shots continues, Bamba will set the new Big 12 freshman single-season blocked shots record on Wednesday night against Texas Tech, passing former Longhorn Chris Mihm with nine more regular season games still to come. However, it’s what’s beginning to take place on the opposite end of the court that’s becoming so beneficial to not only Bamba’s NBA Draft stock, but the Longhorns success as a whole entering a critical stretch in the season — Bamba is becoming a true offensive force.
For Bamba’s it’s truly been a tale of two halves this season.
Throughout his first 10 games — Northwestern State up until Tennessee State — Bamba was averaging just 10.3 points per game. Although he was able to survive on athleticism alone at various points, the size and strength of experienced interior defenders provided a noticeable adjustment period for Bamba as he tried to establish his own offensive rhythm. It didn’t help that Bamba, who arrived at Texas with a solid shooting form and touch from the perimeter, was struggling mightily to find success from behind the arc, sinking just 3-17 attempts.
Something has changed throughout Bamba’s most recent 10 games, though.
The perimeter attempts are beginning to fall at a 33-percent clip, including each of his most recent three finding the net, and thanks to Bamba beginning to grasp how to seal the inside for positioning and simply putting himself in the right positions at the right time, the result is a jump to 15.8 points per game throughout the past 10 efforts. While this certainly seems to fit the narrative of a new-look Bamba on the offensive end, Shaka Smart was well aware that his star freshman could be as productive as he’s becoming, even dating back to the summer.
“He’s a guy that when he came into college, we knew had more potential offensively than a lot of people thought,” Smart told Burnt Orange Nation during his Monday morning press conference. “A lot of times people simplify kids and say, ‘Well he’s a shot blocker, a rim protector; he’s a rebounder.’ But we started with out workouts in the summer and said, ‘Hey, [Bamba] is going to be a guy that can eventually make some shots.’ He’s a guy that can take care of the ball against pressure, he’s a guy you can get the ball to at the high post. He’s getting better and better with his moves in the low block, so now you start to see some of that stuff come to fruition,” Smart added.
To say some of that upside is coming to fruition would be an understatement, though.
Just over a week ago against Iowa State, Bamba set a new career-high with 24 points behind a highly efficient 9-11 shooting performance and a perfect 2-2 from the perimeter. The following game, Bamba surpassed that effort against Ole Miss, pouring on a new career-high 25 points after converting 12-13 attempts from the charity stripe and 6-8 field goals, including a three-pointer.
Amid a season in which the Longhorns lost star guard Andrew Jones as he battles leukemia, the 19-year-old Bamba has shouldered an increased load in a veteran-esque fashion. But it’s not as if Bamba is simply absorbing more touches or trying to play hero ball for a Texas offense that quite honestly needs a hero at times, he’s becoming dominant within the flow, while guys like Kerwin Roach II, Dylan Osetkowski and Eric Davis Jr. progress around and with him.
In short, the eye test says that at this point in his progression, Bamba is beginning to realized that when engaged and aggressive, he can typically get what he wants on the offensive end.
“He’s much more confident, he’s playing with more physicality, he’s more sure of himself, he’s more aggressive,” Smart said of Bamba’s recent offensive evolution. “He’s far from a finished product, so you want to continue that evolution.”
Now, only 10 games remain in what will prove to be Bamba’s only regular season in Austin, and the flashes of why NBA scouts are so enamored with Bamba are becoming apparent virtually every game, especially as his offense potential begins to complement his elite defensive talent.
That’s great news for Texas for the little amount of time he’ll still be a Longhorn, but if Bamba’s most recent 10 appearances are a sign of what’s to come, the 14-7 Longhorns should feel good about where Bamba and his improved offensive prowess can lead Texas with March Madness rapidly approaching.