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Shaka Smart compares Mo Bamba to Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid

The Longhorns head coach thinks his former star has more potential than other players projected as top draft picks.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Texas vs Nevada Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The future is bright for former Texas Longhorns forward Mohamed Bamba, who is currently in Los Angeles training for the 2018 NBA Draft, according to head coach Shaka Smart in a recent interview on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

“He’s got phenomenal upside, and he’s really just scratching the surface of what he can do as a player, particularly on the offensive end. We knew we’d only have him for one year, and I’m just really proud of the growth and progress that he made on and off the court at Texas,” Smart said.

Before a toe injury limited Bamba late in the season, he’d started to come into his own as a player, scoring 49 points and securing 27 rebounds while missing only four shots in games against Iowa State and Oklahoma in late January.

Smart also shared some comparisons for Bamba.

On the defensive end, it was not surprising that Rudy Gobert came to mind — at 7’1 with an 8’0 wingspan, Gobert is the only player in the NBA who can match the height and length of Bamba. Gobert’s resulting ability to protect the rim has helped him become a candidate to win the Defensive Player of the Year award this season.

“Defensively, there’s (Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert), who Mo’s very much like on defense,” Smart said. “But, Gobert, if you talk to NBA guys, they say that he’s the MVP of that team because he changes everything on defense. And, that’s Mo.”

The offensive comparison was a bit more surprising.

“On the offensive end, and some people might think this is a stretch, but I think he has the potential to be like Joel Embiid,” Smart said. “When you look back at when Embidd was at Kansas for one year, he was less productive offensively than Mo was this year. Now, if you fast forward three-four years (to see what) Embiid is doing for the 76ers, I think Mo can be that good. He just obviously has to add strength and polish to his game.”

The interesting aspect of that comparison is that Bamba is working to fast track that development towards where Embiid is now as a player not only by modeling his game after Embiid, but spending time with the 76ers star.

At the start of the NBA Playoffs, Embiid wasn’t yet cleared to play while Bamba was in Philadelphia, so the two watched film together after the games for hours, according to The Ringer.

“He’d give me his input on what I should change,” Bamba said. “He told me to play lower. It’s all about leverage and being more explosive.”

Now Bamba is putting that advice to use as he trains in Los Angeles with Drew Hanlen, a former college player who also trained Joel Embiid, along with a handful of other current NBA standouts.

With Hanlen’s help, Bamba set out to improve three key areas of his embryonic offensive game: low-post moves, mid-post moves, and shooting. For each move, Hanlen said there are essentially three stages that take three to four weeks each: understanding it, implementing it, and mastering it. As of May 1, Bamba was in Stage 2.

He’s also slightly modified the mechanics of his jump shot, with an emphasis on getting more arc on his shot, a la Dirk Nowitziki, arguably the gold standard for a sweet-shooting big with an ideal entry angle on the basket.

But The Ringer piece provides much more perspective on the work Bamba is doing to improve physically beyond the basketball court as he attempts to add muscle to his massive frame by working out and consuming five protein shakes per day and massive amounts of food.

So, despite the consistent characterization of Bamba as a raw player, Smart sees him as a guy who has unparalleled upside, even when compared to the top players in the draft.

“I just think the exciting thing about Mo is that he has more potential than any of those guys.”

No matter where Bamba goes in the draft on June 21, it’s going to be fun to watch him develop in the NBA. The sky is the limit.