There has been an abundance of Twitter buzz in regards to Texas big man Mo Bamba over the recent weeks. And deservedly so, the outstanding freshman had a solid showing in his one year under Shaka Smart, and really proved himself to be a game changing defensive weapon.
He has reportedly been in the lab with universally respected trainer Drew Hanlen. Former tutor of Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, and Zach Lavine, just to name a few.
So when a video montage of his new and improved jumper dropped, many of Mavs twitter was all in on Bamba. And in doing so, overlooked the one who I believe to be the best defender in this class in Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
While it’s admirable and encouraging that Bamba is working to improve that jumper, the reason you draft either of these guys is for their impact on the defensive end.
Many assume Bamba to be the best shot blocker in this class for one reason. His absurdly long arms. The Texas big fella is rocking an otherworldly 7 foot, 9 inch wingspan, and has the production to back it up. Bamba averaged 3.7 blocks per contest, good enough for second best in the country.
Looking at Jackson’s block numbers, you will see 3.0 per game and while that’s impressive, it’s not Bamba good.
Or is it? Jaren Jackson only played 21.8 minutes per game. That is almost 10 less minutes than Mo. So evening out the minutes with a per 40 simulation, we learn that Mo checks out with 4.9 blocks per game. That’s incredible. But Jackson? He would post an unheard of 5.5 blocks per 40 minutes.
I understand that Bamba physically looks the part. At least more so than Jackson and his 6’11, 242 pound frame with a 7 foot 4 inch wingspan. But as they say, the tape (and numbers) don’t lie. Jackson is without a doubt on the same level, if not a better rim protector than Mo.
Okay, so if they’re fairly equal as rim protectors, what separates Jackson then?
The answer to that would be his versatility.
Bamba is much more of a traditional center. He’s not unatheltic persay, but due to his sheer mass, he is not the fleetest of foot. This limits his ‘switchability,’ which is an increasingly valuable skill in today’s NBA.
This isn’t an issue for Jackson. He demonstrated his willingness and comfort level defending in space all season. In fact, it’s arguably his greatest strength.
And I couldn’t help but see a parallel for Jackson/Bamba while watching the Western Conference semis matchup between the Jazz and Rockets.
The Jazz feature the player Bamba is most often compared to in Rudy Gobert. It’s a pretty easy one, given the matching 7’9 wingspans and shot blocking prowess. While menacing interior defenders, both players sacrifice some versatility and switchability in consistently guarding smaller players on the perimeter.
Now look across the way at Gobert’s counterpart, Clint Capela. He isn’t perceived to be the same caliber of defender as Gobert, similar to how Jackson is with Bamba. But he, like Jackson, is very comfortable operating in space against smaller players. And that facet in his game was a huge part of them dismissing Utah in five games. It didn’t matter who tried attacking him. Mitchell, Ingles, Exum, they all had trouble taking him off the dribble. And when they were able to beat him? His quickness and agility allowed him to recover and challenge the shot at the rim.
And I didn’t even mention his weak side rim protection, an area Jackson also excels in. Just check the game 4 tape. His paint protection won them that game down the stretch.
Anyone who watched that series could see Capela had a superior impact. Obviously though, this is just one series and also a Bamba/Jackson discussion, not a Capela/Gobert one. But stylistically speaking, I think it is a good snapshot as to why a Jackson/Capela archetype might hold more defensive value in the modern NBA than a Gobert/Bamba one.
And that’s often what you will hear people say about Jackson. He fits the modern NBA. We already talked about why that’s applicable on the defensive end, but it also check outs on the sexier end of the court.
Far and away the most important offensive skill in today’s league is shooting. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. If you can’t shoot, you really can’t afford to play.
And between Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mo Bamba, Jackson has a significant edge in that department.
Now we already referenced Bamba making noteable strides in his jump shooting. It cannot be stated enough how good of a sign it is to see him improving those mechanics. And teams are going to put them to the test during private workouts, and hopefully for Mo it holds up.
But the reality of it is, is that he shot just 27% from three on nearly 2 attempts in his lone college season. And that is the most reliable source of information we have to go off of in trying to project his jumper, regardless of how good it might look in workout videos.
Whereas Jaren Jackson shot about 40% from deep during his season. A significantly better percentage, on much higher volume.
I had some initial concerns over Jackson’s mechanics, especially with how they might translate out to the NBA three point line. But, according to TheStepian’s shot chart feature, Jackson shot a very impressive 44% on 58 NBA distance threes. Just another feather in the cap for him as a prospect.
There are draft cliches aplenty that apply to these two, but perhaps the most common is the term “raw.” What does that mean? Usually it means young, underdeveloped, lacking overall polish, etc…
And both of these guys are raw offensive prospects. We obviously mentioned Jackson having a pretty reliable shooting stroke, but in the realm of shot creating, both of these guys are very rough around the edges.
But for whatever reason, Bamba seems to get the “raw” label more so than Jackson. In reality, and this will come as a surprise to some, he’s actually a year older than Jackson.
I’m firm believer that age and development are not tied together. So this isn’t a knock on Bamba, but it is interesting to me as to why Bamba, the older guy, gets the “raw” but has upside crutch, while Jackson is labeled as the “safe” pick, albeit with limited upside.
It’s inconsistent, and particularly unfair to Jackson. Especially when you consider the fact that flashes of advanced offensive skill were pretty rare for both of them.
So considering all the variables here, what is the case for Bamba ahead of Jackson? Because I’m having trouble finding one. We already established that Jackson fits the “modern NBA” mold. The league as it currently stands values three things from its big men. Protect the basket, be able to guard multiple players, and be able to stretch the floor and shoot from distance. Jackson checks all those boxes and does so easily.
This isn’t to say that Bamba can’t ever excel at those things. After all, he showed a lot as a paint protector and defensive glass cleaner in his Burnt orange days. He seems like a bright kid, with his head in the right place. But Jaren Jackson grades out as the sueprior prospect for reasons mentioned above, and if it comes down to Bamba or Jackson on draft night, I think Jackson should be the pick.
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