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Texas’ Bamba displays his smarts, Suns talk trading up possibility

Mo Bamba worked out for the Phoenix Suns on Saturday and hopes the franchise selects him with the No. 1 pick. (Photo by Jack Harris/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Like Arizona’s Deandre Ayton on Wednesday and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III on Friday, Texas center Mohamed Bamba walked into the Al McCoy Media Center Saturday, passing Suns’ General Manager Ryan McDonough on his way to the podium.

Unlike Ayton and Bagley, though, Bamba passed on taking a seat in the tall chair behind the podium at Talking Stick Resort Arena. He opted to stand, looking down upon the gazing media beholding the greek god in front of them.

The legacy of his 7-foot frame and 7-10 wingspan that preceded him was drastic, filling up pages upon pages of scouting report material that had the name Bamba at the top of it. And yet, it was more impressive in person.

Even McDonough thought so, joking that he arrived late to the media availability following Bamba’s solo workout because it took a “little longer to do Mo’s wingspan and standing reach and max vertical do to (his) unique nature.”

“Mo had a really good workout today,” McDonough said. “Obviously he’s a super unique player. His length, his wingspan, his standing reach is off the charts. His ability to protect the rim I think will be elite at the NBA level.”

But more impressive than his physical attributes was the intelligence Bamba displayed in his almost 13 minutes with the media. His answered quickly, but his responses were detailed. When asked, he gave in-depth descriptions of his time attending the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, things Rudy Gobert (a player he is often compared to) did well and how he’s revitalyzed his shot in the last 10 weeks.

He demonstrated his new stroke, something NBA skills coach Drew Hanlen has helped him with, he said, and instead of pure feel, the redefined form has to do a lot with angles — because as mentioned before, Bamba is incredibly smart.

Bamba shot 68 percent from the field last year at Texas, knocking down 14 of his 51 attempts from beyond the arc, too. But, the Harlem, New York, native said that his 3-point form at Texas resembled that of a slingshot, arching back at a 122-degree angle.

He’s reduced that to a 105-degree angle which he said has made “a night and day difference.”

“The term unicorn is being tossed out there a lot but no one really knows what it means,” he said. “It’s just guys making plays that people just (think), ‘Huh, I’ve never seen that before.’ Now’s the time for someone like me to really embark on the NBA journey.”

Now all that is fine and well, but many viewed Bamba’s Saturday morning workout with the Suns as a mere observation for McDonough and Co. In the 50 mock drafts Arizona Sports compiled in its mock draft tracker, not one outlet had Bamba’s name at No. 1.

But after reports that Phoenix was trying to bring in Oklahoma guard Trae Young for a dinner and workout, it’s not out of the question that the Suns are looking at players who they may be able to trade up and get, not necessarily draft at No. 1.

McDonough said that once the team locks in on who they want to take with the top selection, they will then look at possibly trading up in the draft with their current assets.

In The Ringer’s current mock draft, they have Bamba going at no. 5 to the Dallas Mavericks and Young going to the New York Knicks at No. 9. Although that four-pick gap may as well be as wide as the Mississippi River in terms of what it will take to move into for the Suns, they do have the assets.

On top of the No. 1 pick, the Suns own pick Nos. 16, 31 and 59 in this year’s draft and an unprotected 2021 pick from the Miami Heat. Along with a flurry of young talent, the Suns have pieces that other NBA teams value, but they would need the perfect scenario to deal them.

The Suns’ general manager said that when deciding to jump and and grab someone in the draft — as he did for Marquese Chriss in 2016 — he looks for a player that has strengths that complement their current roster.

If the Suns do draft Ayton first overall, as many expect, Phoenix likely wouldn’t grab another center in Bamba a few picks later. But, McDonough has pointed out that a majority of the best players in this year’s draft are bigs, which means he likes multiple that will be available in the Top 10.

If the Suns rate someone like Bamba or Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. very close to Ayton, it’s not inconceivable to think that they would be willing to pass on Ayton at No. 1 possibly for Real Madrid guard Luka Doncic and then trade up for a big men later in the top 10. McDonough said Friday the team is still trying to schedule a workout or meeting with Slovenian prospect Doncic, but also noted the Suns have scouts at his games and are in-touch with his representatives.

The Suns lost 61 games last year. They’re not just one piece away from contention, they’re a few away. And the 2018 NBA Draft may just be the perfect time to expedite #TheTimeline.

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