Orlando Magic: Wait, maybe it is Mohamed Bamba’s time?

Every NBA fan tries not to read too much into preseason play, and in the case of the Orlando Magic, that is no different. Three exhibition games showing us that while the future could most certainly be bright if Jalen Suggs keeps playing that tenaciously and Cole Anthony continues to cheer for everybody and everyone, there will also be plenty of losing this season as well.

That’s not to say this roster isn’t any good. In fact, it might even be ahead of schedule and slept on by more casual fans. There are going to be signature moments and the occasional nice win, but development is the key here. To that end, head coach Jamahl Mosley and his staff have already done the unthinkable.

The Orlando Magic have been hoping for this for years now, but is it possible that Mohamed Bamba’s time has finally arrived?

Again, it is the preseason, so we all need to relax. But aside from some basic stats that are encouraging and far more consistent than they’ve ever been, there’s actually a pattern that has developed since the beginning of the offseason that gives more weight to the fact that this could be Bamba’s time.

There’s no doubt he was running out of chances in Orlando, and previous head coach Steve Clifford was evidently not a fan. Bamba could never get a consistent run of games under the previous regime, and even when he had decent games (which did happen, lest we all forget) he was relegated to the bench anyway.

Coach Mosley came in and began working with him right away. That was followed by some time in the weight room, and while it seems every player gains “10 pounds of lean muscle” each summer, in the case of Bamba it is true and then some. His wiry frame has been bulked out considerably, and with that appears to have come newfound confidence.

Outside factors have contributed to this sudden urgency and consistency in his game. The arrival of Wendell Carter Jr. (another big man from the same draft class) and how promising he looked once he got some game time was cause for concern. There’s also the small matter of the fact Bamba is now eligible for an extension on his rookie contract and has not received an offer yet.

Nothing motivates a player like the ability to get paid. It surely also helps that Carter Jr. is in the same boat, and it was a surprise to see him as the more traditional center taking and making some 3-pointers during the preseason slate so far. But if you take a look at this expert breakdown on Bamba’s game versus the Boston Celtics, you can see a player transformed.

Even the commentary team of the Celtics (the game was not available with an Orlando broadcast) raved about the sudden urgency with which Bamba was playing. Not something they were used to seeing. Beyond that, the decision-making and crispness in his own 3-point shooting were to be noted.

The Magic may now have the best version of Mo Bamba

This is an amazing development when you consider he was among the top trade candidates for the Magic as recently as a couple of weeks ago. Not everybody can get paid, and early indications were that Carter had the better skill set as a more traditional and physical big man to be the guy to pair with Suggs and Jonathan Isaac long-term.

Instead in the most recent game (a loss to the San Antonio Spurs that wound up getting a Spurs player cut) we saw the final and most surprising development in Bamba’s arc. He has suddenly become so versatile and capable of playing in different lineups, that he was paired next to Carter for parts of the game.

Some of it was surprisingly fluid to watch between the pair. Other moments were as predictably clunky as you would expect from two men who had never started a game like that before. But it also served to highlight the flexibility this Magic roster is building. Bamba isn’t quite physical enough (yet) to be a total bully inside, but he and Carter Jr. together are formidable.

With Bamba serving as a stretch four, and a long one even by their standards, it was fascinating to see his teammates work around that. Almost like he was taking the role designed for Isaac (who may end up being out 15 months when all is said and done, and that’s a worry), and taking it for himself.

What an unexpected twist in this tale. The money still might be an issue, and if anything Bamba suddenly playing well and doing so consistently could drive his trade value back up to a point where the Magic might just trade him anyway. But he’s playing with a real two-way appeal, blocking and altering shots on one end and making them in different ways on the other.

We’ve been here before. There have been false dawns with Bamba. Nothing is guaranteed and the season will be long and present challenges. He hasn’t been the most durable guy either, with a leg fracture and niggles in the past. But this is the best version of Mohamed Bamba we’ve seen to date, and although it is only the preseason, it looks really encouraging for the franchise. Almost like having a new player with some of what we’ve seen so far.