Now that the 2018 NBA draft lottery is behind us, and each NBA team knows where they’ll be picking in June’s 2018 NBA draft, executives and evaluators turn their attention to the annual draft combine, a two-day affair in Chicago where prospects run through drills, meet with prospective future employers, and generally get put through their paces. An awful lot of that attention will go to the prospects’ official measurements … and an awful lot of that attention will be focused on Texas center Mohamed Bamba, because your man is a literally record-breaking brand of massive.
The NBA released combine participants’ official measurements on Thursday, and Bamba — who set the Longhorns’ single-season record for blocked shots in his lone year on campus, finishing second in the nation in blocks per game and third in block rate — posted a condor-esque wingspan of 7 feet, 10 inches, aka 94 inches, aka holy crap. That is the single longest wingspan recorded in the 19 years the league’s been keeping track of such things, topping the previous high/long water mark of 7 feet, 8 3/4 inches, set by former Mississippi State big man John Riek back in 2009.
That’s a pretty big wingspan, you guys.
Five things Mo Bamba’s wingspan is bigger than
• The average artificial Christmas tree
• Andre the Giant (RIP)
• 1.5 Muggsy Bogueses (Muggsies Bogue?)
• Roughly two R2D2s
• Shaq with a copy of the first Minor Threat 7-inch fastened securely to the top of his head
There are others — I encourage you to search for your favorites! — but those are the ones I enjoy most.
How much does Mo Bamba’s record-breaking wingspan really matter, though?
It’s a fair question! As noted by former Blazers and 76ers executive and Cleaning the Glass proprietor Ben Falk, relying too heavily on raw measurements like the “anthropomorphic data” culled from the combine can prove to be dicey:
There can be real value to these measurements, helping to understand what can change with time and what can’t. A player is unlikely to grow longer arms, for example. He is more likely to be able to learn how to anticipate the ball off the rim for a rebound. But these measurements have their own context: players learn tricks to increase performance on the agility drills; vertical leap is not a static trait; and there is always the chance for measurement error.
On the other side, though, these measurements may be too decontextualized. How much does vertical leap matter if it’s not functional on a basketball court? If a player can’t react fast enough, doesn’t play hard enough, and doesn’t have the skill to take advantage of his physical gifts, all the athleticism in the world is for naught.
In this way, the Combine is really a microcosm of the entire draft process. It’s what scouts have been doing for the whole year, trying to determine what about a player will shift with time and context, and what won’t. Will he become a better defender if he’s taught by our coaches? Will he be a better athlete when he gets in an NBA strength program? Is he already more skilled than he’s been allowed to show?
Bamba’s an interesting prospect in that context, because while his unparalleled length inarguably shapes his form and function on the court, he doesn’t profile as “just” a drop-pick-and-roll-coverage center who needs to be stationed at the front of the rim to make an impact.
At just under 7-foot-1 and 226 pounds, he’s got the frame to not only deter shots on the interior, but also to move with lateral quickness on the perimeter. He logged more than 30 minutes a night as the paint-patrolling anchor of a Texas team that ranked 12th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, according to KenPom.com. But the 20-year-old is largely viewed as one of the draft’s more raw prospects, a player with “massive upside” who has the tools to develop on the offensive end into more than a one-way wonder at the next level.
Whether he’ll maximize those tools and reach his imagined ceiling — “a 3-point shooting Rudy Gobert” sounds like a new entry into the increasingly overstuffed species of fantastic beasts shaking the league — will obviously depend on a number of factors, ranging from the development capabilities of the team that drafts him to the amount of work he puts into honing his strengths and limiting his weaknesses and, y’know, luck. But when you can clear the top shelf of the cabinet without liftoff — and, with the longest standing reach (9-foot-7-1/2) since the god Pavel Podkolzin, grab rim without even getting up on your tippy-goes — you’re probably going to get every opportunity possible to prove you can.
Some other measurements of note from the 2018 NBA draft combine
• Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander comes in as the most cut dude in the draft class, sporting a combine-low 3 percent body fat. That’s the lowest percentage of any player in 10 years, after point guard Aaron Brooks measured at 2.7 percent back in 2007-08, and the fourth-lowest since 2000. Tied for top honors? Ex-Mississippi State guard Timmy Bowers and Duke product turned journeyman wing Dahntay Jones, both of whom checked in at 2.6 percent in their respective combine years.
• Former Purdue center Isaac Haas, a 7-foot-2 scorer whom you might remember from having a special brace made for his broken elbow so that he could play in the NCAA tournament with a broken elbow or from, um, nevermind, weighed in at 303 lbs. at the combine, heavier than any prospect in the last 15 years, when former Western Kentucky center ChrisMarcus tipped the scales at 334 lbs.
• At eight inches long and eight inches wide, the player with the smallest hands in this year’s draft class is … UCLA point guard Jaylen Hands. I kid you not. I’m not sure if that’s nominative determinism, but it sure is something.
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