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Why Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mohamed Bamba might be more valuable to Phoenix than we realize

With the Phoenix Suns wanting to build a versatile roster, these two big men at the top of the draft would cross off a lot of needs.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

What is one of the main keys for a team to thrive in today’s modern NBA? It’s versatility, especially from a defensive standpoint.

If the Suns are intrigued by the possibility of adding their weakest link via the draft, rim protection, look no further than Mohamed Bamba and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Both prospects not only possess outstanding physical traits — Bamba with an incredible 7’9 wingspan that swallows up shots at the rim and Jackson Jr. has a 7’4 wingspan himself on top of an impressively built-out frame already — but their production thus far speaks for itself. Bamba has always been a name in the top five conversations, but Jackson Jr. has proved to be the most NBA ready big man in the 2018 draft class outside of Arizona’s Deandre Ayton. The impressive part here is that Jackson Jr. (JJJ) is also the youngest in the 2018 draft class at 18.3 years old.

When diving into the numbers and keeping tabs on prospects (check out Big Board 2.0 for the latest update), it’s hard to deny how valuable either one of these prospects would be in a Suns uniform, let alone any team’s roster once June arrives.

With college prospects, I usually look at their stats and calculate them to per 36 minutes. It represents more of an NBA-like amount of time spent on the floor. I also included their advanced stats, which paints a picture of how efficient both are.

I ran Bamba and Jackson Jr.’s season numbers through and side-by-side it’s very intriguing.

Bamba per 36: 14.7 points, 12.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 5.1 blocks, 1.1 steals, 2.1 turnovers, and 3.4 fouls on 53.7/25/61.9 shooting splits

Jackson Jr. per 36: 18.4 points, 10 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 5.1 blocks, 1.3 steals, 3.3 turnovers, and 5 fouls on 51.9/44.6/80.8 shooting splits

At the moment, few big boards have Bamba above JJJ but that trend could soon begin as we get through the meat of conference play. At the moment, Bamba sits at No. 5 while JJJ is two spots below at No. 7. Bamba stayed in the same spot, but JJJ slid a spot on my big board update because of me buying into Trae Young as a franchise point guard.

The main takeaways from those numbers above are how elite of rim protectors both are. Even though Bamba has the advantage, JJJ is no slouch himself. He’s had some block party performances, including 8 against Rutgers.

We will dive into all of these facets, especially as we get close to March Madness and Lottery Big Board 3.0, but the other main note is JJJ’s shooting splits.

At 6’11”, the Michigan State Spartan big man has a smoother looking shot even though it’s a lower release than most. He continues to show, even though many times as the third or fourth option under Tom Izzo that he’s capable of being a floor spacer who can take it off the dribble. An interesting factoid here also is that Jackson Jr. has attempted more 3s than Ayton and Bamba combined.

JJJ is even starting to realize he could this regularly, which is a scary thought. He pulled this off earlier this week against an Illinois guard from the three-point line. Crossover hesi straight into one dribble (!!) for the poster.

When discussing Bamba, as I have mentioned a lot throughout Locked On Suns episodes, he could be a major difference maker for Phoenix. The comparisons are thrown around a lot, but it’s hard for me to envision him failing on the next level as he should be a more advanced Rudy Gobert at this stage.

In his last game against Iowa State at home, Bamba tallied a season-high 24 points alongside 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, and 2 three-pointers made. Easily his best game of the season alongside the Texas Longhorns’ Big 12 conference opener against Kansas.

When Bamba turns it on, he’s a terror on both ends of the floor. In ESPN’s latest mock draft from Jonathan Givony, Phoenix selects Bamba at No. 3 above the likes of Young, Jackson, Michael Porter Jr., and Marvin Bagley III. The reasons why are obvious when looking at team needs. Phoenix has no rim protector, at least a consistent one who could change shots at the rim.

With Bamba, that won’t be an issue. When guards try to go in the lane against him, they usually have to try and float it above his wingspan and absurd 9’6” standing reach. It usually doesn’t end well. Much like Gobert, Bamba would help deter easy shots and force ones of a lower percentage. And if they try it, there are good odds that he will have some sort of impact on it.

Also, my 2nd rated big behind Ayton nearly broke the internet earlier this year against VCU which shows the unnatural body proportions that make him such a dynamic prospect in league circles.

Bamba’s shooting stroke has started to come around as of late too, which is a plus as that was hyped a bunch in the preseason. After his season-best outing against Iowa State, I hope to see him continue to build off of it moving forward.

Simply put, somebody like Bamba should not struggle against inferior talent regularly.

Overall, when debating back and forth between Bamba and Jackson Jr., what makes them both unique prospects for today’s NBA is as we mentioned earlier their versatility. Not only will it be displayed on defense as an anchor defensively, but on offense as well once their games begin to blossom a few years down the line.

As I have mentioned before, when James Jones exclusively spoke to us on Bright Side Night pregame for about an hour, he discussed this exact thing. Versatility is crucial to be a successful team, as many begin to follow the Golden State blueprint built around switchy, positionless type of players.

A selection of either Bamba or Jackson Jr. fits that trend because it allows for Phoenix to build a perimeter-oriented roster.

The Houston Rockets have shown that surrounding a big like Clint Capela with sharpshooters opens it up even more for him, and it makes it even sweeter for him that James Harden and Chris Paul open up even more space. Hypothetically, a Devin Booker-built roster could have a similar effect, in turn, allowing a prospect like Bamba or Jackson Jr. to be a vital asset long-term.

Fits in Phoenix

Before discussing their fits in Phoenix, I want to quickly run through my comparisons for each of them. For Bamba, he’s unique to the point I don’t think the league has seen somebody like him yet, especially if he reaches his full ceiling. I believe he’s a more skilled Rudy Gobert with more offensive seasoning.

After looking up Gobert’s season-by-season numbers on Basketball Reference, and like usual league-wide trends with big men, it took him a good two to three years to fully settle in.

Realistically, Bamba could produce even better numbers rather quickly. He needs to obviously gain weight like many prospects need, but his two-way potential is astronomical. That’s what makes him a prospect that I doubt slips out of the top five once the draft is officially on the clock.

As far as JJJ goes, he’s a unique hybrid of Myles Turner and Karl-Anthony Towns to me. Just check out JJJ per 100 possessions stacked up to Turner and KAT below.

It's a scary resemblance between JJJ and KAT, isn’t it? Their net ratings (KAT = 48.7, JJJ = 41.4) are dominant, and it shows as far as box plus-minus numbers go too. Both can stretch the floor, but the difference between them at this stage is that Towns is more offensively refined while JJJ is more on the defensive end. They are growing in those areas, though, and with Jackson Jr.

As many around the league begin to take notice of Jackson Jr., his stock will continue to rise. For me, he’s in that third tier alongside Young, Porter Jr., and Bamba.

Now, if Bamba were to be selected by the Suns, it would likely be one of the better overall pairings at the top, if the lottery balls aren’t lucky. Bamba would help a weak defensive team exponentially as far as teams flowing effortlessly into the paint on a nightly basis goes.

Building a team of shooters around Bamba is a tantalizing thought because I believe Bamba could be the true quote-unquote ‘unicorn’ of this class. If he’s able to fit the Tyson Chandler mold on the next level, that even could push him forward further with his more advanced skill set at both ends compared to when Chandler declared out of Dominguez High School in California.

While Bamba isn’t the most effective on the offensive end, it’s an immediate shift for the Suns to finally have a young, defensive stalwart on the back line. A trio of Bamba, Dragan Bender, and Josh Jackson also allows an elite score-first guard in Booker to conserve energy on that end.

Flipping it over to Jackson Jr., he brings nearly what Bamba can defensively without the eye-popping length but it’s still elite. He is by far the most versatile out of all bigs at the top, being able to switch comfortably 3-5 and even check guards. His shooting would also bring a unique twist to the equation (Bamba can as well, but JJJ shows much more fluidity in the process).

JJJ would open up a lot of doors for the Suns to explore, even with Marquese Chriss and Bender still around. They can get very creative with lineups, while always having one plus defensive presence out on the floor at all times. With Jackson Jr., I think he could be the ideal No. 3 scoring option in the starting lineup behind Booker and Jackson if that’s the route Phoenix ended up going six months from now.

I will discuss Jackson Jr., Bamba, and the rest of the 2018 prospects a lot more in-depth once Lottery Big Board 3.0 is unveiled next month. In the meantime, who do you believe is the better fit in the Valley?


Who would you rather select between these two prospects?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
    (189 votes)
  • 51%
    Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State
    (201 votes)
390 votes total Vote Now

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