The defensive monster who’s slipping out of Knicks’ dreams
CHICAGO — Harlem’s Mohamed Bamba set a wingspan record for the NBA Draft Combine, measuring at 7-foot-9¾. The shot-blocking center who played at Texas has helped his stock so dramatically the Knicks know they have no shot at Bamba falling to No. 9.
Bamba, a probable top-five pick in June’s draft, was born and raised in Manhattan but played high school ball at Westtown (Pa.) High. The 20-year-old who considered Harvard and has attended Daryl Morey’s famed Sloan Analytics Conference the past two years has never been on the Garden court.
“It’d be pretty cool to either play for or against the Knicks,’’ Bamba said. “I’ve never played in the Garden. I think it will be a funny feeling playing in the Garden. I’ve always wanted them to win, wanted them to be a contender.”
He would look dangerous next to Kristaps Porzingis, but the Knicks would have to trade up. Charles Barkley told The Post that Bamba is the best player he has seen in college this season. However, the defensive menace still is raw offensively. Bamba averaged 12.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks last season for the Longhorns, who were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I’d say my biggest strength right now — one word to summarize it all — is my presence,’’ Bamba said at the combine. “Both offensively and defensively the presence I have is pretty profound. As far as weaknesses on specific things I need to work on is playing lower. When you play lower you tend to be more explosive and finish through contact.”
Bamba has been compared to a New York version of Utah’s French center Rudy Gobert.
“I don’t think the comparisons come because of just the wingspan,’’ Bamba said. “There are a lot of length guys in the league you can compare me to. I think what people see when they compare me to Rudy is my presence, just being that elite rim protector.”
Draft Express has Bamba headed to Dallas with the fifth pick, but he may have leapt ahead of Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., slated to go No. 4 to Memphis.
“One difference between me and any other prospects in this class is I’m plugged into the NBA right now,’’ Bamba said. “I don’t want to be cocky when I say this. I really feel like I can be one of the best rim protectors in the league as a rookie.’’
Neither Trae Young nor Collin Sexton, the two top point guards, helped themselves with their combine measurements. Young, who said he plans to be the best in the NBA, didn’t hit 6-foot-2 with shoes (6-1 ³/₄) with a suspect 6-3 wingspan. To compare, Frank Ntilikina’s wingspan is 7-foot. Sexton measured in 6-1 ½ with shoes but an impressive wingspan of 6-7¼.
Sexton said he’s a two-way player despite the size.
“I feel like I play both ends of the court,’’ Sexton said. “I play a lot more physical. I can use my speed and my abilities and my athleticism to my advantage. Right now I’m improving on my three-ball and when it’s time to play with others.’’
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