In this edition of college basketball film study, we'll break down stud freshmen big men Mohamed Bamba and Jaren Jackson. Let's go.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. These aren’t per game averages, but rather per-40 minute numbers to account for the difference in playing time:
Jackson is a better scorer, and is generally more well-rounded. It's surprising that he's a better shot-blocker than Bamba, but an important note: Jackson fouls a lot (5.6 per 40) while Bamba is an impactful defender without hacking (3.3). It's why Bamba is able to stay on the floor for longer stretches than Jackson. Still, Sparty's freshman gets the nod.
This is a huge positive for both players. Bamba has a freakish 7-9 wingspan — turn on a Texas broadcast, and you’ll hear at least once per game that he can grab coins off the top of the backboard when he’s feeling ambitious.
That length is incredibly valuable. It allows Bamba to block shots other players can’t, and to contest shots others wouldn’t even consider. If he gets beat off of the dribble by a speedy guard, it doesn’t take long for Bamba to recover; in a case where 99 percent of guys would be out of the play, Bamba can extend his arm and alter a shot.
Bamba essentially guards two guys at once here. His teammate gets beat off the dribble against TCU, but he doesn’t have to commit to the ball-handler as early as other centers would. Bamba stays on his assignment for as long as possible, dissuading the dump off. Then, he gets insanely high for the rejection:
That's an easy basket against most teams. Not Texas. Longhorn perimeter defenders can hound opponents with more aggression because they know Bamba has the paint taken care of.
Jackson doesn’t have the freakish dimensions of Bamba, but he’s stronger and more explosive. Listed at 6-11, 242, Jackson has the girth to play center and the agility to play power forward. He’ll regularly do stuff like this:
These are both elite rim-protectors, but Bamba’s availability gives him a slight edge. Sure, Jackson’s block numbers are gaudier, but he only plays 22.3 minutes per game – mostly because of foul trouble. Bamba averages 30.8 minutes. Walling off the rim without hacking is a vastly underrated skill, and his length allows him to do that.
Bamba’s defensive dominance doesn’t translate to the offensive end as frequently. He’s improving — he's much better than he was in November and December, in fact — but he's raw. Bamba is an ideal pick-and-roll partner in theory; with his long arms and springy legs, he should be able to dunk everything in sight.
He can… if he catches the ball cleanly. That’s a big if. Bamba is averaging 1.6 turnovers — while that may not look like a huge number, it’s high for a center who’s rarely asked to handle the ball. Bamba’s post game isn’t great, but he’s an instinctual offensive rebounder who can eat smaller opponents alive on putbacks. He’s averaging 3.4 offensive boards per game. Babma is an effective offensive player, even if he looks a bit awkward in the process.
Jackson is more useful on that end. He’s rarely asked to post up, but has displayed a nifty face-up game. You don't want to step in front of this train:
Jackson is a good ball-handler given his frame. He has nice touch and soft hands; Jackson can catch passes in tight quarters, which allows Michigan State to play with more freedom:
He has the edge here.
Bamba is arguably the best defender in college basketball. He’s second in the country in blocks, and Texas’ defense is stout mostly because of him — the Longhorns rank sixth on that end. Bamba is averaging almost six blocks per 40 minutes; foes shoot 46.8 percent on 2s against Texas, a solid number.
Of course, he’s effective because of his length and athleticism, but he’s also incredibly smart. Once again, Bamba guards two guys here — but most bigs would hack the driver on this play. Not Bamba, who has mastered the art of verticality:
He’s as good of a rim-protector as was advertised. Jackson, to his credit, is also an excellent interior deterrent. He’s averaging more blocks per 40 minutes than Bamba, and the Spartans rank two spots behind the Longhorns in defensive rating. Jackson is more stout in the post than Bamba thanks to his superior strength.
Jackson is a great interior defender, but Bamba is more consistent and sends foes to the free-throw line far less frequently. Bamba makes watching defense fun. How many players can you say that about?
Based on numbers, we’ll have to go with Bamba — but again, both players thrive here.Part of this is position based. Jackson plays power forward next to Nick Ward, who’s averaging 7.5 rebounds in under 20 minutes per game (seriously). Ward isn’t nearly as mobile as Jackson, so the latter is often asked to defend stretch fours on the perimeter. Bamba, meanwhile, is (rightfully) camped in the paint, so his rebounding numbers are bound to be higher. Dylan Osetkowski is tasked with chasing around smaller forwards.
It's splitting hairs, but Bamba’s rebounding radius in insane — and frankly, unparalleled.
This is clearly Jackson’s biggest advantage over Bamba. Jackson’s jump shot mechanics may not be pretty, but he’s draining 42 percent of his 3s on almost three attempts per game — he’s a legitimate perimeter weapon for the Spartans, who badly need his spacing. Many questioned Tom Izzo for playing Ward, Jackson and Bridges together so often; Bridges would be better-suited at the four. But Jackson’s shooting is the reason why it works.
Yes, the release is funky. But it goes in, and it's quick, which is what matters most. No hesitation here:
We saw earlier that Jackson has a nice dribble-drive game; close out too aggressively, and he’ll rampage to the rim. We don’t know if Jackson is a good passer — Izzo doesn’t ask him to facilitate too often. One thing we do know: he has a high basketball IQ. Call it a hunch, but if Izzo ran the offense through Jackson in the high post, Michigan State would be fine.
Bamba is a better shooter than you’d think — his mechanics are better than Jackson’s — but he’s only making 27 percent of his 3s, and opponents invite him to take outside shots. It feels like Bamba will be a good shooter in three years, but he’s not there yet.
Bamba also struggles to make the right pass when he sees double-teams. Opponents would be wise to send more doubles his way; Texas’ guards aren’t great shooters, which is part of the issue. But he hasn’t displayed advanced offensive feel to this point.
Jackson is more agile and can guard more positions than Bamba — his top defensive skill isn’t as dominant as Bamba’s, but he’s more versatile. Jackson can slide his feet with wings or bang in the post. It’s the reason why Izzo doesn’t feel obligated to use him at center, and Michigan State can still field the No. 8 defense.
But remember how we mentioned Bamba’s superb recovery ability earlier? Watch this:
As a ball-handler, if you get most defenders on your hip, you’ve beaten them. Not Bamba. That 7-9 wingspan is a problem for opposing offenses.
Bamba can also be clumsy on his feet; teams would be wise to run him through more ball screens to get him away from the hoop. Bamba is better than you'd expect in those situations, but if he’s not near the rim, it’s a win.
Jackson is more reliable on the perimeter, but both guys have the potential to excel here.
Jackson is the type of guy who can fit into any team construct. He can play center or power forward and be a two-way force. Bamba’s rim-protection is unparalleled, and depending on the system, he may be a more attractive piece.
But as an overall player, Jackson is simply more useful. That said — both of these guys are a joy to watch.
Slight edge: Jackson