There are no quiet moments in the basketball offices when a roster still has open scholarships and even as St. Bonaventure transfer Kyle Lofton was announcing his decision to come to Florida the Gators were busy at work on the homefront hosting a different player on a visit, Buffalo’s Josh Mballa.
Mballa, a native of Bordeaux, France, went to high school at Putnam Science Academy in New Jersey–actually the same high school as Kyle Lofton. He signed with Texas Tech where he spent one season mostly not getting off the bench before transferring to Buffalo where he blossomed, instantly becoming one of the most impactful frontcourt players in the league and dominating with physicality.
Last season Mballa averaged 13.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals.
Standing at 6’7” and weighing 220 pounds, Mballa has a muscular physique and long arms that make him look imposing. It’s not just intimidation with him, as he plays the game with physicality and regularly overpowers MAC opponents. Mballa is a “power” forward in the truest sense of the word. He got to play most of his minutes at the four next to center David Skogman and it allowed him to have the physical advantage in most matchups he saw, and boy did he take advantage of them.
In each of his three seasons at Buffalo Mballa led the MAC in offensive rebounding percentage. Nationally he ranked 39th, 22nd, and 21st in offensive rebounding. So, his record as a monster on the glass is well established and for a Florida coaching staff that is trying to clean up what was one of the worst rebounding teams in the country last season you can see why they might be trying to muscle up with a player like Mballa.
Even more than rebounding, Mballa’s biggest impact is on the defensive end where he has won MAC Defensive Player of the Year. He’s got a reported 7’2” wingspan, a believable number when you see him on the defensive end getting into passing lanes, poking balls away from ball handlers, and contesting shots. Despite a heavy, stocky frame, Mballa can show moments of intense burst where he can dig down to get a hand on a basketball or get out to a three-point shooter. Buffalo trusted him to switch out onto smaller guards and that versatility is perfect for a modern four-man. Watching the tape I wouldn’t say he was a stellar perimeter defender and still struggled against quicker guards, but he handled himself a lot better than a lot of similar sized frontcourt players would.
Looking at him on the defensive end you can see a bit of Draymond Green–a stocky 6’7”ish forward with long arms that is quicker on his feet than you think. It’s also pretty easy to see some Will Yeguete in Mballa, especially with both hailing from France.
Offensively, things don’t come quite as easily for Mballa. His raw point totals are good–13.0 points per game last year and 15.2 points per game the prior season. However, it’s largely due to volume and the long rope he was afforded at Buffalo and his numbers are somewhat inefficient. He was well below average as a post up player and below average at finishing around the rim, both numbers that are concerning when you look at what his game would look like at the high major level. He doesn’t shoot it, only 14-57 (25%) from three in his career, and when you have a non-shooter at power forward it can often condense the floor.
Mballa does have some ability to handle the ball and it can make him an offensive threat in semi-transition and when he gets a head of steam there aren’t too many players that can initiate contact and bump him off a straight line path.
Where Mballa is dangerous is on the offensive glass and he can generate a lot of open shots for himself by hustling after missed shots and the extra possessions he created for Buffalo were of high value as well.
Overall, Mballa is a really interesting player. He can be a menace defensively, flying around and getting his long arms involved, and he has been productive offensively despite concerns with efficiency and how his game could translate to the high major level. If he were to come to Florida it would be all about role and how much he would be willing to embrace being defensive leader and then largely just an offensive rebounder and dump off man on offense. If the Gators were to land Mballa it would give them a player very different than what they currently have on the roster, and at this point of the transfer season getting unique, versatile pieces might be the best path to success.