The time has come to issue a mea culpa. Well, maybe not a full “mea culpa”; but at least an “ea cul.” I am nothing if not statistically minded (except maybe severely disturbed, judging by the number of industrially sized bags of Splenda I go through each week and the fact that I’m quite possibly the only man in America not only watching but riveted by Tremé), and these numbers have been screaming long enough that I can no longer ignore them (in that way they’re much like the voices in my head). So here goes: Bismack Biyombo is…something other than horrible. Like I said, I’m not fully retracting my criticism of him by any stretch, but I’ve been the Dwyane Wade foot to Biyombo’s Ramon Sessions’ groin over the years, and it’s only fair that I acknowledge his (halting, uneven, still-wish-we’d-gone-with-anyone-over-Biyombo-with-the-7th-pick-even-Jan-Vesely) progress.
The improvement has not come about because of his ballhandling skills—god, no. Biyombo still handles the ball as if it were a flaming bag of dog feces. His turnover rate has shot up to 17.6%, and I’m convinced even that’s understated. I’ve checked out the scoring on some of these plays, and I’ve noticed that more often than not I’ll see something like “Kemba Walker bad pass (turnover)” in the box score for what was a totally fine pass that Biyombo proceeded to bobble and then boot out of bounds like a drunk man would do to an annoying shih tzu.
But thanks to some alert coaching from Steve Clifford, Biyombo’s monstrousness has been reigned in and harnessed (Biyombo = King Joffrey, Clifford = Tywin Lannister). First, in terms of usage, Biyombo’s down to 8.1% this year from 9.2% last year. That’s incredibly low. There are Al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistani spider holes that are less hidden than Biz. He’s currently 49th in usage among qualified centers in ESPN’s rankings, behind even Kendrick Perkins. But (in honor of Dan Dierdorf), the Bobcats aren’t just not using him to finish plays, they’re not using him at all: among guys who’ve played at least 15 games so far and have averaged at least 15 MPG, Biyombo has the second-fewest touches per game in the entire league (15.4, according to NBA.com’s player tracker). And—you can see I’m determined to drive this point home like it’s Miss Daisy—if you go to Synergy Sports, you’ll see that the only type of offensive play Biyombo has participated in enough to even rank is backdoor cuts to the rim. But you don’t need statistics to tell you this; I bet if you close your eyes right now and imagine Kemba Walker with the ball and getting pressured and the offense looking stagnant (I know, you really have to use your imagination here), you can even see Kemba going through progressions as if he were Andrew Luck, and the very last option he’ll go to is Biyombo, aka Mr. Checkdown.
Okay, so far this ostensibly complimentary piece on Biyombo has featured more backhands than Roger Federer. But here’s where it all leads to: in that very same Synergy stat sheet, Biyombo is good for nearly 1 point per play (0.99), which ranks him 74th in the league (last year he was ranked 384th). Meanwhile, Biyombo’s TS% has exploded to .620, which is third in the league among centers (up from .472 last year). In fact, I’m thinking of nicknaming him “Biyombo-tox,” because he’s great in small doses, but if used too much, he looks comically stiff. But just as critical is how “Bo-Tox’s” been used; as I wrote earlier, he’s mostly used in backdoor cuts (40% of the time), followed by offensive rebounds (25.3%). This was the case last year as well, but in 2012-13 Biz was also used in post-ups 19.4% of the time and pick-and-rolls 11.6% of the time. This year? We’ve had the privilege of only being subjected to 3.2% of Biyombo pick-and-rolls and 8.4% pick-and-rolls. The other hidden benefit of this tactic is that it results in a lot more free throw attempts—Biyombo’s free throw rate has increased from .410 last year to .620 this year. Lord Joffrey, get back on your throne!
Well, once again, I’ve tried to compliment Biyombo but instead I’ve mostly just praised coach Clifford. In fact, the areas that are more obviously reflective of Biyombo’s individual improvement have mostly gotten worse. Take free throw shooting percentage: it’s down from 52.1% last year to 47.6% this year. How about Biyombo’s most often praised skill: his ability to fake his age? Haha, kidding! No, of course I’m referring to his block rate: it’s gotten worse as well (down to 4.9% from 5.3%). Ditto with Biyombo’s individual defense. According to 82games.com, through December 15th, Biyombo’s opponent PER is 18.7, while last year it was 17.4. Synergy agrees: Biyombo’s surrendering 0.99 points per play this year, while last year it was 0.89. That might seem like a negligible amount, because, well, it kind of is, but the point is, his individual defense wasn’t very good in the first place and it hasn’t improved. The one area that has improved is Biyombo’s defensive rebounding, in which he’s snagging nearly 29.4% of boards, which is up substantially from last year’s 20.9%. This might be because of Clifford’s pack-the-paint schemes, though, more than anything else.
Ah, forget it, I can’t seem to give props to Biyombo for anything. If he were to come in my house, use the bathroom, and not get anything on the seat, I’d probably credit the toilet. I’m clearly just a hater and I should own up to it. But one thing I can’t hate is the bottom-line result: Biyombo is 5th on the team in win shares (1.4) and his PER is up to a non-gag-inducing 12.8. He’s still a putrid -6.1 in net points-per-100-possessions, despite being relegated to backup minutes, and he’s adept at making me cover my eyes at least once a game (like Monday’s Bucks game, for example, when John Henson stuffed the ball down Biyombo’s throat like a feeding tube on back-to-back possessions). But if nothing else, Biyombo is great at doing exactly what he’s told, and for that he gets an “ea cul,” and if not a “good job,” at least an “od jo”!
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