Half the world is fixated on the upcoming showdown between Golden State Warriors and their Game One victors Oklahoma City Thunder. Half the world knew the NBA is heading back to the mid 1980’s tug of Championship between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics after placing second and third respectively on the draft board; a new Bird-Magic rivalry is nigh, be warned. And half the world went to bed early after seeing an utter destruction of the Toronto Raptors by Lebron James and his charges in Cleveland through the first half.

The languid Raptors after battling back-to-back seven games against Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat respectively, offered very little threat against the more talented, rested and injury free Cavaliers. DeMar DeRozan did his part by scoring 18 points in a game where Kyrie Irving’s 27 points and James’24 were the only ones to get more than those of the 2009 draftee. Usually, the next name to pop up on Raptors scoring sheet after DeRozan’s and usurp him in some games, is Kyle Lowry. Not surprising, knowing the Point Guard is the team’s second offensive option but in that game he scored only eight points; meaning someone had to pick up the slack.


That someone turned out to be backup Center Bismack Biyombo. The Congo native has blossomed in the postseason breaking career highs in minutes, points and rebounds which have been crucial in guiding Toronto into its’ first ever NBA conference finals game. Despite playing as a backup, Biyombo impressed particularly against Miami, where he deputized admirably behind Jonas Valanciunas before getting the starting nod following an ankle injury to Valanciunas. Scoring 12 points to place fifth among the game’s scorers is nothing to be whiffed at. Biyombo’s transition from an athletic, shot swatting big man to a much reliable, much refined- but still athletic shot blocking- player is a testament to Manager Masai Ujiri’s Midas touch.

Plucking Biyombo for a two year $5.7 million deal from Charlotte Hornets in a free transfer has proved to be a master stroke for Ujiri whose previous stint in Denver was just as successful as his reigning campaign in Canada. Transitioning from a stud in Europe to a game altering player in the world’s best league sure does take time and in Biyombo’s case, it did. But after four years in the league, it is safe to say he has made the jump. Part of the reason for his transition can be attributed to Toronto’s system. In Charlotte, defense first players were dotted along the length of the roster.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Denver Nuggets

Guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jason Maxiell, P.J. Hairston, Gerald Henderson and Cody Zeller marshed up with Al Jefferson and Lance Stephenson plus Biyombo to create a stingy defensive network which ranked ninth in the league.

Stan Van Gundy disciple Steve Clifford made the Hornets a tough nut to crack but the bottle neck offense belied the efforts on the other side of the court and caused the team to miss out on the playoffs. Having a defensive coach in Clifford plus a similar ensemble cast made Biyombo’s skill set on defense- blocking shots- practically redundant in the lineup; a classic too many cooks in one kitchen. The defensive schemes hornets employed made it difficult for opponents to beat them on the inside. On the more glamorous end of the court, old school paint prowler Al Jefferson plays so close to the basket, rebounding-another strength of Biyombo- was limited to the bare minimum and erasing any chance of offensive input from the Congolese international. On the other side of America’s border, north to be specific, Biyombo got placed on a roster filled with sub par defenders in Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams, Terrence Ross, Valanciunas and DeRozan.


The team placed 25th in defensive rating last season but bettered its’ lot this season by placing 11 with Ujiri bringing in “tough” guys Cory Joseph and DeMarre Caroll in the offseason. Coming from the bench gave Biyombo the chance to flex his muscle on defense alongside Patterson and Jason Thompson. Patterson’s ability to play outside the paint means the big man has more room to operate below the rim where his rebounding instincts benefit the offense by creating second scoring opportunities for the team.

One particular sequence in Game 5 against Miami encapsulates everything Biyombo offers on both ends of the court. After a missed jumper from DeRozan, number 8 slammed the ball through the hoop for a putback dunk. He then blocked Dwayne Wade’s attempted dunk and got a dunk in the ensuing possession. Despite losing offensive sparkplug and Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams and Point Guard Greivis Vasquez prior to this season, Raptors offense did not take a massive hit as the team recorded the fifth best offense in the league; last season, they ranked a slot higher.

Valanciunas’ injury has moved Biyombo into the starting lineup bolstering the defense further. However, there is a significant drop off in defensive intensity and assignment in the second unit where Luis Scola, Jason Thompson, Lucas Noguiera and James Johnson are the only viable frontcourt options available.

Now operating in the right system, the 2011 Draft seventh pick is proving to be one heck of a bargain buy.

By Yaw Adjei-Mintah


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