When the Bobcats signed Al Jefferson to be their starting center, we knew that would likely mean a diminished role for Bismack Biyombo. Considering how raw Biyombo's game still is, this was supposed to be a good thing since he would no longer be asked to take on such a large role and take time to develop. However, the third year big man has seen his minutes drop from his previous seasons and he has racked up a DNP-CD in two of the last three games. The one game that he did see time in during that stretch was during the blowout of the Milwaukee Bucks and that wound up being about five minutes.
So what gives? Why the sudden fall from grace? Well, there are a few possibilities.
The first thing that comes to mind would be that he is simply not a Steve Clifford guy. We see it all the time when a new coach or general manager comes in and favors the players that fit his vision over those that do not. Look at the Timberwolves trading Derrick Williams to the Kings on Tuesday. What does it matter if he is a lottery pick when Clifford wasn't the one who chose him and therefore has no loyalty to him? The team for that matter debated on whether or not to pickup his option for next season.
The other issue is that, well, other players have been better. This may seem surprising since Biyombo's efficiency looks dramatically improved by nearly 20 points. However, it's a ridiculously small sample that makes it's sustainability suspect and he's actually taken fewer attempts per 36 minutes than he did last season. Whereas Jeff Adrien has been a bit of a revelation in this early stage of the season, praised by Clifford for making the offense function better with him in the game. Additionally, Josh McRoberts brings more to the table than Biyombo at this point and the current regime just invested the fourth overall pick in the draft in Cody Zeller. So, that's where Biyombo's minutes have gone.
But the defense! The rebounding! What are the Bobcats doing? Well, according the the NBA Media Stats site, their team Defensive Rating (See bottom for explanation) falls from 100.9 to 96.8 when Biyombo checks into the game and the team's total rebound percentage improves from 75.9 percent with him on the bench compared to 76.1 percent when he's in the game. If that weren't enough, the offense disintegrates with him in game. When Biyombo enters the game, the team's Offensive Rating plummets to 86.9 from 100.7 as a spectator. The better-with-Biyombo-on-the-bench trend continues with the team's assist-to-turnover ratio, as well as both their eFG and True Shooting Percentage. When Clifford says the offense functions better without him, he isn't kidding. If Adrien continues to be effective on both ends, look for him to continue to siphon Biyombo's minutes.
Biyombo's turnovers have also been problematic. With a Usage Rate of just 7.6, he manages to have a turnover percentage of 16.0. Simply put: Biyombo uses less than 10 percent of the team's possessions on the court, but turns it over just under 20 percent of the time. That's a lot, and Adrien has been less mistake prone with his 10.1 Usage Rate and 8.0 turnover percentage that is half of Biyombo's. Fewer turnovers mean fewer extra possessions for the opponent and more opportunities for the Bobcats, and Adrien helps that cause.
A lot of the outcry over the lack of playing time for Biyombo seems to stem from our perception of him and what we dream that he could be as opposed to what he actually is. We want to believe that he is a defensive shot-blocking presence that can clean the glass and is one day going to round into maybe a somewhat capable offensive player. We see the length, the athleticism and forget that there's more to being a good player than being a good athlete. It's happened before and it'll happen again.
For Biyombo, the best thing that he could do is to stay ready and continue to work towards improvement behind the scenes. There's nothing worse than a player falling out of favor in a rotation and also falling out of shape when emergency strikes and his team needs him. However, I'm not worried about that happening with Biyombo since he is a hard worker. At summer league he was coaching and directing his teammates on the court at times, so he understands the game. The learning curve may be a little steeper than we or the Bobcats thought, but there is still the possibility for Biyombo to become successful again someday. If that's in Charlotte, no one knows, but for now the Bobcats will have to do what's best for the team. Right now, that's with more Adrien than Biyombo.
Statistical support for this piece provided by Basketball-Reference.com and the NBA Media Stats site. Offensive and Defensive Rating: estimate of points produced/allowed per 100 possessions with 100 being average; eFG: adjusted field goal percentage for the fact threes are worth more; TS%: takes into account free throws, two-pointers and three pointers.