Finding a Niche For: Bismack Biyombo

Finding a Niche For: Bismack Biyombo
Apr 17, 2011, 11:31 pm
Bismack Biyombo came out of nowhere to capture the hearts of NBA scouts and executives last weekend at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland.

But those who have been following Biyombo since he ascended to the senior roster of ACB team Fuenlabrada in early January were not caught off guard. He leads the most competitive league in the world outside the NBA in blocked shots and is amongst the league leaders in rebounding per 40 minutes and free attempts per 40.

He's already one of the most productive players in the league, despite the fact that he might be the rawest player in the ACB in terms of experience.

What makes Biyombo unique to talent evaluators is his outstanding combination of physical attributes, toughness and intangibles.

Any scouting report must start with Biyombo's dimensions, which are downright freakish. He measured a 7-7 wingspan (which would rank fifth longest in our expansive database) at the Nike Hoop Summit, despite standing just 6-7 ¾ without shoes. No player of record has ever measured a wingspan that is nearly 12 inches longer than his actual height—the closest is Jason Maxiell, who is 6-5 without shoes with a 7-3 ¼ wingspan. He also sports a chiseled 243-pound frame (4.8% body fat) that he should have no problem putting additional weight onto.

Biyombo is also an excellent athlete. He runs the floor extremely well and is very explosive around the basket. The coordination and reflexes he shows are atypical of a player with such little experience and give him a great framework to improve on as he continues to grow.

What makes Biyombo so interesting, though, is his willingness to utilize his physical tools. He plays the game with incredible emotion (think Joakim Noah or Kevin Garnett), often putting opposing players and teammates in harm's way with his desire to make his presence felt. He competes on every possession, often to the point of physical exhaustion, something that will need to be honed. Still, it's an extremely desirable trait in a prospect.

Offensively, Biyombo is fairly limited from a skills perspective. Nevertheless, he finds ways to produce in his own unique fashion; mostly by running the floor in transition, crashing the offensive glass and working off the ball.

His length gives guards an incredible target radius to work with, allowing them to lob the ball into the paint at difficult angles because they can trust Biyombo to go out and get it, sometimes for a spectacular alley-oop.

He works extremely hard to get deep position in the paint and will call for the ball aggressively once there. This makes him a magnet for fouls, considering how hard he makes opposing big men work to keep him off the block.

Once he catches the ball in the paint, Biyombo usually has one thing on his mind: dunk. He can take off from incredible distances (well outside the restricted area) and still finish plays because of his sheer length and explosiveness. He absolutely crushes the rim any opportunity he gets.

Biyombo doesn't have a highly developed post game. He doesn't show the ability to back his man down and create effectively in one-on-one opportunities, but will mix in an occasional spin move and some basic footwork that could make him even more of a threat as he continues to add lower body strength and improves his overall polish.

On the downside, Biyombo is a very poor passer. He registered an assist on just 4% of his possessions, ranking him amongst the worst in this category in the ACB.

His desire to make his presence felt, while an admirable trait, tends to work against him in this regard, especially when looking at his turnover rate, which is fairly high relative to his usage.

This is where his lack of experience shows the most. It's not rare to see him barrel into opponents, get called for traveling violations or have the ball stripped due to his somewhat weak hands. Additionally, he doesn't show anything resembling a jump shot at the moment and converts just 53% of his free throw attempts. While his touch is not bad, his shooting mechanics are a bit rigid, something he'll need to work on to become at least a capable threat from the mid-range area.

It should be noted that an evaluation of his film from earlier in the season compared to his most recent outings shows he has been making significant improvements in terms of his feel for the game and overall comfort level. This is particularly evident in his understanding of Fuenlabrada's half-court offense, which appears to be very good.

With that said, defensive ability is the area of Biyombo's game where NBA teams see the most potential -- both in the short and long term.

He has the size, length and mobility to guard both power forwards and centers in today's NBA, particularly as he adds weight. He can step out and hedge screens effectively on the pick-and-roll and is tough and aggressive enough to hold his own in the paint against most back-to-the-basket players.

Despite his lack of experience, Biyombo already makes a huge impact in the ACB defensively, especially as a weak-side shot blocker. He shows great timing and can send back shots with either hand, often managing to keep the ball in bounds, which is a huge plus.

When he's not rotating to block or alter shots around the rim, Biyombo does a good job in man-to-man settings as well. He shows surprisingly strong fundamentals and is active in talking to his teammates. His wingspan is extremely bothersome here too. He can contest shots from great distances and he makes it difficult to get good looks, He's a real nuisance with his ability to reach out and poke balls away from behind as well.

Biyombo is also one of the best rebounders in the ACB for many of the same reasons already mentioned. His length, aggressiveness, toughness, timing and athleticism are all great rebounding qualities. He has no problem going out of his area for loose balls, especially on the offensive glass.

Off the court, Biyombo might be just as interesting, as we chronicled recently in the following article. He speaks five languages fluently (English, Spanish, French and two Congolese dialects) and came across as an extremely charismatic and engaging player in our time with him in Portland.

He stood out as the most vocal players on the International team over the course of the week at the Nike Hoop Summit, assuming a position of leadership almost immediately upon arrival. You would often see him having tactical discussions between plays with the coaching staff, and he was quick to take teammates aside and explain the nuances of a play to them when something got lost in translation.

These are all incredibly atypical qualities compared to other African prospects we've evaluated in the past.

The one thing that continues to dog Biyombo are the question marks NBA teams have about his age. Recently converted NBA draft analyst David Aldridge wrote that an NBA GM he spoke with said he had heard rumors that Biyombo was “anywhere from 23 to 26.”

Our research has revealed some slightly different information. Coaches who have worked with Biyombo earlier in his career while he was still in Congo think he's “no older than 20 at most,” while Biyombo's agent, Igor Crespo, has evidence that proves Biyombo is even younger.

Crespo says he took Biyombo to a specialist to conduct a bone age study immediately upon his arrival in Spain (Biyombo was reportedly 16). The study, as explained here involves taking x-rays of an adolescent's wrist and hand to see if his growth plates are still open. Because the cartilage in Biyombo's hand hadn't fused at that point, the specialist came to the conclusion that he could be 16 or 17 at most, but not 18, when growth plates are expected to be closed.

This obviously rules out the possibility of Biyombo being five to eight years older than he's listed, as the wild speculation we've seen recently on the Internet indicates. Crespo says he will willingly share these x-rays with any NBA team that requests them. One team we spoke with has already begun to evaluate the x-rays.

Biyombo's performance in Portland, coupled with the withdrawals of a host of other power forward prospects (such as Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones, John Henson, Tristan Thompson, Thomas Robinson and Mason Plumlee) has elevated his draft stock significantly.

Due to his offensive limitations, Biyombo doesn't fit on just any NBA team—he's not someone who can be expected to generate his own offense, and probably needs another skilled big man next to him, as well as a creative point guard. The skills he does have are highly coveted, though, and any team looking to upgrade its defensive and rebounding presence will surely give him a look.

Future improvement is something that should also be accounted for -- it's safe to say he's nowhere near a finished product. His draft stock is a topic that will be heavily debated in the next two months.

Highlights from the Nike Hoop Summit:

Edited by Patrick Crawley, sports editor for Neon Tommy and managing editor of Basketball Fiend.

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