“More Mature, More Experienced” Biyombo Ready for Round 2 in Charlotte

By Sam Perley

It’s been over three years since Bismack Biyombo’s first stint in Charlotte came to an end. During his time elsewhere in the NBA, he’s been through the highest of highs, the lowest of lows and plenty of places in between. It’s a journey that has self-admittedly molded him into a player far different than the one who departed the organization back in 2015.

“More mature, more experienced, better player in all aspects,” said Biyombo in an interview with Hornets.com. “On a personal level, on the court and off the court, [I’m] a different player, more responsible now. The things I do on the court, I wasn’t doing them when I was here.”

Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2011, the Congolese native – who was traded from the Orlando Magic back to the Hornets in July – entered the league as an enticing, extremely raw talent. Biyombo would find his calling on the defensive end, posting averages of 4.4 points, 6.1 boards and 1.6 blocks in 21.0 minutes across his first four NBA seasons.

With no qualifying offer from the Hornets in the mix, Biyombo signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Raptors and went on to average 5.5 points, a career-high 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks during the 2015-16 season. He played a crucial role in the team reaching the Eastern Conference Finals after starting center, Jonas Valančiūnas, went down with an ankle injury in the postseason.

Biyombo’s big playoff performance helped secure the inking of a new four-year deal with Orlando in July of 2016. The Magic would total just 54 wins over the next two seasons, two fewer than Biyombo experienced during his lone campaign in Toronto.

Last season, Biyombo averaged 5.7 points on 52.0 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds, while ranking 10th in the league in blocks per 48 minutes (3.05) and tied for 10th in blocks per personal fouls (0.60). His stay in Orlando was certainly challenging and trying with several significant injuries to key players factoring into the team’s lack of overall success.

One of the most appealing factors about Biyombo though has indeed been his durability. Since leaving Charlotte, the veteran big man has appeared in an impressive 245 of a possible 246 regular season games, making him one of just five NBA players to reach this mark over the last three years.

While he technically hails from an ocean away, Charlotte has more or less been a second home for Biyombo. It’s where he began his NBA career and also where he’s spent a majority of his playing days. The forthcoming fresh start has brought upon him a new wave of happiness and excitement, factors that should impact his game for the better this season.

And reuniting with fellow 2011 draftee and his “brother” in All-Star point guard Kemba Walker doesn’t hurt either.

“It’s a different thing when you play with your teammate versus when you play with your brother, you know what I mean?”, reflected Biyombo. “Obviously, Kemba is like my brother. The first text message – it’s funny – that I got from him was like, ‘My brother’s back!’ It’s a great relationship that we have that goes a long way and I think with that, playing together, it’s just having fun. When you have fun doing what you love, you’re most likely going to excel to a whole another level. That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Offensively, the Hornets will probably utilize Biyombo primarily as a screener and rim-runner this year. Amongst NBA players who averaged less than 20.0 minutes in 65+ games played last season, Biyombo ranked tied for third in the NBA in screen assists per outing (2.7).

Almost one quarter (1.2; 24.0 percent) of his field-goal attempts per game last season came serving as the pick-and-roll man, just shy of the mark now-teammate Cody Zeller put up in 33 games for Charlotte (24.4 percent).

Defense is still Biyombo’s biggest strength and where he will be relied upon the most. Using the same threshold of fewer than 20.0 minutes in 65+ games, he ranked eighth in the NBA in defensive contested shots per game last season (7.1). Since entering the league, only five players have swatted as many total shots as Biyombo has (762).

Like many younger players in the league, the Biyombo from three-and-half years ago might have gotten caught up at times with statistics and box score metrics. Not so much anymore he states, while pinpointing another area of his growth and maturation.

“The only thing that really matters is winning,” he said. “It’s just winning. You don’t care about neither the numbers or any other thing. It’s how can I help win? How can we win the game? How can we do that? That’s what I really got to appreciate the most because as a young guy, you always think about getting numbers and this and that.”

He added, “The difference between the greats and the other players is that they just worry about winning. The way they prepare themselves, the way they watch film, how many times they watch film. All those things I got to learn along the way and I’m very, very appreciative of that actually because the responsibility helped me grow and understand what winning is about. It’s going to be a fun year. It’s going to be a fun year.”

With a center rotation that includes Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangómez and possibly at times, Frank Kaminsky, Biyombo knows he’s going to have to battle for minutes. Much of what he’ll bring to the table this season are intangibles along with his ability to view the game with a scientific, more analytical approach.

“When you look at our team, you look at the way we’re built, how can we maximize it?”, asked Biyombo rhetorically. “Then, when you look at the league, you look at the East, you look at the West, where we stand in the East – how can we fit in within those eight [playoff spots] at the end of the season? I think that that’s always become my goal since I got a chance to be in the Conference Finals, understanding the process of winning, appreciating the process of winning and the preparation that goes with it.”

He obviously spent time in Charlotte before, but Biyombo is technically still one of the many new faces within a Hornets organization that has seen plenty of change this offseason. If his attitude is any indication, he and the team will be in for a special year under new Head Coach James Borrego.

“I just hope Charlotte is ready for me. I hope they’re ready for me because I’m coming for everything. I want to win. I want to have fun, enjoy the process of winning, getting back into the community. Just having that relationship and being able to understand what it is that we can do better every single day to be better, to help people around us be better.”