Bismack Biyombo Thrilled to Have Integral Role With Magic
By John Denton
Oct. 4, 2016
CLEVELAND – Not only was Bismack Biyombo’s stirring run through the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring a whirlwind of emotions, energy and offensive rebounds, it also proved to be a rebirth of sorts for his basketball career.
Biyombo spent the first four years of his NBA career in Charlotte where he mostly languished in the background as a substitute and a player seemingly trusted very little. The same thing seemed to be playing out last season in Toronto – his first in Canada – before Raptors’ starter Jonas Valanciunas went down with an injury in the playoffs.
That opened up a tremendous opportunity for Biyombo, who proved himself more than ready by playing the best basketball of his life and becoming something of a cult hero in the basketball world. Once a little-known backup with minimal impact in games, fans in Toronto chanted his name – ``Bi-yom-bo! Bi-yom-bo! Bi-yom-bo!’’ – as he overwhelmed playoff foes with his blend of hustle and muscle.
Biyombo’s ability to seize the moment and become the kind of difference-maker that basketball teams covet allowed him to sign a massive free-agent contract with the Orlando Magic in July. Now, instead of simply being a break-glass-if-necessary ancillary piece for a team, Biyombo is in a central role in Orlando. And the Magic are strong believers that the 6-foot-9, 245-pound center can bring the same electricity that he played with in last spring’s playoffs to their team this season.
``I’m just really, really thankful now because I know how much this team wants me, how much respect and credit that they give me,’’ Biyombo said on Tuesday following Orlando’s practice in Cleveland. ``I don’t talk about (the contract) until someone brings it up because I try to live in the moment and play the game. I’m really excited about being here, I look forward to all the challenges and I think it’s going to be great.’’
As fate would have it, Biyombo’s start to his first preseason in Orlando closely resembled what he saw during last spring’s magical run through the playoffs. His new Magic coach, Frank Vogel, looked on as Biyombo snagged 16, 10 and 11 rebounds and helped Toronto defeat Vogel’s then-Indiana squad.
In the second round of the playoffs, Biyombo hustled his way to a 17-point, 16-rebound game in a Game 7 defeat of Miami. David Fizdale, an assistant coach on that Heat squad who is now the head coach in Memphis, remembered that last night when the Grizzlies opened the preseason against the Magic.
``Ughhhhhh,’’ Fizdale said of the memory of Biyombo almost single-handedly wrecking the Heat. ``I knew someone was going to get him and get a heck of a player. The kid has really come a long way in his development. He’s earned everything that he’s gotten, so you root for kids like that. But I hate playing against him, I’ll tell you that much.’’
On Tuesday, Biyombo walked into Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena for the first time since he was here last May to face the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. That series, Biyombo had 26- and 14-rebound games and he blocked multiple shots in three of the games to push the eventual champions to six games.
On Wednesday, Biyombo will be back on the floor at Quicken Loans Arena once again as a starting center. This time, he will be looking to bring his infectious energy, long-armed defense and hustle to a Magic team desperate to play with more of an edge this season.
``I started walking in here today and it brought back so many memories of a time when it helped me a lot as a player,’’ Biyombo said with a laugh. ``It was a lot to learn for me, but I enjoyed every second of it. Just walking in here brought back something different (of a feeling) for me.’’
The burning question now, of course, is this: Can Biyombo replicate his magical, maniacal run through the playoffs over the course of an entire season? Vogel, who was instrumental in the Magic pursuing Biyombo is free agency, believes so because the selfless big man is all about doing many of the little things necessary to help teams win games.
``Absolutely (he can replicate his playoff run) because that’s who he is,’’ Vogel said. ``He just hasn’t had the opportunity to play those types of minutes before. He’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the game. And, statistically, he was the best rim protector in the game last year. In terms of field goal percentage against, he led the league. So he’s going to be a big-time, big-time presence for us.’’
Biyombo played 23 minutes in Orlando’s opener – as did the team’s other four starters – and his impact in the middle was apparent for the Magic. His first basket came off a high/low entry pass from fellow big man Nikola Vucevic and he went on to contribute five points and 10 rebounds. He didn’t block a shot, but he did change several attempts – something he figures to do all season while playing alongside of Serge Ibaka and Vucevic on the Magic frontline.
``A lot of people who weren’t on my team before hated me before until I get to their team,’’ joked Biyombo, referring to his ability to make life miserable for opponents with his shot-blocking skills. ``For me, it’s just a matter of me being willing to do what needs to be done for my team to win the game. Our goal is to be that strong defensive team and to do that we have to establish ourselves in the paint. That’s my job – to block shots – and I to make my guys feel free playing the game on defense. I love playing defense.’’
Vogel loves coaching offense and that’s why he wanted the shot-swatting, rebound-tipping Biyombo manning the middle for the Magic this season. Vogel said he starting noticing a change in Biyombo’s play last season as he got more playing time with the Raptors. Then, when Biyombo was elevated into the starting role, his ability to affect games shined and he erupted as one of the NBA’s playoff stars.
Now, Vogel said, Biyombo will have the freedom and the opportunity to impose his will on others on a nightly basis as a key cog for the Magic.
``He’s a beast … a defensive beast,’’ Vogel said recently. ``On the perimeter, up in pick-and-rolls around the 3-point line, being vocal on the turn and then being that presence at the rim. He just has great ability.’’
If Biyombo plays to the best of his ability and can take over games in bunches much like he did last spring, he most likely will find himself back in the playoffs. That’s where the Magic desperately want to get following a four-year drought, and Biyombo thinks Orlando has all of the pieces to become a contender in the Eastern Conference.
``Maybe my first two years in the league, I was trying to be somebody different and change my personality. But being myself is what helped me play on the level that I did (in the 2016 playoffs),’’ Biyombo said. ``For me, I was just having fun and I’m going to enjoy a lot of the games this season.
``This is just the beginning of something good here in Orlando,’’ he added. ``This is a new challenge – for me and a lot of us – but we all have one goal and that’s to get to the playoffs.’’
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