Orlando Magic Sign Defensive Ace Bismack Biyombo

By John Denton
July 7, 2016

ORLANDO – Flush with salary-cap flexibility heading into the NBA’s free-agent courting period, the Orlando Magic promised to be aggressive, bold and creative in their pursuit of difference-making talent.

How about being this bold and out-of-the-box with their thinking? As the NBA trends more and more toward ``small ball,’’ ``space-and-pace basketball’’ and gobs of 3-point shooting, the Magic went counter to the rest of the league by adding yet another shot-swatting, rim-protecting big man on Thursday.

Already armed with shot-blocking power forward Serge Ibaka following a draft-night trade two weeks ago, Orlando got even bigger and tougher defensively on Thursday by signing defensive ace Bismack Biyombo to a multi-year contract.

``We think we can play both styles – big and small,’’ Magic GM Rob Hennigan said. ``The key to combating small ball is having mobile bigs and we feel like we have bigs who are moble and tall. The keyword here is mobility.’’

Biyombo, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound center, evolved into a star during the playoffs as he demolished offenses from Miami and Cleveland with his ability to snatch rebounds and turn away shots at the rim for the Toronto Raptors. Biyombo’s work in Game 7 against the Heat – 17 points, 16 rebounds and two blocked shots – was one of the NBA’s best all-around efforts of the playoffs.

Biyombo was stunned to learn that the Magic made him their top priority during the NBA free-agent courting period and he is excited about the prospects of joining a young and hungry Magic team that is on the rise. And he and Ibaka have already discussed the endless defensive possibilities of the two of them being on the floor together at times.

``We know that we’re going to make lives miserable already. We know that and we’ve already talked about that,’’ Biyombo said of his conversations with Ibaka. ``We had some fun conversations about that. It’s exciting to think about, but at the same time it’s a challenge because we need to establish that (chemistry) the sooner the better. It’s going to be exciting playing with him and we’re both already looking forward to it.’’

It’s safe to say that Biyombo’s play during the postseason certainly caught the eye of a Magic team in need of a defensive anchor.

Hennigan and new head coach Frank Vogel have made it their mission to dramatically upgrade a defense that allowed far too much penetration last season and had little deterrent once opponents got into the lane.

Enter Ibaka and Biyombo, two long-armed, jumping-jack players who can challenge shots, swat them away and deter players from even attempting to drive the lane. What could make them even more valuable to the Magic is the fact that both can not only protect the rim, but they are agile enough to switch out onto guards when teams purposefully run pick-and-roll plays with hopes of creating mismatches.

``Having bigs who can protect the rim and also switch out onto smaller guards is a very, very important attribute to building a great defense,’’ Vogel said. ``We feel like Biz is one of the best in the league at that. His shot-blocking ability and being able to switch out is very unique. And, obviously, he’s one of the premier offensive rebounders in the league as well.

``He was our primary target in free agency … and we’re just thrilled to bring him to our team,’’ Vogel added.

Orlando will likely use the three-man combination of Nikola Vucevic, Ibaka and Biyombo, 23, at center and power forward next season. Both Vucevic and Ibaka have solid mid-range shots, allowing them to coexist with another big man such as Biyombo. In addition to being able to have a shot-blocker on the floor at all times, the Magic can dare to dream about the possibilities of having Biyombo and Ibaka on the floor together late in games in hopes of suffocating opposing offenses.

``We always tried to have two rim protectors (on the floor) in Indiana so that we’d have 48 minutes of shot-blocking,’’ Vogel said of his defensive philosophy in the past. ``Now, if we want to play 48 minutes with either of them they’re versatile enough to make us elite defensively in today’s NBA. To have two guys like that, it puts us in a great position to achieve our goals.

``We’ve got two starting centers now and we’ll see how it plays out,’’ Vogel continued, referring to Vucevic and Biyombo. ``More importantly to me, we have two centers that I feel good closing games with on both ends of the floor. There is a lot of versatility with our rotation and the center position will be solidified for sure.’’

Biyombo, a fifth-year pro, had a solid regular season for the Raptors, but he became a breakout star during the playoffs. He averaged career highs in points (5.5 ppg.) and rebounds (8.0) during the regular season, but he took his game to another level in the playoffs after Toronto starting center Jonas Valanciunas went down with an injury.

In Game 4 against Miami, Biyombo authored a 13-point, 13-rebound, two-block performance. After he helped the Raptors capture Game 7 against the Heat with another big effort, he delivered efforts of 26 rebounds and 14 boards in Games 3 and 4 against eventual champions Cleveland to temporarily even the Conference Finals at 2-2.

In 20 playoff games – 10 of which were starts – Biyombo averaged 6.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 58 percent from the floor.

``People just saw the playoffs because all eyes were on one game on TV, but it was not the first time Valanciunas got hurt and I’ve shown that (ability) before,’’ Biyombo stressed.

``The playoffs were just a plus. Winning, for me, is the most important thing. … When they announced that Valanciunas was hurt, I was laughing to myself because people were saying this and saying that, but it’s been like that my whole career with people talking. I enjoy the challenge, trust me. I’m going to put everything on the table to make sure that when you turn on your TV that by the time you turn it off you will be thinking differently about me. That’s just who I am.’’

Biyombo, the No. 7 pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, looked to be a bust early in his career as he mostly languished on the bench in Charlotte. In his first four seasons – all with the Bobcats/Hornets – Biyombo never averaged more than 5.2 points, 7.3 rebounds or 1.8 blocks a game while playing mostly as a reserve.

Biyombo bet on himself by signing a two-year contract with the Raptors in the summer of 2015. Then, following his stellar play in the playoffs, he opted out of the second year of his contract so that he could strike it rich in free agency.

Now, he will be a part of a Magic franchise eager to go big in a basketball world fixated over ``small ball.’’ With offseason additions such as the versatile Biyombo, Orlando feels it has the right personnel thrive regardless of the style that it will be playing.

``To me, the ideal team in today’s NBA is the one that can battle both types of styles without having to change every night,’’ Vogel said of going big and going small. ``If you’re a small-ball team you’re going to be undermanned at certain times against big teams. And if you’re ultra big you’re going to be challenged by the speed and the 3-point shooting of the small-ball teams.

``That’s why Serge is so important in my mind because he gives you the size the battle the big boys and he still has the versatility to play against the spread teams,’’ Vogel continued. ``Aaron’s ability to do those things as well gives us the versatility to stay true to who we are without having to change dramatically every night because of who we’re playing. That’s important.’’

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