Bismack Biyombo has been a revelation for the Raptors this year. Currently Biyombo is only averaging 5.6 ppg and 8.3 rpg but that does not tell the full story. This year he has the new Raptors franchise record for most rebounds in a game (25), has increased his free throw percentage from last year (58.3%) to this year (63.3%) and has been excellent defensively. Ironically Biyombo has enjoyed his most statistical success in two stretches this season, one of them Biyombo is currently enjoying.
These stretches, coincidentally, were at the same time a certain center by the name of Jonas Valanciunas was out due to injury. Most experts have chalked this up to Biyombo getting more opportunities with more minutes while Valanciunas was injured. There is credence to this argument because one of my few complaints with the Raptors is that the minutes between Jonas and Bismack are spilt down the middle and thus both players are unable to establish any sort of rhythm consistently.
This leaves the question of who should start when Jonas Valanciunas comes back from injury?
It should be stressed that both players are having good years. Biyombo is having a career year and as I have mentioned on the Fan-I Experience, I have nothing negative to say about Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas on the season is averaging 12.7 ppg and 9.0 rpg in only an average of 25.9 minutes per game. It has always been impressive how polished of a post-game Valanciunas has. While his stats show that he does not produce as much as a premier big man in the league, that is completely okay because he is hilariously efficient in such a small time span. However both Valanciunas and Biyombo have shown that their best work is when both are playing at about 30-35 minutes a game. In other words, if Casey wants to get the best out of one of them this season, one of the two has to play more and the other has to play less, however does that make sense if both can contribute?
On the surface it's a classic offense vs defence scenario. Biyombo can make a team 5-8 points better defensively and it statistically it shows. Bismack is currently 10th in the NBA blocks per game, 5th in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage, 2nd in the NBA in block percentage, 15th in the NBA in defensive rating and 19th in defensive plus/minus. Whereas Valanciunas averages more points and rebounds per game than Biyombo, and is 5th in the NBA in offensive rating. Both are regarded as relatively limited players on the other end.
Valanciunas is probably not making an All-NBA defensive team any time soon and Biyombo’s offensive game is limited. However, what if I were to tell you that Jonas Valanciunas is not a bad defender and Bismack Biyombo is not as bad as an offensive player as you would think and that is why both players’ minutes should stay the same.
Yes, Bismack Biyombo’s offense is not aesthetically pleasing. Do not get it twisted, his offensive game is limited. Catching the ball and moving with it is sometimes is an issue for Biyombo. Excuse the harshness but the fact is Biyombo, while an improved offensive player, still has a ways to go in that department. With that being said, this season he has gotten a lot of what he is able to do offensively. 5.6 points per game on 54.7 is not lighting the world on fire but those are not the stats to be concerned with. In Valanciunas’ absence, Biyombo numbers outlined in the Fan-I Graph has been really interesting.
*Bismack Biyombo in the 21 games Valanciunas missed
Biyombo, when Valanciunas does not play, is 1 point better (would have been even better if he didn’t have two 0 point games), almost 4 rebounds better, is ruthlessly effective, and the team wins. The point is Biyombo does not shoot much, but will shoot the ones he can make. He also rebounds even better giving his Raptors team more possessions.
Biyombo’s strength is defense, however, Biyombo scores just enough to keep his elite defense on the court without the team’s offense being hurt significantly. Still, Biyombo can be an efficient scoring presence on a good night and he showed that when Valanciunas was hurt, scoring at a 60% or greater clip in 9 of the aforementioned 21 games and that is extremely surprising. While many people would take that as an incentive to play Biyombo more, that is not the case.
Biyombo can still be efficient and a defensive stalwart in 20-25 minutes and thus allowing Dwane Casey to get production out of Biyombo while getting a different look in Valanciunas.
One major reason why much of Raptors nation feels the need that one of the two has to play more is because Valanciunas is perceived to have the opposite problem of Biyombo. This makes people feel like they need to pick between offense and defence but that is not the case.
While last year Valanciunas simply did not have the foot speed to guard the screen and roll, this year his basketball IQ in defending the pick and roll has increased dramatically. What I think is lost in most fans is that defending the pick and roll when a big man is involved is predominantly a three man job. The perimeter player, the big man and the nearest defender to available to rotate all have to be in synch to be effective pick and roll stoppers. This is one of the reasons why the pick and roll is so devastating because if even one of the three are not in synch, then it is over for opposing defenses.
Again not to be harsh, but, Luis Scola is having a hard time defending post all-star break, as the late season woes may be effecting the veteran. This has contributed to Valanciunas having a perceived lack of defense, which may not be the case. Fact is if you pair Valanciunas with an okay defender, you might be shocked to realize that Valanciunas is not as bad as a defender as you think. In a recent article posted on Raptors Republic, they echoed similar sentiments.
While this is not the greatest example due to Patrick Patterson is arguably the second to third best defender on the team, the key phrase here is “best net rating for any two-man combination on the team that’s played over 100 minutes together”. Jonas Valanciunas is not a bad defender at all. In fact Jonas is okay, sometimes better than okay on defense. In other words Dwane Casey has a tough decision to make between Biyombo and Valanciunas so why does he have to make it?
The Raptors, in theory, do not have to make any decision. Biyombo is a stout defender that can contribute offensively and Valanciunas is a solid offensive presence who is an average defender. Any team would love to have both of those pieces playing on a consistent basis and the Raptors are fortunate enough to have that. If the Raptors really want to, both Biyombo and Valanciunas can continue to play around the regular 20-25 minutes a night and they can still be successful. In addition to that both are relatively young at 23 and both can work on their deficiencies. In any rate both have been effective in their roles while both are in the lineup. Playing Bismack and Jonas sounds better than one playing over the other.