Should the San Antonio Spurs Go After Bismack Biyombo?

May 17, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) shoots as Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) defends during the first quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
May 17, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) shoots as Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) defends during the first quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs are fortunate to be dealing with the uncertainty of Tim Duncan’s retirement decision during an offseason with many excellent free agent options at center set to hit the market. Bismack Biyombo has opted out to become an unrestricted free agent, and he’s expected to get a hefty raise.

Biyombo is in a slightly different circumstance than other centers looking to acquire large contracts in the wake of a skyrocketing salary cap.

Biyombo has not been a starter for a team in 3 seasons. He was originally drafted 7th overall by the Sacramento Kings in 2011, but was traded on draft day to Charlotte. He spent two seasons as their primary starter at center.

He began coming off the bench in 2013, and that’s where he has stayed in recent years. He started to get more recognition around the league for his fantastic defensive ability this past season in Toronto as Jonas Valanciunas’ backup.

The concern with Biyombo coming into the league was similar to any defensive-oriented center who possessed limited offensive skills. For every Dikembe Mutombo, there’s a Hasheem Thabeet who is never able to make enough of an impact to carve a niche in the league.

Luckily for Biyombo, he seems to have fallen somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, to the point where he has become a valuable player without ever showing a glimpse of offensive production.

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He has never averaged more than 6 points per game in a season, but it’s a testament to how he can impact a game with his defense, rebounding, and shot blocking. He’s expected by some NBA analysts to garner a contract of around $15 million per season, but that’s pure speculation at this point.

That figure may seem outrageously high for a player devoid of offensive skill, but his other metrics are amazing, and it makes it seem more likely that at least one team is willing to make the leap of faith that Biyombo can live up to a gaudy contract primarily though defense, rebounding, and rim protecting.

Biyombo ranked 5th in the NBA in total rebound percentage last season, and 5th in defensive rebound percentage last season. He was 13th in offensive rebound percentage to go along with those totals. He’s an elite rebounder who should put up lofty numbers with increased minutes as a starter.

His shot blocking ability is even more impressive than his rebounding skills, though. Only Hassan Whiteside had a higher block percentage than Biyombo last season. Biyombo only averaged 22 minutes per game last season, and it isn’t a huge stretch to assume that if those minutes go up next season, he has a chance to stake a claim as the best interior defensive presence in the NBA.

For active players, only Serge Ibaka has a higher block percentage for his career than Biyombo. Only 7 active players have a higher total rebound percentage for their career than Biyombo. He’s an incredible talent who has been hamstrung through limited usage, and the analytics though his career destroy the notion that he is in any way just a one-year wonder.

Another promising statistical trend for Biyombo has been his free throw shooting. As a rookie, he shot about 48% on free throws. Last season, he shot about 63%, which was a career high for him.

He has raised his free throw shooting about 15 percentage points in just 4 seasons, and there’s no reason that shooting guru Chip Engelland in San Antonio wouldn’t be able to continue that upward trajectory with Biyombo.

The concern with Biyombo is his lack of an offensive game. A team that pencils him in as a starter would have to live with anywhere from 6-8 points per game with him, and rely on other pieces in the lineup to contribute on offense.

Biyombo is a fantastic interior defender, and his talent on that end of the court would keep the Spurs as the most intimidating defense in the NBA.

Expanded minutes towards Biyombo could easily catapult him to All-Defense recognition, because the talent and production relative to the minutes he plays are certainly there, and this is the right time for a team to make an investment in him to anchor their interior defense for years to come.

The obvious red flag is his weak offense. The Spurs are predicated on defense, but not being able to rely on consistent scoring output from a player getting that many minutes puts a lot of pressure on guys like Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge to carry the scoring load.

Their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder illustrated the risks of not having a reliable third option to contribute points. The market value for Biyombo is estimated by some to be around $15 million, and it’s most likely that Biyombo would be the only big time free agent the Spurs could afford to bring in. It doesn’t solve their need for a scorer who can consistently help Leonard and Aldridge.

Having said that, perhaps the Spurs love Biyombo’s defensive capabilities so much that they’re willing to overlook his offensive shortcomings, and place their faith in a guy like Danny Green to have an improved season on offense, as well as hoping that Tony Parker has at least one more season of decent production left in the tank.

Biyombo is intriguing as a young interior defender who hasn’t even hit his prime yet, but the lack of offense is troubling. A player like Whiteside can provide comparable defensive ability with the added bonus of 14-15 points per game. Al Horford isn’t nearly as intimidating on defense, but he’s a solid defender who can score in multiple fashions.

Biyombo is going to be just 24 at the start of next season, and could be on the verge of establishing himself as the league’s next rebounding and shot blocking dynamo on an even bigger scale.

There are more well-rounded centers than Biyombo available, though. He’s a fantastic option if they can’t acquire a guy like Whiteside or Horford, but to devote as large of a contract as some people speculate he’s going to receive to a guy who provides little-to-no offense is risky.

The youth factor could end up proving too enticing, though, as Biyombo has a chance to become the premier interior defender and rebounder in the NBA going forward. Doing so in a Spurs uniform would ease the loss of a terrific defensive presence like Duncan.

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There are certainly worse options than Bismack Biyombo, but in the name of balance and risk-aversion, the Spurs should probably pursue Whiteside and Horford before Biyombo. A potential defensive player of the year candidate to add to a lineup already featuring two elite defenders like Leonard and Green is certainly a fantastic consolation prize, though.