Bismack Biyombo has fallen short of expectations. His return to the bench has a chance to reset his role and help him bring the energy he is known for.
Contracts bring pressure. There is no doubt about that.
Adding a few more zeros to the ledger next to a player’s name creates pressures of performance, leadership and expectation. And when Bismack Biyombo became the product of the vast amount of cap space the Orlando Magic created this summer, Biyombo felt the pressure.
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The four-year, $70-million contract Biyombo signed last summer made him the highest paid player on the team at $17 million per year. There was pressure on Biyombo to perform at a higher level.
Biyombo, of course, is the player he is going to be.
With the Toronto Raptors last year — and for much of his career — he was a bench player who grabbed rebounds at a high rate and blocked shots, playing defense. The Magic would ask for more, but not much more.
Orlando’s expectations for Biyombo was to be a defensive force, blocking shots and protecting the rim while grabbing rebounds at a high rate. Any offense the team would get from Biyombo would be a bonus. The bet at the beginning of the season was that defense would carry the day.
Biyombo this year is averaging a career-high 6.1 points per game. But that is not why the Magic signed Biyombo. He is posting 7.5 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per game. His total rebound rate is down to 16.6 percent and his block rate is a career-low 4.2 percent.
More alarmingly for the Magic’s future, lineups that feature Serge Ibaka playing alongside Biyombo has an 110.1 defensive rating. That is well above the Magic’s overall average and is just a bad number period.
Like everything else with the Magic through the first half of the season, they have struggled to figure out how best to fit Biyombo in some sense. His role has changed time and time again.
This latest lineup change — moving Biyombo back to the bench and moving Nikola Vucevic into the starting lineup — feels like something of a reset.
Biyombo’s role is not simply to play defense (that is always his role). His role now is to do what he did in Toronto and throughout his career — play with an infectious energy to spark the team.
In Monday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, Biyombo had that positive energy effect. With Nikola Vucevic picking up two quick fouls, Biyombo entered the game with the team trailing 16-14. The starters struggled, but with the rest of the bench in, the Magic stormed back and trailed 39-36 at the end of the quarter.
Biyombo’s 15-point, nine-rebound effort was one of his best games in some time. It is the kind of stat line the team could and should expect from Biyombo on most nights. The energy reset is something the Magic wanted and even Biyombo acknowledged, as he told John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com:
“I’ve got to find my rhythm and that’s what I’ve been struggling with because of the changes. With that being said there is no excuse,” Biyombo stressed, referring to his recent removal from the starting lineup. “I’ve got to get back to being me in order for us to be the team that we want to be.
“It’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about,” the 6-foot-9, 255-pound center added. “Sitting on the bench, it’s something I’ve been thinking about. So I’ve got an opportunity to be me and help my guys get a win.”
Biyombo is not the kind of player to get caught up in salary machinations or pressures. He constantly says he will do what is best for the team regardless of its effect on him or his role. Biyombo has postured himself as a leader with comments like these to the press.
He has taken that to his new role coming off the bench. The results will play itself out.
Of course, there is always a false start. That is the Magic’s way this season.
The salary still hangs over his head in how fans and observers will view his season and his accomplishments with the Magic. That is part of the narrative and story for him and his relationship with the team moving forward.
Biyombo has had plenty of effectiveness defensively. He is second on the team in 2-point field goals contested. And he gives up a 51.1 percent field goal percentage at the rim and a 50.5 percent field goal percentage overall, according to NBA.com/stats.
Biyombo is 17th in the league with a 2.6 defensive box plus-minus according to Basketball-Reference (the same as Nikola Vucevic).
Biyombo has been good in some areas.
But something does seem off about his play this year. Perhaps it is just expectations and the weight of his heavy salary coloring what everyone wants from Biyombo.
Going back to the bench has a chance to reset his focus and his role. It is no longer about doing more than he is capable. It is about refining his role as a defensive presence, shot blocker and rebounder. Providing the energy the second unit needs and the team sometimes needs to get going in the middle of a game.