Today's Mailbag covers a suddenly-hot prospect for the 2016 free agent market. Could the Blazers be interested?
You've gone through all this time and a huge amount of names, but you've never talked about the one guy I want bad, Bismak Biyombo. My question is can the Blazers get him and do you think he would help?
Aside from a couple names (hello Al Horford and Larry Sanders) I haven't talked about individual free agents too much yet. We're going to transition into those questions between now and July 1 and your query about Bismack Biyombo seems a good place to start.
Full Disclosure: I was in favor of looking at Biyombo back in his Charlotte days when he wasn't being used as much and it looked like his value to them was limited (circa 2013 to 2015 or so). At the time he seemed like a young, low-paid, undersized, 1.5-dimensional center who might complement Portland's veteran lineup with grit and energy. He was a low-risk backup who might develop into a solid bench player or a Joel Przybilla-style starter (obviously at a different size and with different gifts). Basically it seemed like a free shot at a player who had a chance to help.
Biyombo showed defensive promise in Charlotte. He evidenced even more during this year in Toronto. His big break came when Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas went down with an ankle injury and he got the starting nod from coach Dwane Casey. Biyombo finished out the season showing he had more in the trunk than envisioned. His offensive game was...not horrible. He was willing to guard the paint like a pit bull no matter who came against him. A fantastic playoff run cemented the journey towards relevance and all of a sudden Biyombo's name is on everybody's lips. In one year he's gone from an afterthought to a medium-hot free agent poised to cash in. He certainly picked the right year to do it. He's going to command an eight-figure salary and he'll probably have multiple suitors.
Several features of Biyombo's game recommend him as a Trail Blazer. He's athletic. He's got five seasons of NBA experience and he's still only 23 years old. He rebounds. He's not only springy, he's nasty; he is not going to back down from anyone.
Even so, I'm wary of paying him big money. I think he'll be a difference maker if allowed to play his style. That style would work in Portland. But he still has pretty hard boundaries that he's not proven he can transcend. His offense has gotten better, but he's still limited. Only once has he played more than 24 minutes per game for a season. (He played 27 mpg in 2012-13; his minutes were halved the very next year.)
Biyombo's next team isn't going to look for him to add a little here or there. They'll be paying him to start and anchor their defense. That'll work if they have a Biyombo-shaped hole in their lineup. It could also work if they had a viable Plan B on the roster already.
The Blazers have room for Biyombo, but they have too many holes in the frontcourt for him to plug them all, or even the majority. They'd need Biyombo AND another player or two. They can't afford that. Nor do they have a stellar back-up plan without bringing extra players in. If Biyombo doesn't work as an anchor--if his playoff performance this year was nice but not indicative or sustainable--Portland doesn't have a fall-back point. Their Plan B would look like last season's Plan A: fielding other limited big men who aren't quite up to the task yet.
I could absolutely see a Biyombo signing working if it were followed by a trade bringing in an offensive-minded center, creating a two-headed monster. Nikola Vucevic from Orlando would be a prime example. Then the Blazers would be using Biyombo much as Toronto did. The risk would be lower, the potential long-term rewards commensurate. But Biyombo alongside Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis looks like the Blazers tried to do the same thing three slightly different ways: Plumlee skewing more towards passing, Davis towards offensive rebounding, and Biyombo towards shot-blocking and rim protection, but none of the three a sure bet. Putting three different brands of chocolate syrup on the sundae doesn't make it taste that much better. You need some Hershey's, then some sprinkles and nuts to go with it.
Portland already has enough 1.5 dimensional big men. Even if Biyombo is the epitome of the archetype, even if he carries added bonuses, the Blazers can't afford to spend serious money on more of the same. They need to transform and transcend their limitations, not enshrine them while adding improvements. If Biyombo were cheap or the Blazers had more cap room, he'd be worth the risk. As the Big Signing of 2016, he'd probably underwhelm.
I like Bismack Biyombo plenty, but I don't think he's distinct, proven, or transformational enough to fill Portland's current needs. With his soon-to-be-high price tag, he's a risk the Blazers can't afford to take...not without other moves surrounding the signing to make it make more sense.
Next week begins a new round of Mailbag questions! We'll try to center more on particular players the Blazers might sign or trade for. If you have suggestions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org!