The Bismack Biyombo Project, good theater anyway, just got more interesting. Or more tenuous. Or more telling about new coach Steve Clifford.
It certainly just got better for Jeff Adrien, the relative unknown taking the minutes at backup center in another positive development for the Bobcats in a 7-8 start, except that it’s also a hit for the Bobcats: Biyombo, once projected in Charlotte to be part of the foundation of the future, is now officially regressing, out of the rotation for the first time in the two-plus seasons since the risk pick at No. 7 in the 2011 draft.
In the five games before starter Al Jefferson returned from a bruised right ankle, as Rick Bonnell noted in the Charlotte Observer, Adrien was a plus-24, Biyombo was a minus-38, and Clifford was convinced. The rookie coach made his move once Jefferson was back in the lineup last Friday, supposed plans for tomorrow be damned.
In the three games since, Adrien has played 48 minutes, an average of 16 per outing. Biyombo has played five. Total. The dreaded Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision against the Suns, five in Milwaukee the next night and another DNP-CD when the Celtics visited Time Warner Cable Arena.
Biyombo out of the rotation is a significant development after the rookie season of 23.1 minutes while playing in 63 of the 66 games and the 27.3 minutes with 80 appearances last season, but more after the bold move by the Michael Jordan front office to take Biyombo out of Spain in 2011 despite league-wide concerns. Biyombo clearly had a very high ceiling then as an athletic marvel at 6-feet-8 and 225 pounds and with what some teams saw as the potential to be a game-changer on defense and the boards. But he was very raw – maybe more than any lottery pick in years – had a limited body of work against the top competition in Europe and a nonexistent offensive game.
The Bobcats, while keeping their own spot at No. 9 to take Kemba Walker in a choice that went well in a lottery filled with pot holes, added the seventh selection as part of a three-team deal with the Bucks and Kings at the cost of Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston and No. 19. Biyombo arrived with the pre-draft promise to one day lead the league in rebounding, but as the ultimate project requiring patience and playing time.
He got both. He even got his 2014-15 option picked up before the season. But Charlotte also invested heavily in its big-man rotation in the summer, landing Jefferson as a free agent and Cody Zeller as the fourth pick in the draft. Clifford took over as coach.
And then it took a few weeks for Adrien to pass Biyombo.
“Jeff Adrien did so well – and I told Biz this – that I couldn’t not give him a chance to play more,” Clifford told the Observer.
“These are facts and numbers, not a feel. If you look at plus-minus in those games when (Adrien) played, we played so well as a group. His plus-minus was so good I would have felt guilty with the guys if I didn’t give him a chance.”
Adrien has responded with double-digit rebounds in two of the last four games, pushing him to 6.4 boards in 20.3 minutes the last five outings. Biyombo has responded by promising to stay focused.
“I’ve got to control what I can control,” Biyombo said. “It’s obvious I believe that I can be a better player. I’ve just got to keep positive, keep working and be there for my teammates. There’s a long way to go. The season is just getting started, so you’ve got to learn from all this.”