If this was during the regular season there’d be no question about Bismack Biyombo’s ability to step in and step up to fill the giant void left by the Toronto Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas’ absence. Biyombo was more than effective in his 22 regular season starts, so effective in fact that some less enlightened individuals started thinking maybe he should just get to keep the job.
Many viewed Valanciunas and Biyombo as different but close to equal including head coach Dwane Casey who split the regular season minutes 26 Valanciunas, 22 Biyombo. Valanciunas providing scoring and rebounding while Biyombo dug in on defense and provided rim protection and rebounding.
As a starter Biyombo averaged 29.8 minutes, 7.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2 blocks while the Raptors went 15-7 over the 22 games. Valanciunas averaged 26 minutes, 12.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 59 starts and his team went 40-19. Toronto hasn’t exactly suffered when Valanciunas has missed games this season.
“Both teams really got to adjust now,” DeMar DeRozan said after practice. “Their rim protector is not out there. We got a lot of great guys that can protect the basket and I think we still have a great rim protector in Bismack, so we still have that element in our package. I think we just got to take advantage of that with them not having that rim protector out there but we still have ours.”
The Heat have no one that can step in and replicate what Hassan Whiteside provided them on defense. Whiteside averaged 3.7 blocks during the regular season and their next best rim protection came from the aging and limited Amar’e Stoudemire with 0.8 blocks. However, it’s been Dwyane Wade in the playoffs with 0.9 blocks and asking Stoudemire to play to big a role is to risk losing him altogether.
The reason Biyombo has been getting overlooked recently is two-fold. Valanciunas has been beyond outstanding in the second round and Biyombo has struggled in Valanciunas shadow.
In the three games against the Heat, Biyombo has only averaged 12.6 minutes, 1 point, 3.7 rebounds and zero blocked shots. Toronto has been a -7.3 points with Biyombo on the court. However, during the regular season he averaged 22.7 minutes, 3.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in four games against Miami which is right around his regular season averages. Take the bigger Whiteside out of the equation and Biyombo should be able to improve on those numbers.
“The things JV was doing, it was big man,” DeRozan said. “In a period of time when we definitely needed him. It is definitely going to be hard to duplicate that, but we got great teammates on this team that understand their roles that are going to do whatever is needed to help us win.”
Biyombo is not going to replace the offense the Raptors were enjoying from Valanciunas, but if he can provide the superior rim protection and defense expected of him, no one on the Raptors will be looking for anything beyond setting screens and the occasional putback at the offensive end of the court.
Reputations are made in the playoffs and Biyombo has the option to become a free agent at the end of this season. He has a lot of reasons to be the player his head coach believes he can be and step up for the Raptors while Valanciunas is out.