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NBA Orlando Magic Bismack Biyombo 2016

The Impact Of Bismack Biyombo Is Still Helping The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Bismack Biyombo makes his first appearance Sunday at the Air Canada Centre since he left town in the off season after signing a huge free agent deal worth $72-million over four years with the Orlando Magic.

You can’t blame the guy for taking the money and running to Florida’s Gulf Coast area after making around $3-million in his one season with the Raptors. He got the contact that has set him up for life, which is not bad for a guy who makes his living as an energy guy coming off the bench, a rebounder who struggles as a shooter from the field and the foul line.

His numbers from his one year in Toronto and his half a year in Orlando haven’t changed much. In Toronto he averaged 22-minutes a game, 5.5-points, 8.0-rebounds and 1.6 blocks. In Orlando in 47-games it’s 24.5 minutes, 6.3-points, 7.7-rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Now don’t get me wrong. A player with Biyombo’s knack for rebounding is a valuable piece that is needed when a general manager is putting together his 15-man roster.  But 72-million over four years for a guy that mainly rebounds is obscene and it shows that with the salary cap rising each year thanks to ESPN and TNT’s television money that teams are overpaying for talent when they try and find it through the free agent route.

Biyombo’s influence in his one year in Toronto was felt in more ways than just the numbers on a box score. It was with the guy who has taken over his minutes on the floor and that’s Lucas Nogueira.

Nogueira was reflecting on that after Saturday’s practice with the media and he let everybody know that he’s not Biyombo’s replacement.

“I am never going to replace Biz,” Nogueira was saying. “The city loves him. I personally love him too and I am so thankful for what he did for us. I can block five shots a night like I did on Friday, but I’m never going to replace Biz. I do think I have the hardest job in the league trying to replace Bismack because he made a huge impact here.”

Nogueira did say though that Biyombo was his mentor.

“Of course he was my mentor,” Nogueira said of Biyombo. “He changed my habits. He made me become a better professional and he made me see how it was important to take practice seriously and take my basketball life seriously. In life sometimes you only get one opportunity and if you don’t take it seriously you might not get another one. He made me realize that. That’s the reason I say he was my mentor when he was here. His level of professionalism made me a better professional.”

Nogueira is averaging 21.3-minutes a game, but in the month of January it’s up to 25-minutes which shows the coach Dwane Casey has the confidence to use him more.

“He has done an excellent job of protecting the rim, blocking shots and doing what we need him to do in the paint,” Casey said. “He’s doing an excellent job of catching the ball out of double teams and quarterbacking, making teams pay when they do blitz Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) and that’s what we needed. That’s a plus that Biz didn’t give us. He was strictly a defensive plus. Lucas gives us that guy who can quarterback, kick it out, he’s a huge target with great hands so he gives that to us on the offensive end as well.”

Casey did say that there is a missing link from the way the Raptors played defense last year to this year that Biyombo brought that he wished they picked up on.

“I wish one thing rubbed off more from Biz and I think it did but they seem to have forgotten it without Biz being around. It’s talking loud and confidently. And not just Lucas, but all of our centres — (Jonas Valanciunas), Jakob (Poeltl), and Pascal (Siakam). Talk loud and with confidence and that is what Biz brought. He brought an energy, but he rubbed off on those guys.”

As you can see, Biyombo’s influence is still being felt on the Raptors.

The Orlando Magic is a young struggling rebuilding team and new coach Frank Vogel is hoping Biyombo can have a big influence there as well and he has a massive four year contract to do just that.



DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.



NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo and DeMar DeRozan

Biyombo Who? Raptors Rookies Wipe Out Any Rebounding Concerns

The Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri magic touch has been showing itself off early on again this season as rookies Pascal Siakam and Jacob Poeltl are quickly making everyone forget all about the departure of their best rebounder last season Bismack Biyombo.

With injuries to Jared Sullinger and Lucas Nogueira, the rookies were thrust into the rotation ahead of schedule and at this point, it would be hard to conclude anything but they deserve to be there.

Casey was forced to start Siakam in order to keep the veteran Patrick Patterson in his comfort zone coming off the bench and the energetic forward has filled in nicely averaging 4 points on 66.7 percent shooting, 6 rebounds and a steal in 18.5 minutes over his first two games. It’s starting to look like Ujiri isn’t going to be forced into any rush to bring back Sullinger or something else more desperate. When Nogueira went down,  Poeltl was the next man up at backup center and he’s averaged 4.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 12 minutes and is starting to look like he just belongs out there. Nogueira has been the odd man out in each of his two previous seasons and if he doesn’t get back soon, he’ll be the odd man out again this year.

“We (Siakam and Poeltl) got our roles and we know our roles and what we are supposed to do,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report. “I think the team knows what I can give them and that’s what I am going to try to give every night.

“I think that I am a pretty good rebounder. Whenever I get an opportunity I will try to go for the ball and with me playing, I will have more opportunity to rebound the basketball, that is always one of my assets.”

Biyombo was a big time contributor off the bench last season averaging 5.5 points, 8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 22 minutes as he pulled in an impressive 20.8 percent of the available boards while he was on the court. However, the rookie Poeltl is absorbing 19.8 percent of the available rebounds so far and his first two games were against solid playoff teams and Siakam has been dramatically upping the rebounding impact from the power forward spot at 17.1 percent. It’s a small sample size, but Toronto doesn’t look like a team that is going to lose the battle of the boards very often because they are relying on a couple of rookies.

“(Siakam) is a good rebounder and he played well,” a frustrated Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said after the season opener.

So far this season Toronto has outrebounded their opposition by  an NBA 4th best 11 boards each game and that included the home opening win over Detroit and last season’s top rebounder Andre Drummond. It’s worth pointing out the Raptors two rookies are averaging 10.5 boards between them. Last year Toronto finished the season a solid 7th best +2.6 boards.

The next big test for the Raptors rebounding prowess is going to come on Halloween night when they face off against the glass cleaning Nuggets at the Air Canada Center. Denver has been crushing opponents on the boards by a +20.5 rebound margin to start the season.  Big men Nikola Jokic (12 rebounds), Kenneth Faried (11.5 rebounds) and Jusif Nurkic (9 rebounds) doing most of the heavy lifting.  Toronto’s rookies are in for another real challenge.

Now if only someone could block a shot for the Raptors? Although, the blocked shot differential is currently zero.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini






NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Bebe Nogueira summer camp 2016

Raptors Lucas Nogueira Bigger Than Normal Summer

By Lindsay Dunn

This past summer Toronto Raptors bet on the progress of center Lucas ‘Bebe’ Nogueira when they didn’t add a veteran seven-footer to offset the loss of Bismack Biyombo to free agency. However, Bebe should be forgiven if he had even bigger things on his mind recently. He said “I do”, not to a new Raptors contract, but to a new partner in life, wife Caroline Kuczynski.

NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira and wife

“It’s great!,” Nogueira said. “I have got to work to make my own history with her. It is work, but I have to be positive about the future.”

Before Bebe walked down the aisle he received some words of wisdom from his fellow Raptors.

Lucas Nogueira with Biyombo and Caboclo and a Rolls 2016

“I got advice from Coach Casey and Valanciunas, the married guys on the team. They gave me some advice, but every marriage has a different story and a different situation.”

Nogueira recently held his first basketball camp in Pickering that was put on by none other than his fellow teammate Cory Joseph’s Dad David Joseph. Nogueira was joined by his fellow teammate and fellow Brazilian Bruno Caboclo.

Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo at kids camp 2016


“Lucas and I are from the same country,” Caboclo said about his friendship with Nogueira. “He has helped me a lot and I have helped him, it’s just amazing we are on the same team. I am so happy.”

Caboclo was just one of Nogueira’s teammates that were in Toronto for his nuptials. Former Raptors player Bismack Biyombo, who captivated the attention of thousands of Raptors fans this past season, was also there for his wedding day.

Bismack was just one of several changes the Raptors made this offseason. Changes that have not went unnoticed by the newlywed.

“I recognize how much the Raptors trust me and have invested in me this summer because they didn’t get anybody in my position,” Nogueira said about the offseason changes. “I have been working the entire summer for the next season. I never create expectation, especially in the NBA it is a tough business, you never know what is going to happen tomorrow.”

Nogueira’s buddy Caboclo also has big hopes for the next season. “I hope I get more playing time,” Caboclo said after helping Nogueira at his basketball camp. “I am going to do my best to help the team next season and go further than last year. To help them make the finals and then get a championship next year.”

Those are high hopes for the 20-year-old Caboclo, but they are words many Raptors fans would love to hear, “Raptors, NBA Champions.”



Lindsay DunnLindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter@LindsayDunnTV





Orlando Magic Bismack Biyombo

Magic Grab Biyombo From Raptors With $70 Million Offer

The Orlando Magic makeover continues as they grab Toronto Raptors free agent center Bismack Biyombo with an estimated $70 million over four years.

Biyombo was willing to give the Raptors a hometown discount to stay in Toronto, but without jumping through some major league hoops, there was no way for Raptors GM Masai Ujiri to even get in the ballpark of the Orlando offer of an estimated $17.5 million per season.

A defensive specialist, Biyombo averaged 5.5 points, 8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 22 minutes for the Raptors last season. In his 22 starts those numbers improved to 7.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2 blocks in 29.8 minutes.

The writing was on the wall for Biyombo in Toronto after the NBA draft when Ujiri took two centers in the first round.






Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini





NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo and DeMar DeRozan

Six Things The Toronto Raptors Should Do This Summer 2016

The Toronto Raptors stated goal three years ago was to become relevant this past season. Mission accomplished. Now the goal is to build on their Eastern Conference Finals appearance and president and general manager Masai Ujiri has his work cut out for him. There are things he should do and things he must do if his team is to be better than the 56-win 2015-16 version.

Ujiri has already completed one of his top priorities by getting head coach Dwane Casey’s name inked to an extension, but as both parties were anxious to get something done, this didn’t come as a surprise.

“I think that’s very easy for us to figure out, that’ll be done in our sleep, I think,” Ujiri said shortly before the contract extension was announced.

When it comes to adding players, however, the summer of 2016 will not be like last year. This time Ujiri isn’t working with an abundance of salary cap room, counting first round draft picks and salary cap holds, he is basically working with no space at all. It’ll take every trick in the book to get what should be done accomplished this time.

1. Continuity

Ujiri signed up for the first stage in continuity by re-upping Casey, but there is more to it than that.

Continuity has played a big part in the Raptors success. Giving Casey the reins with a consistent message of defense first helps to keep this team focused beyond the court – in the draft, in free agency and with trades. Ujiri believes in acquiring players that fit with his head coach, players who will go with the program and accept the roles assigned to them. This team should – nay must – continue down the same path this summer.

Whomever Ujiri decides to add to this roster, they need to be a fit with Casey’s program.

2. The Draft – Up or Out

The Raptors hold the 9th and 27th picks in the 2016 NBA Draft and as Ujiri said at the end of the season, this team doesn’t need to add any more players that aren’t ready to help the team right away. He needs to make a move.

“I don’t know if it’s a draft where we can get somebody that will come and impact our team right away,” Ujiri said two days before the draft.

He’s right of course and Ujiri’s admitted they are talking to other teams about trading one or both of their draft picks. While it might not be possible to fully complete a trade at the draft if players under contract are involved, the Raptors should be looking to trade up or out of this draft.

It’s been reported that the Celtics, Suns, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Kings are all trying to trade their (better) lottery picks, so trading up and getting a player Casey could use in his rotation off the bench is a real possibility.

The Raptors need a high potential forward that Casey can develop in the NBA (as opposed to the D-League). Ujiri should be trying to move up to get Washington power forward Marquese Chriss or California forward Jaylen Brown.

3. Bring Back Bismack Biyombo

Bismack Biyombo was a free agent steal last summer, but like all good things, eventually you got to pay up to keep them. Biyombo, backing up Jonas Valanciunas, gave the Raptors two players who were dominant on the glass and made it possible for Toronto to win the battle of the boards most nights. Biyombo also covered for Valanciunas when the Raptors starting center was injured and the team just kept on winning.

There have been some crazy numbers thrown around about how much Biyombo will be able to command in free agency, as high as $17-20 million, but for a player with very limited offensive skills, that’s too high even this summer. However, he will command a salary north of $10 million per season even with the promised hometown discount to stay with his mentor – the Raptors GM Ujiri.

Biyombo says Ujiri told him he’d find a way to bring him back and anyone who follows the team should know if Ujiri says he’ll do something, it happens. The price will be a player or players that will have to be traded to create the salary cap space necessary.

4. Bring Back DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan says he’s coming back and the salary cap math says Ujiri has little choice but to make it happen as Toronto won’t have the room to go after anyone better. It may cause some fans to gag on paying DeRozan as much as $26.6 million per season, but his salary cap hold is just over $15 million, so with the right timing, Ujiri can do what he needs to elsewhere as long as DeRozan is last to ink a contract.

The longest serving Raptor in the organization, DeRozan is a huge part of the continuity that has created the current run of success and as the second leading scorer in the Eastern Conference, it isn’t a stretch to say DeRozan has earned a max deal. Besides, no one should be even slightly surprised if DeRozan leaves a little money on the table to re-sign with Toronto. He wants to be there and that’s important in a city that has struggled to hang onto it’s All-Stars in the past.

5. Be Willing To Let Go

Ujiri is loath to let any young player he’s developing escape, but with salary cap restrictions and an NBA roster size capped at 15 players, eventually push comes to shove and decisions have to be made.

Between Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Delon Wright and Norman Powell, only Powell cracked Casey’s rotation last season and he earned it. Powell’s style of play and skill-set fits with his head coach. The other guys may develop, but on a team looking to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals, that’s too many guys you really don’t know if they’ll be ready to help if needed.

If the Raptors end up drafting a player, then one of Caboclo, Nogueira or Wright need to be moved out. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to move out one just to create room to add another veteran.

It’s time to re-evaluate Terrence Ross’ future with the Raptors. Ujiri signed him to a modest (under a $94 million salary cap) extension last summer starting at $10 million per season in July, so in a league looking for long range shooting, this career 38 percent three-point threat isn’t overpaid. However, he may have just lost most of his minutes to Powell next season.

Ross is an obvious trade candidate to create the salary cap space needed to retain Biyombo or as an attractive chip in a bigger deal. If only Ujiri can let him go.

6. Bring Back James Johnson

James Johnson has his supporters in the Raptors fanbase and when DeMarre Carroll was injured (twice), Johnson filled in and helped keep the 56-win season on track.

The 29-year-old combo forward has never been as good as he thinks he is and as a result, he brought a history of conflict with coaches past and present, but he’s matured and accepted his role in his latest (second) stint in Toronto.

Ujiri will likely have to rescind his rights early in the process as the Raptors work at completing more important deals, but bringing back Johnson with one of the minor exceptions or even a veteran’s minimum contract would likely pay dividends for the Raptors next season.

Guys get hurt, Johnson is versatile and stays ready to play. Every good team that goes deep in the playoffs needs guys like him on their bench and Johnson is a known quantity.

This summer is not like the summer of 2015. The Raptors are coming off a successful playoff run that didn’t include all of their best players firing on all cylinders. A healthy version of last year’s team should be noticeably better in 2016-17.

Continuity is the key, so retaining Biyombo and DeRozan should be the top priority. This team was second in the Eastern Conference and lost in six games in the Conference Finals with a banged up Carroll, Valanciunas and Lowry. Imagine what they could accomplish if they can get to next April with everyone back and healthy?



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




Cory Joseph scrum 2015Six Things The Toronto Raptors Should Do This Summer 2015

The NBA All-Star Game is coming to Toronto in February and the Raptors want to be taken seriously – perhaps for the first time in franchise history.



Bismack Biyombo Will Be Back With The Raptors Next Season

The current question on everyone’s mind in Toronto and in a whole lot of other NBA cities in need of a starting center is: will Bismack Biyombo be back with the Raptors next season? As difficult as arranging a return seems to be for Biyombo’s mentor/Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri, somethings up.

“I love it up here,” Biyombo said about his pending free agency. “I would love to be back here. The one thing I believe is in the office there are the right people and I have the right people on my side to enter (those discussions). I am not to concerned about that. I think I’ve heard Masai say a couple of times (we’ll) do whatever it takes.”

Ujiri is a straight shooter. If he says something, he means it, but this time, “whatever it takes” means he’ll have to make other things happen with his roster to be able to offer Biyombo a fair deal based on his age and recent success.

As a player with only one year in Toronto, Ujiri doesn’t have “Bird Rights” to re-sign Biyombo. The Raptors will have to clear salary cap space to make an offer, but Ujiri knew all this when he signed Biyombo using the Raptors “Room Exception” last summer and he knew there’d be some flaming hoops to jump through when he told Biyombo he’d do whatever it takes to re-sign him.

Biyombo was in for a huge raise this summer based on his regular season success. The playoffs only served to raise the causal fans’ awareness of just how good Biyombo could be in the right situation with the right coach and teammates.

“A lot of credit goes to my teammates and the coaches for really finding a way to use me to help the team,” Biyombo said. “When the opportunity to come to Toronto came, I felt it was going to be a perfect fit for me from the jump. I am beyond grateful.”

On the 56 win Raptors, Biyombo started 22 games, but he primarily came off the bench to split minutes with Jonas Valanciunas as the pair of centers crushed it on the glass all season. Valanciunas grabbing 20.1 percent of all available rebounds and Biyombo hauling in 20.8 percent. They were the reason the Raptors outrebounded their opponents by +2.6 boards per game during the regular season.

In the playoffs, those rebounding numbers were about to go up. Valanciunas grabbing 32.2 percent of the available boards and Biyombo 33.8 percent. The Raptors centers kept their teammates in the postseason when their All-Stars struggled hitting shots early on. When Valanciunas was lost to an ankle sprain in the second round, Biyombo stepped up for 8 games on his own to prove the regular season starts were no fluke, he can do it as a starter in the playoffs as well.

Rebounders like Valanciunas and Biyombo are hard to find and highly prized. A team is likely to have only one such rebounding big man if they are lucky and it gave the Raptors a lot of flexibility with the rest of their rotation. Players like the Raptors Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll that like to hang out on the perimeter are ideally paired with someone that can clean the glass. Ujiri won’t want to lose either of his centers this summer if he can avoid it.

The Raptors GM doesn’t have a lot to work with, however. In reality, if the Raptors hang onto their All-Star DeMar DeRozan – and they will – all of their salary cap space and more is already spoken for.

NBA Toronto Raptors salary & cap holds 2016

Available salary cap space for the 2016-17 season could be as high as $92 million, a $20 million jump from last season, but that money has already been spent on extensions to Valanciunas and Terrence Ross that kick in next season.

If the Raptors rescind all of the player cap  holds except for DeRozan and Biyombo, they can get to almost $7 million for Biyombo and there is room to tinker, but to get to a contract on par with Valanciunas’ extension (a reasonable target), they’ll need to double that.

Someone with a reasonably significant contract – like say Patterson ($6 million) or Ross ($10 million) could be traded to a team with cap space for assets with a limited current cap hit to create room. Teams have done this before, it can work, but how Ujiri would get it done in Toronto is anyone’s guess at this point.

Expect a very busy period for the Raptors between the draft and free agency. Ujiri has been nothing less than a magician when it comes to moving, keeping and and acquiring players since his arrival in Toronto.




Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini





Toronto Raptors fans

In Toronto We Believe

As Jurassic Park outside Gate 5 of the Air Canada Centre was filling up 3 hours before game-time, the Toronto Raptors were preparing for their third elimination game in as many series hoping to make history by playing in a Game Seven two days from now. Been there, done that, they were ready.

“No pressure,” Bismack Biyombo said in the locker room immediately before Game Six. “Just excitement of getting out there and playing the game.

“It’s just getting out there and having fun and taking care of home. Confidence!”

Battle tested and ready for their biggest test of the season, the Raptors know they have their passionate fan base behind them. Game on.

It’s loud in here.




Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini



Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Can The Raptors Keep Bismack Biyombo In Free Agency?

In reality the question about the Toronto Raptors ability to retain the services of Bismack Biyombo in free agency this summer has been just laying out there – ignored – since last summer – until now. Signed to a below market two-year deal with a player option for the second season, if Biyombo only played okay as a backup, he was going to test free agency. At this point everyone knows Biyombo has played better than just okay.

Biyombo came to Toronto because of his relationship with Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri and the fit. Head coach Dwane Casey is a defensive-minded coach who develops young players. Biyombo bet on himself and the expectation he would get better and prove his worth if he was playing for a coach that valued what he brought to the table.

“Masai has been a guy that has done a lot for Africa and us as young African players, we always look up to him as our mentor,” Biyombo said just after arriving in Toronto. “The influence was already there. I was just excited about working with him and looking for an opportunity to play for Coach Casey and obviously the team is a great team and I am excited to be part of it.”

Ujiri’s problem going forward is he is loath to give up on any of his young assets, but Biyombo being one of those young assets is going to command a lot more money in free agency than anyone anticipated prior to the start of this season.

Sporting News’ Sean Deveney says NBA Execs believe Biyombo could be in line for a contract anywhere between $15 million and $20 million a season during a free agency period that is going to be flush with cash and he isn’t wrong. There will be big offers from teams that don’t have a starting center they actual want to have to start.

The issue being Biyombo has never been that guy before now and despite some absolutely monster rebounding games, he still has his limitations, especially on offense where bigger players can and do deny the 6’9 big man at the rim. Biyombo is a developing player. It’s fair to expect him to get better at all aspects of his game, but the contract he’ll command means you had better be right about his upside.

Toronto has another issue that Ujiri will have to ponder. Jonas Valanciunas is progressing nicely and was in the midst of a breakout playoff performance went he went down with an ankle injury. A true +7′ player, Valanciunas just signed a 4-year $64 million extension and it doesn’t seem likely Ujiri would double-down with two players in the same high price range at the same position – or would he?

In Game five of the Eastern Conference Finals, for the first time this season, Casey put Biyombo and Valanciunas on the floor together. Now that’s a solution that wasn’t on anyone’s radar before then.

“We put him (Biyombo in with Valanciunas) in there because we were getting our butts kicked,” Casey said after Game Five. “I think the first eight out of 11 points were off offensive rebounds and that was one of the reasons we went to that in the first half.”

It didn’t work, but that was because you could see the rust on Valanciunas in his first game back after over two weeks on the sidelines. Valanciunas’ timing was off just enough that balls he would normally grab slipped through his fingers on catches and rebounds. There was nothing here that should discourage Casey from playing Valanciunas more in Game Six or pairing him up with Biyombo again.

If Valanciunas and Biyombo could be counted on to be an effective frontcourt together for even 6-8 minutes a game, then all those concerns about paying two centers +$15 million a season each go way and are replaced with you-got-to-do-it.

As much as everyone loves to speculate about free agency and see every available player heading to their preferred team this summer, free agency just doesn’t work that way. Players have real relationships with their teammates and coaches. Some of those relationships push them out the door, but others make proposals from other teams fall on deaf ears.

Biyombo has a real relationship with Ujiri and Casey. He knows he’s appreciated in Toronto and that will count for a lot if Ujiri can clear the salary cap space needed to make him a reasonable offer. Biyombo took a big discount from from what other similar players were getting last summer to play for the Raptors, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a more modest discount is worth it to Biyombo to stay.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Raptors Bismack Biyombo Wags His Finger At The Doubters

By Frank McLean

Back on July 19th after most of the big names that were available in free agency were signed, the Toronto Raptors quietly announced they had signed free agent center Bismack Biyombo who had been with the Charlotte Hornets.

It was a two year deal with the second year being a player option.

Saturday night with Raptors down two games to none and coming home to the Air Canada Centre looking to find something to get them going against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this Eastern Conference Final, Biyombo put on arguably the best single game performance in Raptors playoff history, grabbing 26 rebounds and blocking 4 shots in the 99-84 win.

The energy he created on the floor was contagious. It carried over to his teammates and into the overflow crowd of 20,207 in the arena. Not to mention the Dekembe Mutombo finger wags after he blocks a shot or the Usain Bolt poise after a monster slam dunk.

He extended a giant wagging finger to the Cavaliers, to the rest of the United States and especially to ESPN who didn’t want the Toronto Canada based Raptors in these Eastern Conference Finals.

Where would the Raptors be without him this year?

Backing up Jonas Valanciunas in the middle, Biyombo has had to twice take over the starting role this season and the Raptors did not miss a beat.

Back on November 20th in Los Angeles against the Lakers Valanciunas broke his left hand and then missed the next 18 games. Biyombo embraced the starting role and the team went 12-6 over that 18 game span. He set what was then a career high 20 rebounds in a game against the Dallas Mavericks and then broke that mark with a 25 rebound game against the Indiana Pacers in March.

Then in Game Three of their Conference Semi-Final against the Heat Valanciunas suffered a badly sprained ankle and has been out ever since. Cue Biyombo who has grabbed the starting job and has filled in admirably in the big man from Lithuania.

As far as I’m concerned Biyombo’s 26 rebound performance ranks right up there with Vince Carter’s 50 point game the 2001 Conference Semi-finals with the Philadelphia 76ers.

In the 2001 series the Raptors had split the first two games in Philadelphia winning Game One, but in Game Two Allen Iverson dropped 54 points to send the series back to Toronto even.

In Game Three Carter responded scoring 50 points himself and setting a Raptors record for points in a playoff game, a record which still stands today, and briefly giving the Raptors control of the series.

“He was huge,” head coach Dwane Casey said about Biyombo’s Game Three performance. “He played a big time game. He’s the spirit of our team. He made sure to take care of his job.”

Patrick Patterson feels that the whole team just feeds off his energy.

“From Biz, every single possession, whether it’s him grabbing a rebound or even at the free throw line. No matter what he does, when Biz is out there, you can feel the energy he is giving off and it rubs off on all of us.”

Casey has went as far to compare him to Dennis Rodman, minus the dyed hair and body rings.

“I appreciate it,” Biyombo said humbly about the comparison. “But at the end of the day I’m Bismack Biyombo and Dennis Rodman is Dennis Rodman.”

Word is that Jonas Valanciunas is now being listed as a game time decision for Game Four and if JV can get out on the floor it would give back to the Raptors the two headed monster at center that has been very successful this year.

If he can’t play, Biyombo will be ready to start again and try and lift the team to tie the series.

One thing for sure, the Raptors would not have won 56 games in the regular season without him.



DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.





NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Toronto Fans Spur Raptors To Huge Home Win

Home court matters in professional sports, but it only matters if the local fans make it matter and in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto’s fans made their impact felt as they spurred the Raptors on to a huge 99-84 home win over the visiting Cavaliers.

“We get nights like this often now and it’s fun,” Kyle Lowry said. “We need it. We want it. I don’t know if the fans know how much we appreciate it, but we really do appreciate it and we want them to be as loud as they possibly can.

“I think it affects other teams and it gives us that energy. We know we make a big run or we make a big shot or Bis(mack Biyombo) gets a block and he goes and does his little thing they love it. We feed off that positive energy.”

Bismack Biyombo has been a talker and emotional leader for Toronto all season and no one feeds off the energy of the home crowd more than him. The Raptors center set a franchise high with 26 rebounds in Game Three and gave his team a lot of energy.

“We understand (Biyombo) feeds off the crowd, but he’s also a huge impact off the glass,” LeBron James said. “He gives them a lot of energy. The guy just stays in his lane. He definitely gave them a boost tonight.”

“(Biyombo) fed off the energy of his team and of the crowd,” Kevin Love said. “He was impressive on the glass.”

Biyombo tries to play the same way on the road as he does at home, but his stats and his impact is just greater at the Air Canada Centre.

“I play the same ways,” Biyombo said. “It’s just that when you are home its there are a lot of fans that are involved. The fans are involved and if you go back and watch in Cleveland, Cleveland was very physical in Cleveland and when we come here and as we get physical our crowd gets involved and we stay with the game.”

The crowd pumps up Biyombo, Biyombo pumps up the crowd and that energy affects his teammates. There is no substitute for playing harder  than your opponent.

” (Biyombo) gives that confidence,” Lowry said. “It gives us the energy. It gets the crowd into it and the crowd gets us into it. We feed off that energy.”

“They came out and played hard,” Tristan Thompson said. “We knew that and we expected that especially coming home with the crowd so energetic.”

The Raptors are going to need another huge effort from their fans if they are to take Game Four on Monday and knot this series up at two games apiece. Lowry, Biyombo and their teammates are expecting nothing less.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Raptors Want Justice For Low Blow To Biyombo

Something happened at the end of Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, something usually associated with a bad loser. After setting a franchise record with 26 rebounds, Bismack Biyombo slowly crumpled to the floor after what appeared to be a low blow from the 35-year-old veteran Dahntay Jones just before time expired on the 15 point Raptors home victory.

Biyombo had to be helped up after several minutes and assisted to the locker room.

“I got hit in an area that I wasn’t to get hit on,” Biyombo said after the game. “A private area. Whenever the league has a chance, probably want to take a look at that. That’s all I can say on that one.”

The comment brought some laughter from the media and Biyombo, but it wasn’t funny. That looked like a dirty play from a long-time veteran who should have known better. It’s going to be hard to argue the incident was an accident.

It shouldn’t take long for an official response from the NBA.

As an active aggressive center, Biyombo takes a lot of abuse as he fights for rebounds and Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is starting to boil over about the complete lack of foul calls his player is getting.

“He’s one of the top rebounders in the league and no telling how many times he gets hit and fouled under there without being called,” Casey said. “Again, I’m going to say this, I think he gets hit almost on every rebound and putback there is and he just doesn’t get calls.

“There’s one play where they almost have a brawl (and Biyombo) gets killed on that play. I don’t know if he’s getting hit because of how physical and tough he is, but he’s getting cracked.”

It has looked like it’s been open season on Biyombo in this series, but that final blow at the end of Game Three. Something like that crosses every line.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo

Can Bismack Biyombo Step Up For The Raptors?

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.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Raptors Will Win With Defense Says Bismack Biyombo

The Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo is tough, he plays grown man defense and he showed it again in spades during Game Five by pulling down 16 boards when no one else on his team could grab more than five rebounds in the face of some very aggressive play from the Pacers. He believes this playoff series will be won by playing physical defense and little else matters.

“He did it with grit,” head coach Dwane Casey explained. “The guys hanging on his shoulder, pulling on him. I think they were doing a concerted effort when he gets the ball of just cracking him and he’s got bumps all over his head from getting hit. So, going through that and still getting 16 rebounds is huge and they are doing a good job of trying to bottle him up, (putting) two bodies on him, hitting him. They’re grabbing on the shot, his putbacks. Then tonight he made his free throws.”

Biyombo took a beating in Game Five and only got to the free throw line four times, but that isn’t going to stop him from doing what needs to be done in the paint. He knew the Raptors didn’t bring it in Game Four and they (he) had to step up to the fight in Game Five.

“They play more physical than us and we didn’t bring it in Game Four, but going into Game Five, just got to expect a man’s game, a fight and that’s what I look forward to,” Biyombo told Pro Bball Report immediately before Game Five. “If you look at (the past) games, whoever won those games played more physical, that’s just the bottom line and whoever played more defense. So going into this game my mindset is to fight every possession, play a man’s defense and handle our business. I just look forward to a man’s game, a fight and it’s going to be a good night.”

It was a fight out there in Game Five and Biyombo took a beating to maintain his position in the post and battle for those all important rebounds. The poor shooting by the Raptors continued, but in that fourth quarter surge, Toronto held Indiana to 4-15 shooting from the field. They won the quarter and the game with defense and just barely enough offense to get the job done.

“It ain’t about shooting man,” Biyombo explained before the game. “They can talk about shooting, but this series is not about shooting. It’s about being physical and if we can be physical, we can win this game. If they come out physical, we are going to match their intensity, but one thing, we are not going down tonight.

“We can’t let the fans down. We can’t let the city down. We can’t let this organization down. We are going to go out there and we are going to play like men. We are going to take care of business.

“It’s challenging but at the same time you got to find a way to help your teammates gather together and be able to play at that level. We have all been waiting for this moment.”

A never before seen Raptors lineup of four smaller players with Biyombo in the middle turned around a game the Pacers had controlled from the tip. It was the tough scrappy play of Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Biyombo with some offensive help from DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross that got the job done. Biyombo pulling down seven rebounds in that final quarter.

“My teammates got my back and I got their backs,” Biyombo explained after the game. “For me, taking a beating out there is part of the game. It’s just being able to come up with the win.”

Where it was Jonas Valanciunas pulling down 14-plus boards in each of the first three games, in Game Five Biyombo stepped up and took over for Toronto on the glass and on defense. The Raptors have previously unknown depth at center and as of now, it’s likely saved them from yet another embarrassing first round playoff exit.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Raptors Rim Protector Bismack Biyombo Is Finding His Offense

Bismack Biyombo blocks shots. The Toronto Raptors brought in the Charlotte Hornets discarded big man because of his defense and rim protection, but after the last game of the 2014-15 regular season, Biyombo told Pro Bball Report he has an offensive game too and he was going to surprise some people. It was one of the reasons we believed he should be a free agent target.

Biyombo came into the NBA as a legitimate future hack-a-big man candidate. He couldn’t hit free throws, shooting just 48.3 percent from the charity stripe as a rookie, but that’s not really true any more. Each year he worked on his shooting stroke and this season he’s been to the line 169 times and made 64.5 percent of his tosses.

The occasional mid range jumper has been falling as well and it’s becoming less of a surprise to see it drop, but Biyombo is still doing dunks or layups 2/3rds of the time and finishing better than 65 percent of his attempts within three feet of the rim. However, Biyombo really does believe in expanding his offensive game.

“I work each and every night, before and after practice I come come back in the gym when no body is around here and get my work in and go home and come back and play the game,” Biyombo said. “The hard work always pays off. I believe in it.”

The hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Right from the beginning of the season his teammates have been feeding him the ball in the post and for short jumpers, even in situations that made a lot of people cringe. He deserved to get those chances to score because of his defensive effort, but those cringe worthy situations usually didn’t turn out well.

Biyombo was often tentative at the offensive end, but he’s gotten better as the season has progressed. He’s not hesitating when he needs to take a jump shot and he’s stopped bringing the ball down when catching it in the post. His confidence is higher and it shows.

“Trust in myself and have confidence in my shot,” Biyombo explained. “If I shoot it and make it, I make it. If I shoot it and miss it, I miss it. For me it is a reward for myself and I am taking them with confidence. If I make it, I was supposed to make it because I worked for it. For me it is being able to play with confidence, being able to focus on myself and not get distracted with wanting to do so many things at the same time. Do one thing at a time. Know what I know how to do and get out there and have fun with it and obviously it is paying off.”

Biyombo hasn’t been ignoring his defense. The Raptors did well picking up this rim protector. He’s second in the the NBA blocking six percent of the two point attempts while he is on the floor – just ahead of Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan. Head coach Dwane Casey trusts his big man at the end of games when he needs to get stops. The improving offense has been a bonus.

“I think everybody is comfortable and fits into the system,” Biyombo said. “As a team we are getting better and I think that’s the most important thing. Guys are playing together, guys are playing better and as we get closer to the playoffs we are going to need everybody if we want to accomplish something special.

“At the end of the day, I just want to go deeper in the playoffs and have a special year with the team.”

Biyombo is having a special year with his new team. Off the scrap heap and into an important role on a contender. It’s good to know that his goals extend beyond what he’s done in the regular season.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





Toronto NBA Raptors Bismack BiyomboBismack Biyombo Is Having A Career Year In Toronto

You never know for sure if a young player is going to step up when their opportunity knocks. The Charlotte Hornets certainly didn’t think Bismack Biyombo would be setting new career bests this early in the season or they just might have not let him walk away in free agency to the Toronto Raptors for nothing at the end of his rookie contract.



NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Hansbrough For Biyombo Working Out Well For Raptors

By Frank McLean

When you are a general manager of a NBA team, and for that matter you are a general manager of any professional sports team, every morning when you wake up the first thing that comes to your mind is how do I make my team better than it was yesterday?

When Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri was rebuilding his team over the off season that was the question he was asking.

Everybody loved Amir Johnson in the Raptors organization, but the opportunity to acquire free agent DeMarre Carroll made the team better based on age, health and skill-set. (Although, after Carroll underwent knee surgery, maybe not?)

Ujiri, when trying to upgrade his bench, had to make that same decision on Tyler Hansbrough.

NBA Toronto Raptors Tyler Hansbrough

Hansbrough’s job with the Raptors was like that of a fourth line player in the NHL. His job was to provide energy coming off the bench and if he scores great, but if he doesn’t, his job is to rough it up a bit around the net and change the pace of the game. He was expected to throw his weight around under the basket and collect a few rebounds.

However, instead of re-signing Hansbrough, Ujiri picked up free agent Bismack Biyombo who had been plying his trade with the Charlotte Hornets.

Like Johnson, everybody in the organization loved Hansbrough as a teammate and as a player. But Ujiri signed Biyombo because he felt it made his team better and at the end of the day that is what a general manager’s job description is.

The two teams hooked up last Friday night in Toronto and I had a chance to visit with Hansbrough after the game and I asked him if the Raptors had made a contract offer during the off season.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I left that to my agent. I would not have said no to coming back, I really love Toronto. But Charlotte made an offer and I had a chance to play at home and that’s something I had always wanted to do.”

Hansbrough played his college ball not far away from Charlotte in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, so North Carolina is not a strange place for him.

In the case of Biyombo many pundits questioned why the Hornets let him go from their roster. They did not make a qualifying offer to him which allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent.

The word was he had fallen out of favor with Hornets head coach Steve Clifford. But having a chance to talk to Clifford, he had nothing but praise for the big man from the Congo.

“When he was younger like anybody else, he obviously wanted more. He’s an easy guy to cheer for, he’s a worker, he’s got great character and he cares about his teammates.”

The 23-year old had a monster month of December after taking over as starting center while Jonas Valanciunas recovered from a broken hand. Biyombo averaged 7.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Included was game at home against the Dallas Mavericks where he set a career high with 20 rebounds.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has nothing but praise for Biyombo.

“I think he had a big role once JV went down. He had an opportunity to get his confidence. I think the game is slowing down for him a little bit now. He’s catching the ball better. He’s finishing better in traffic. I think that just comes from opportunity.

“I think he understands now too who he is and what he is,” Casey added. “He’s a rebounder and a defender. He doesn’t have to worry about scoring. He’s an opportunity scorer.”

Many times in scrums with the media Casey has compared Biyombo to Dennis Rodman. And when you take away the eccentric personality and the wild wardrobe, Rodman was a productive part of championship teams in Detroit and Chicago. If the Raptors had that type of a player coming off the bench during the playoffs last spring, they probably would not have lost four straight to the Wizards. In fact I can safely say they would not have lost four straight.

So even though it wasn’t an actual trade, it worked out to be a swap of Hansbrough for Biyombo and both teams are happy with their new player and what they have brought to their new clubs. And in the case of Masai Ujiri, you can’t argue that he did not make his team better.




Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.




Toronto NBA Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Bismack Biyombo Is Having A Career Year In Toronto

You never know for sure if a young player is going to step up when their opportunity knocks. The Charlotte Hornets certainly didn’t think Bismack Biyombo would be setting new career bests this early in the season or they just might have not let him walk away in free agency to the Toronto Raptors for nothing at the end of his rookie contract.

Biyombo was already looking like a solid addition to the Raptors rotation when Jonas Valanciunas went down with a broken finger, but this young center has been better than expected in a starting role playing over 29 minutes a night as head coach Dwane Casey tries to steer his team through a slew of key early season injuries.

Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo

“We have a guy down, but on top of that the coach needs me to be on the floor to help the team defensively,” Biyombo said. “I think overall, I’ve had to do what I’ve had to do to help my team – and I did a pretty good job.”

No argument here, Biyombo has done an excellent job in Valanciunas’ absence.

Not known as a scorer, Biyombo has shot 58 percent from the field as a starter and he set a new career best with 15 points against the Lakers. Known as a rebounder and rim protector, the 23-year-old center has stepped his game as a starter in these areas as well, pulling down new a career high 18 boards against the Hornets in Charlotte and tying his career best in blocks with 7 in the same game.

Over his 13 starts, he has averaged 6.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

Biyombo only averaged 19.4 minutes a game last season in Charlotte and as Valanciunas’ backup, he was only playing 16.8 minutes a night. The shift to being a starter almost doubled the minutes Casey has been forced to rely upon him for and this young center has taken it all in stride without a second thought. He has been able to give Casey virtually the same impact throughout his extended playing time as he gave as a reserve and that’s not something a coach can usually count on from a young backup.

“My condition always stays the same,” Biyombo said. “I am always in shape. I always stay in shape and I always make sure I don’t get too high, too low, keep it the same, keep my body weight the same and I have been very consistent with it over the past few years.”

At this point, no one should doubt him, Biyombo came to the Raptors in great shape.

When opportunity knocked, Biyombo answered and he is showing the self-confidence this young man has in his own game is well-deserved. Playing short-handed through the injuries to starters Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll hasn’t been easy for the Raptors, but it has provided opportunities for others to show they can handle a bigger role.

Biyombo has proven he can be that defensive center Casey needs to change momentum or get that key stop and he has earned more minutes even after Valanciunas comes back and reassumes the starters role. It’s fair to expect the career year for Biyombo is just getting going.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Raptors Bismack Biyombo Knows He Can Score Too

The Raptors picked up Bismack Biyombo this summer for his rebounding, rim protection and his defense, but this 23-year-old big man has been quietly developing some under the radar offensive skills that could lead to a break out season in Toronto. He can score too.

NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

“I think I have worked hard enough, not I think, I have worked hard enough this summer, more than I have ever done in the past, so I am pretty confident in my game,” Biyombo told Pro Bball Report.

Biyombo has never been known for his offense, however, he has shown slow but steady improvement at that end of the court. As a rookie in 2011-12 he shot 46.4 percent from the field and 48.3 percent from the free throw line, last year he improved those numbers to 54.3 and 58.3 respectively.

This season Biyombo has looked like he was rushing his chances early on and perhaps his teammates were putting him into situations that were a little outside of his current comfort level, but they wouldn’t be doing this unless they believed he was ready for it. And, perhaps he is.

Thru the first 16 games of the season, Biyombo is fifth in free throws made and attempted on the Raptors at 26-38. At 68.4 percent from the line, that’s substantially better than expected from this big man.

“I’ve just been working day-in and day-out, staying after practice, coming early before practice,” Biyombo said. “I think at the end of the day it’s just repetition, getting comfortable. It has been one of the weakest parts of my game in the past and I am trying to get better at it and I think it is getting to where I want it to be. Still a long way to go. Still a lot of room to improve, but I have a desire to get it up there to a higher percentage.”

His shooting from the field is better than his percentages suggest as well.  Take out the 1-7 and 1-5 games from the first week and Biyombo is averaging 53.3 percent over the remaining 14 games. In his two starts, Biyombo shot 7-10.

While two-thirds of Biyombo’s attempts are at the rim, the next step in his offensive game that would help to keep defenses honest would be a mid-range jump shot. Even something as close as the free throw line would force defenders to make a decision about whether or not to guard him away from the basket. Biyombo knows a 15 foot jump shot is the same as a free throw – in theory.

“There is no difference at all,” Biyombo said with a laugh. “I’ve been working on it in my game and I am pretty confident, but the most important to start is my free throws and the rest will take care of itself. I just got to play defense and the rest will take care of itself.

“I know I can score. I know that is going to come.

“Overall I just think I am improving and heading towards the right way.”

This is Biyombo’s fifth NBA season and he was starting to show the confidence of a player that had been around a while last year. However, it isn’t easy for a big man to move past the defensive specialist label once tagged with it and Biyombo really does loves setting hard screens for his teammates and being the last line of defense. It’s just he knows he can do more than just play defense if given the time to develop and the opportunity to show he can.

“The offense is not the main thing to me,” Biyombo said. “There are nights where I am going to score, but the one thing that I know about myself is I am going to play tough every night. I am going to play hard every night and I am going to be there for my teammates.”

There is always room for a player willing to bring his hardhat to the game every night. In this case, a little unexpected offensive potential is a nice bonus.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo

Toronto Raptors Are Built To Dominate On The Glass

The Toronto Raptors have jumped out to a quick 3-0 start and while there has been the typical early season sloppy play and rough edges, it has become apparent this team has been built to dominate on the glass. Last year head coach Dwane Casey was often frustrated by his team’s inability to finish off a strong defensive stand with the rebound, so president and general manager Masai Ujiri made the moves necessary to give his coach what he needed.

Dwane Casey why at 905

“Bismack (Biyombo) brings a lot. Jonas (Valanciunas) is doing a heck of a job on the boards. (Luis) Scola quietly is doing a heck of a job on the boards, he’s tough as nails in the paint and also DeMarre Carroll, he gets in there and bangs it up,” Casey explained. “We have added some good rebounders on our team.”

Good is something of an understatement, the Raptors have added superior rebounders at positions of need and they got a nice early season test of what to expect. Indiana, Boston and Milwaukee are supposed to be challenging for Toronto’s spot as a top four team in the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors handled them easily and dominated these early season challengers 49.7 to 37 on the glass.

Toronto has been undersized at starting small forward since the big Rudy Gay trade of two seasons ago and it was probably never completely fair to ask a very young and undersized Terrence Ross to try and keep the bevy of bigger and more experienced starting small forwards off the glass. The veteran presence of Carroll not only gives the Raptors a superior defender at his position, it gives them someone who can successfully fight for position to either box out his man or grab the rebound himself.

Through three games, Carroll is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game and grabbing 10 percent of the available defensive boards which is right around what should be expected. Last year Ross averaged 2.8 rebounds, but he is more effective than that now that he’s coming off the bench as a shooting guard.

In recent history Casey was forced to rely on Amir Johnson to play a lot of minutes at center and while Johnson was effective defensively, he was undersized and his rebounding rate of 13.3 percent last season was part of the reason Toronto all too often gave up second chance points. Ujiri addressed the need for a backup by signing Biyombo and the offensively challenged center hasn’t disappointed.

Biyombo is averaging 7 boards in 17 minutes off the bench as this energizer-bunny pulls in better than 20 percent of the available rebounds at both ends of the court. He still has issues finishing around the basket and his very high personal foul rate reminds one of a young Amir Johnson, but his physical aggressive play is effective and securing rebounds while Valanciunas gets a breather hasn’t been as big a concern.

It came as a surprise to some, but by starting Scola and Valanciunas together, this year’s version of the Raptors isn’t rebounding challenged any more. Valanciunas leads his team with 11 rebounds per game and Scola is second at 8. Both players are rebounding the heck out of the ball at the defensive end and not surprising to anyone that has followed Scola’s career, the big Argentine forward is pounding the offensive glass as well.

It’s early days, but Scola seems to be pushing the younger Valanciunas to be more active on the boards as anything Valanciunas doesn’t aggressively go after, Scola barrages in to take. This activity on the glass as a team was something that was missing last season, but it’s been there in spades so far this year.

Ujiri addressed an obvious team weakness this summer by bringing in players that could help Casey’s team finish off those defensive stands with the rebound and so far it’s been paying off. The Raptors have gone from 26th in rebounding last year to seventh currently and sport a league best +12.7 rebounding differential. It’s early and this team’s resolve on the boards will be tested during a couple of tough road trips in November, but if it’s real, rebounding effort is something that should travel well.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.







Carroll Joseph Scola

This Season’s Toronto Raptors Are Bigger, Better, Tougher

Without an All-Star free agent signing this summer, the Toronto Raptors have flown beneath the star-crossed vision of most NBA analysts heading into this season. However, president and general manager Masai Ujiri made his moves to once again to incrementally make his team bigger, better and tougher. No one is going to push around a Ujiri built team.

While the safe number to project the Raptors at in the Eastern Conference is fourth and a few truly star-blinded talking heads have them in sixth, this team has improved on the roster that won a franchise record 49 games last season. It is very reasonable to set this year’s expectations higher and if one is optimistic, much higher.

Put those “the Eastern Conference is better” comments in perspective. Those same words are spoken every year and the NBA just doesn’t do that. Old players got older, new players still have to learn the game and the cycle continues.

Last season the Raptors starting lineup consisted of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. This year, the Atlanta Hawks starting small forward DeMarre Carroll replaces Ross in the starting unit and the very durable Luis Scola replaces the often hurt Johnson.

The Raptors upgrade at starting small forward alone should be enough to raise expectations for this team. Carroll is the big physical small forward head coach Dwane Casey has been begging for these past two seasons. The junkyard dog, three-point shooter and defensive glue-guy of the Hawks represents a major upgrade.


“I am going to come out and be the Junkyard Dog,” Carroll said.  “I actually told Demar that now you don’t have to fight with those big guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant no more. You can just go out there and take this team to the promised land.”

Toronto gave Patrick Patterson every opportunity to become the stretch-four in their starting unit, but in the end it was the Amir Johnson-like play of Luis Scola that won over Casey. The good news is Scola has always been a far superior rebounder to Johnson and one of the Raptors biggest holes last season was an inability to secure the defensive boards. With both Valanciunas and Scola under the rim, those days of the starting unit getting killed on the glass should be over.


“I like what Scola brought, similar to what Amir brought last year,” Casey said. “He is a team defender. A smart defender. He is is where he is supposed to be. He knows the system. He knows the rotations. I don’t know if you would call him a defensive stopper or a defensive juggernaut, but it is not going to be easy. He is not going to make life easy for the offensive player.”

It doesn’t hurt that Scola may be the first player on the Raptors in a while who is truly comfortable in the post, knowing when to take advantage of smaller defenders and being a willing passer out of a double team or simply to a teammate who is in a better position to score.

“Luis has been playing the game forever,” Bismack Biyombo said. “He has the experience. He has a better knowledge of the game than I do and a lot of do in this room. Also, Luis passes the ball a lot more than shoots, so I love him for that.”

While Johnson was deservedly a fan favorite and did more for the team’s public relations off the court than anyone else – period, he was equally well known for his bad ankles. Johnson played large portions of every season through injuries that hobbled his abilities at both ends of the court. Scola, on the other hand, has been an NBA iron-man. It seems like he’s never hurt.

Ujiri’s moves this summer didn’t just benefit the starting unit. The reserves got a boost as well.

Cory Joseph has made his reputation as a gritty defensive-oriented point guard. While no one should complain about last year’s backup Greivis Vasquez’s effort or positive vibe, no one is lauding his defensive prowess either. Joseph simply fits the way Casey wants his team to play better.

It doesn’t hurt that Joseph comes from the NBA Champion Spurs program and started 33 games for the Spurs over the past two seasons or the fact he is a Canadian either.


“On the Spurs nobody gets anything handed to you,” Joseph said. “It helped me a lot. I’ve had to work for everything that I’ve got.”

It seems everyone has been impressed with what Biyombo has been able to show with the Raptors thus far. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, Toronto didn’t really have a backup center last season and a true rim protector who can set screens and rebound effectively has been a missing ingredient for a while.


“I think his offensive rebounding is elite, blocking shots he’s elite, defensive rebounding is going to get better and as a defensive player, he is really a solid defender,” Ujiri said. “We needed more physicality with our team, a screen-setter, a roller, somebody that will always challenge and put a body on guys and that’s what Biyombo does.”

Biyombo is the typical NBA big man who was drafted too young and only just started figuring things out towards the end of his rookie contract. Ujiri knew what Biyombo could do, however, and the Bobcats free agent was his very first call once the July Moratorium ended – even before he called Carroll.

Biyombo is still young, but he does things the Raptors couldn’t do last year and is someone they desperately needed to have on their bench.

One other move that should pay off for Ujiri was the move he didn’t make. Ross wasn’t shipped out of town after a sub par third season, rather, Ross was moved to the bench where he can continue firing up his effective three-point shot and hopefully develop some of the other aspects of his game against other teams’ second unit guys. With Joseph and Biyombo coming off the bench as defensive players, Casey will need the offensive firepower of Ross and Patterson and they should have big years. At the very least, that expiring contract should light a fire under Ross.

From the moment he arrived in Toronto Ujiri wanted to change the culture and the image of the Toronto Raptors. His team wouldn’t be known as soft and it’s a reputation he has been steadily chipping away at. This year’s additions of Carroll, Scola, Joseph and Biyombo are yet another step in that plan to become bigger, better and tougher. The Air Canada Centre has stopped being a place other teams expect to get an easy win or find a soft opponent and expectations are on the rise.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

The Best NBA Free Agent Bargain Was Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Toronto Raptors President and General Manager Masai Ujiri didn’t waste any time going after the free agents he wanted for his team this summer and his first call at three minutes past midnight after the July moratorium ended was to Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo and Ujiri go way back and the 22-year-old center was excited about the opportunity to join his mentor in Toronto.

“I have known Masai for a while,” Biyombo said. “Right after 12, it was like 12:03, I got a phone call from Masai.

“Obviously Masai has been a guy that has done a lot for Africa and us as young African players, we always look up to him as our mentor. The influence was already there. I was just excited about working with him and looking for an opportunity to play for Coach Casey and obviously the team is a great team and I am excited to be part of it.”

Biyombo quickly agreed to sign for the Raptors available Room Exception of $2.8 million with a player option for the following year and wait quietly on the sidelines until Ujiri was done signing all of his other free agent deals that fit under the salary cap.

Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders still can’t wrap his head around how Ujiri convinced Biyombo to sign under such favorable terms, but in basketball, as in life, relationships matter and Ujiri’s long term efforts in supporting African basketball paid off.

Biyombo and the Raptors agreed to terms on a contract very early in free agency, yet I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It just doesn’t make sense that Toronto was able to get the 22-year-old big man for just $2,814,000 this season.

This is an absolute steal for Masai Ujiri. He has been a good rim protector and that alone is worth what Toronto is paying him.

This was one of my favorite contracts of the summer since it’s a low-risk, high-reward move that could really pay off for Toronto.

Biyombo is still a developing player, especially at the offensive end of the court. However, he has elite level rebounding and shot blocking skills and those were two of the Raptors top priorities this summer.

“I think his offensive rebounding is elite, blocking shots he’s elite, defensive rebounding is going to get better and as a defensive player, he is really a solid defender,” Ujiri said. “We needed more physicality with our team, a screen-setter, a roller, somebody that will always challenge and put a body on guys and that’s what Biyombo does. I think he has one of the longest wingspans in the NBA, so he can create havoc especially rebounding and he gets in there.”

After being drafted seventh overall as an 18-year-old expectations were high for this very raw basketball big man, however, in hindsight  he may be the perfect complement to the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas who went a couple of spots higher in the same draft class as illustrated by Draft Express in 2011.

The 2nd best big man in this class some teams’ eyes, Bismack Biyombo, sits on the opposite side of the spectrum of Valanciunas. Where the big Lithuanian’s efficiency shines through playing a very specific role, Biyombo was clearly still learning the offensive game last season, though he managed to fare well in certain areas.

Biyombo only started to feel comfortable on offense in his fourth NBA season and he believes people are going to be surprised when they see what he can bring to the court now.

“I am really starting to get comfortable (offensively),” Biyombo said. “The game slowed down for me so much you know exactly where to be, how to set a perfect screen for a teammate to get open, how to position yourself to get the ball the right way. I am pretty sure people will be surprised because I still have a lot to show.”

With a player this young, the surprise would be if Biyombo didn’t continue to make significant strides in what he can do on the court for several more seasons. Thus Kennedy’s head scratching about the contract the Raptors signed him to.

This summer, crazy contracts were handed out left and right (Aron Baynes inked a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Detroit Pistons!), but Biyombo will make less than $3 million this season.

Biyombo is in Toronto because he wants to be there. It’s obvious he trusts Ujiri and he believes the experience of playing for his mentor will help his NBA career. It would be hard to argue with him on that front. Biyombo is the long, athletic, rim protecting big man the Raptors have been missing and he’ll get his chance to prove what he can do under Coach Casey. This best bargain contract could easily work out to the benefit of both the player and the team.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.