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.