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Suns pivot to Bismack Biyombo for back line protection

Biyombo will likely be signed on a hardship deal, but could stay longer term

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Charlotte Hornets Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

More than 100 players have been signed to 10-day hardship deals over the past month to replace active NBA players who contracted COVID.

None of those players were Bismack Biyombo, a veteran part-time starter who stands 6’9” with a 7’6” wingspan who went unsigned this past offseason. Still just 29, you would think Biyombo would get a deal before the likes of Paris Bass or dozens of other guys who have dipped a toe into the league’s player pool the past month.

Until now, that is.

Late Friday night, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a firework on Suns fans heads with the news that the Phoenix Suns are targeting Biyombo not only for a 10-day hardship deal but possible much longer.

The Suns today made the signing official.

You might remember Biyombo as one of those 2016 free agent windfall centers who benefitted from the salary cap jump. In five seasons before that fateful summer, the 23-year old Biyombo had never even sniffed 10 points or 10 rebounds per game, but was offered a 4-year $72 million deal ($17 million per year) that summer on the hopes he would be a defensive anchor for a playoff team in Orlando. He was good defensively, but never lived up to the contract.

Biyombo’s career averages remain at 5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 20.2 minutes per game. He is a good defender in the paint but not great on perimeter/switching defense. Basically, he’s very similar to JaVale McGee in that regard, and the Suns know how to make JaVale look good.

He went unsigned this past offseason mostly because of his old-school center style, and likely decided to hold out this year for a deal more than the league minimum when some team got desperate.

Now the Suns will have a pair of big men backing up starter Deandre Ayton who can protect the paint on one end and force the opponent to pack it in on the other. Biyombo averages two offensive rebounds per game for his career.

The beauty of the hardship deal is that the Suns now get 10 days to see if Biyombo is a clean fit before committing longer term.

For now, you can expect Biyombo to get minutes with the 21 year old Jalen Smith at center until Ayton and/or McGee recover from COVID and return from H/S protocols.

If Biyombo shows promise in the system, they could give him their last roster spot to keep him longer-term and could even offer Biyombo more than the league minimum for the rest of the year because they still have $4.5 million available of the mid-level exception. That last note is likely why Biyombo chose the Suns for his hardship ‘tryout’. He’d certainly rather play for more than league minimum in a winning organization.

This looks like a win-win situation for the Suns — a relatively free tryout of a guy who could be a great tertiary option when McGee or Ayton sit out, get into foul trouble or have bad games.

What this means for the rest of the Suns centers

Well, for one thing, I don’t think this means anything for Ayton and McGee. They are solid as options one and two at center.

I do think it means the Suns do not expect Frank Kaminsky (stress reaction in knee) or Dario Saric (ACL recovery) back any time soon.

That leaves 21-year old Jalen Smith as the only player available who might be negatively affected (unless you also count Ish Wainright).

The players nicknamed ‘Stix’ for his skinny legs has shown promise this week as an NBA player in general, averaging 15/10/1 in 27 minutes over the last three games! But he is not physically or mentally ready to be the back line protector and coverage-caller in the Suns scheme, and the Suns defense suffers terribly if the center cannot control traffic. The Suns have the league’s 2nd best defense this year, but have fallen to 21st over the past 3 games since Ayton went out with COVID.

On the good side, Smith has definitely shown he can play NBA basketball. He’s quick, aggressive and has a nose for the ball. Those 15 points, 10 rebounds and a block a game over three games are no joke. They are against real NBA competition this time — not just summer league or preseason. That makes him more marketable to another team that doesn’t require their center to run the show and their forwards to switch constantly on the perimeter. His stock has definitely gone up around the league as a young prospect.

If Biyombo works out as third center, the Suns now have even more freedom to move Smith for another big wing who can reprise the Torrey Craig role as 4th wing in a Crowder/Bridges/CamJo rotation.

Stay tuned, Suns fans. If Biyombo signs and looks good, the Suns will be able to tinker to make their roster stronger than ever.