Another day, another game. That’s how the Phoenix Suns current starting center, Bismack Biyombo, has been treating his recent appointment.
Just another day, back in the NBA.
“Nothing changed for me,” Biyombo said after his first start of the season in last Wednesday’s road victory over the Jazz. “I’ve always played the same way.”
“Just gotta be aggressive.”
Last night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs saw the ten-year veteran play in his third consecutive start. Following injuries to Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee, Biyombo has slid into the starting lineup nicely and the Suns have hardly missed a step offensively. Phoenix won in his first two starts, and that continued against the Spurs, as their 115-110 victory pushed the team’s winning streak to 10 games won in a row.
Looking at his numbers, it’s easy to see what Biyombo meant. His performance has gone up with the increased playtime, but even before the appointment, Biyombo was putting up impressive stats.
Starter vs. Reserve
|B. Biyombo (Starter)||3||3||0||26.9||12||4.7||9||51.9||4||5.7||9.7||0.7||1||0.3||1||3||0.7|
|B. Biyombo (Reserve)||9||9||0||21.4||10.8||4.4||6.3||70.2||3.2||4.3||7.6||1.3||0.9||0.8||1.2||2.2||9.2|
The starting position is nothing new for the 29-year-old center. In his 714 games played in the NBA, Biyombo has started 310 of those games, as well as receiving 11 starts in 23 playoff games. So despite only joining the Suns less than a month ago on a ten-day contract, it seems quite natural for Biyombo to quickly adapt to his new surroundings.
With McGee only just returning to action for the Suns last night, and Ayton still inching his way back to full health, Biyombo should continue to start, as his pick-and-roll chemistry with Chris Paul and Devin Booker has been evident and effective. But once Ayton returns and stabilizes his fitness, will Biyombo be able to carve out playing time for himself? And will those minutes be there for him in the playoffs?
Considering the skill sets of the Suns’ big men and the teams’ recent results, it’s clear that Biyombo has earned himself a role with a specific purpose: to energize the game. Biyombo has the ability on both sides of the court to electrify the crowd and his team. From big jams to big boards to big blocks, Biyombo knows exactly how to play big. While McGee certainly brings some of that energy with his game, Biyombo’s brute strength is a skill set no center on the Suns' roster has.
Biyombo’s limitations offensively are clear, as his game revolves solely around rolling hard, crashing the glass, and finishing at the rim. But at only 6’8”, Biyombo can struggle to contribute offensively against some of the elite defensive big men in the league and if the opposition can keep him off the glass, he can be a liability.
Defensively, Biyombo’s strength and leaping ability make him a high-quality post defender and rim protector off the bench. But his lack of lateral quickness and comfort defending on the perimeter can make him vulnerable to smaller lineups.
The Suns saw this come to life in Sunday’s game against the Spurs. As the game wore on, San Antonio emplored more and more guard-heavy lineups and eventually utilized lineups with no recognizable center in the second half (no, Doug McDermott doesn’t count).
The Suns struggled to counter with Biyombo on the court, who finished the game with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes but was a -10 on the night, his first game in the negative as a Sun. But his contributions to the team, including six offensive rebounds, in less than half a game, illustrate his value.
Having a center option like Biyombo will be key for the Suns going forward. Coach Monty Williams will need options to support Ayton down the stretch and come playoffs. Biyombo’s strength and offensive capabilities give him the edge against many other backup bigs in the league, and he can bruise with best when Ayton needs his rest. The key for Williams will be in finding the right matchups for Biyombo to maximize his capabilities.
Biyombo may struggle against smaller, quicker lineups, but the Suns are more than capable of matching up with small lineups of their own. The Spurs learned this lesson last night, despite the Suns missing a key small-ball option in Jae Crowder.
Instead, Ish Wainright stepped into the role of small-ball center and played the entire fourth quarter. The Suns outscored the Spurs 36-19 in the fourth, flipping a 12-point deficit heading into the final quarter, and secured the team’s 10th consecutive victory, their second 10+ game winning streak of the season.
Biyombo and the Suns will look to continue their winning ways on Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets, with tip-off shortly after 8 p.m. MST on TNT.