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Blogcat's Take, 12/21

Alright, so we’ve won two in a row, but let’s not go crazy. Let’s not even go mildly quirky. The 76ers had so many comical turnovers that spectators in the first 5 rows of their arena should be wearing smocks like they’re at a Gallagher show. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz missed a TON of threes. They finished 8-of-31 from distance, and in many cases the Hornets were just standing there as if Utah was shooting free-throws—those suckers were wide open. The Hornets remain deeply fragile, even at home, where their most attractive feature is probably their flooring.

So I’ve asked myself, is there ANYONE on this team who is actually better than they were last year? And the answer to this question is yes, but it’s the most negative “yes” possible. The answer is Bismack Biyombo. I know, I know, this is a dude who didn’t even play in the first 6 games, and about whom coach Clifford said in November needs to improve his “effort, defense, and rebounding.” I remember shuddering when I read that article, because those were honestly the only good qualities that I thought Biz had. And he’s still playing just 14.0 minutes per game, up all the way from 13.9 last season. I told you this was going to be a negative yes.

But here’s the thing. Biz’s PER is a 17.8, which is technically better than Kemba Walker’s 17.6! Obviously Biyombo is not better than Walker as a player in 2014, but he’s better than Bismack Biyombo in 2013, who registered just a 13.3, and that’s why Biz is the answer to the question of who’s improved on this team. If you look up and especially down the Hornets roster, nobody else has made such a dramatic year-over-year improvement in their game. The blocks are a chunk of it, as Biyombo is up year-over-year on his already high block rate: 6.3% to 7.7%. But the #1 chunkiest chocolaty-iest factor to Biz’s improvement has been his offensive rebounding rate, which has increased from 11.0% last year to 17.7% this year. To give you context, that’s the best in the league among those who’ve played at least 200 minutes so far, which is a basic filter for “anyone you’ve ever heard of.” It’s ahead of Tristan Thompson and Tyson Chandler, and it’s shot Biyombo to the top of the overall rebounding percentage leaderboard. Biz’s 22.4% total rebounding percentage trails only DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins. But he was always a solid defensive rebounder; it’s those o-boards that have made Biyombo a threat this year for something besides stupid goaltending penalties and clumsy moving screens.

Now you might not give a flying rat’s ass about any of this, or perhaps even a stationary rat’s ass. Because the fact is that Biyombo still has the ballhandling skills of an enraged chimpanzee. Watching him try to perform low-post moves is like watching a high school bully trying to flush a struggling nerd’s head down the toilet. But even here there’s been improvement, as Biyombo is getting fouled on an impressive 92% of his field goal attempts, and with a usage rate that has increased from 9.6% last year to 13.2% this year, it slowly starts to add up. On a per 36-min basis, Biyombo’s points have points have improved from 7.5 to 9.8. And if you’re still skeptical, as you should be, Biz is currently the totally unfathomable owner of the Hornets’ highest offensive rating: 109.0. How is this possible? Well, last night against Utah was a good example. Biz played about 18 minutes and scored 2 points. But he had two offensive rebounds, both of which led to second chance points (and one of which he put back for his one and only bucket). Biyombo also had 3 defensive boards, and two of those led to Hornets 3-pointers. Overall Charlotte was a +10 with Biz on the court and it’s basically because he dramatically increases our opportunities, either by giving us second chances on offense or preventing the other team from having them. I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Biyombo is a potent bench player in small doses.

This is all pretty watered down beer, I know. On an objective level, Biyombo is still deeply sub-average. His real plus-minus is -1.63 and ranks 55th among centers, and it’s even negative defensively. And on a subjective/aesthetic level, every time he gets the ball it’s the “is it safe?” scene in Marathon Man—absolutely excruciating to watch. But consider this: that real plus-minus last year was -4.01! You say you’d rather watch stray dogs get euthanized, I say...improvement! My hope and dream is that when I return to this theme in about 6 weeks, it’s because somebody more central to the cause has improved over last year. But for right now we’re just going to have swallow, grin, and deal with the fact that Bismack Biyombo is our MIP and it’s not even close. Congratulations and God help us.

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