It's not particularly fair to say it's been a long journey, but it certainly is safe to say that the development of Charlotte Bobcats center/power forward Bismack Biyombo has been slow and highly anticipated.
He was, after all, drafted No. 7 overall in 2011 by the 'Cats (by way of the Sacramento Kings).
Most people see that tag and expect immediate night-in and night-out double-doubles for such a high pick, but Biz should be counted as an exception.
Biyombo was drafted at 18 years of age and played his entire rookie season at the fresh, young age of 19. He was the youngest player in the NBA for the 2011-12 season. Perhaps even more importantly is the fact that Biyombo, who grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had only been seriously playing basketball since 16.
Yes, that's right... Biyombo was the seventh pick in the draft at 18 years old after only playing two professional seasons in Spain. It was clear during combines and workouts that his ability to actually play basketball was well up in the air, and that any team that drafted him would be taking an enormous risk and no doubt investing in a massive project for the future.
So, why was he drafted so high?
Pure size, athleticism and drive. Biz is an absolute physical freak. Though his stature of 6'9" is about average for a PF, and even undersized at center (C being where Biyombo spends most of his time), it was his wingspan and leaping abilities that opened eyes.
Lengthy arms spread wide open, his wingspan measures in at a ridiculous 7'6". Add that to his high motor and strong leaping abilities, and teams drooled over the prospects of him becoming an elite shot-blocker and rebounder.
Scoring and ball-handling? Well, even as I type these words, those are still works in progress, though the fruits of his unending labor are certainly starting to show dividends.
Teammates have said time and time again that Biz is regularly the last one to leave practice due to his own desire to get better, and it was reported that he literally had to do repetitious drills with the coaching staff on just catching balls in the paint. He entered this league young and was, quite possibly, one of the rawest offensive prospects of all time.
He showed glimpses of what he could be last year, but he still looked lost, and many of his offensive mistakes left fans completely befuddled.
All anyone saw was the seventh overall pick, not a 19-year-old who was still very much learning the game.
I write this with caution, because he has done this before...put on great performances, only to disappear for a month before teasing us again. But after Monday night's game against the New York Knicks, he has posted three double-doubles in five games and has collected double-digit rebounds in four out of five.
Over this five-game stretch, Biyombo has also blocked 15 shots, including five against the Brooklyn Nets on April 6. He is coming off what is arguably the best month of his career so far.
On April 13, Biz absolutely dominated the paint against the Milwaukee Bucks. His physicality in the paint earned him a tied career high in rebounds at 17. He also scored 13 points and played solid defense, swiping away two shots, though his presence in the paint was felt beyond just two blocks.
He is ending the season with a bang, and having him clog up the paint is undeniably helping the Bobcats win, or at the very least, stay close in games.
Biz is compared favorably to players like Serge Ibaka and Joakim Noah. Guys who make a living by blocking shots, rebounding and recording low-scoring double-doubles.
If he can continue at this rate—and believe me, he will not be taking a break this summer—we could see him average close to a double-double with two to three blocks per game if given starting minutes.
He's not making (too many) boneheaded, rookie mistakes anymore. He has become a better passer, and he's choosing better shots. He's finishing at the rim, and he knows when not to go for a basket and when to slam one in. He's boxing out and using his length and athleticism to shove opposing players out of the way of rebounds.
In short, he is figuring out his role on this team.
So, that begs the question... If he shows up for the 2013-14 season ready to average 8-10 points per game, 10-12 rebounds per game and 2-3 blocks per game, why draft Nerlens Noel?
It's not really on topic with the point of this article, but it certainly is a question that should be asked. Sure, Biyombo still has a ways to go before becoming the dominant lottery pick he was meant to be, but drafting an injured Noel, who is also a massive project on the offensive end, almost seems redundant.
Sure, a lockdown defensive frontcourt consisting of Biz and Noel would be a block party on the defensive end (providing Noel isn't plagued by injures and is able to bulk up), but Noel is going to be the same type of player as Biz—a high-rebounding, low-scoring, defensive C/PF.
If the Bobcats get a top-two pick and Noel is available, is it worth the risk of drafting another project, defensive-minded big man?
I don't have the definitive answer for you, and neither does anyone else. There is no consensus No. 1 overall pick, and I've seen draft boards that have Noel dropping all the way to fifth.
But when I make my postseason big board (which I'm currently working on), I'm saying no to the Bobcats drafting him. It just doesn't make sense to me.
Sure, there is the chance that Noel, who is still young himself at 18, could blossom and become a force on the offensive end, and he has a very high motor for such a big guy, but I just don't think it's worth the risk.
It looks like we might be emerging from the project stage with Biyombo, so I don't really want to enter another one with Noel. Especially if Biyombo can continue to play like he has the past few weeks.
Regardless, I'm glad to see Biz coming around, and I really hope his strong finish to the season will silence the critics who have called him a bust, because he's really starting to show the value the Bobcats saw when they took him seventh overall.