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Lakers Free Agency: Should the Lakers pursue Bismack Biyombo?

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Los Angeles should go all-in on the youth movement and fill their hole in the middle with this former lottery pick.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Lakers LinkedIn, our new free agency preview series (inspired by our friends over at Liberty Ballers' own "Sixers Tinder") where we look at the "resumes" of various free agents, and determine whether or not we think the Lakers' should hire them. The Lakers desperately need a center, so today we're looking at one of the op names on the market, Bismack Biyombo.

Bismack Biyombo's Resume:

  • 6'9, 245 pound, center
  • Seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft
  • First recorded triple-double at the Nike Hoops Summit (12 PTS, 11 REB, 10 BLK)
  • 9.0 PTS, 13.0 REB, 2.6 BLK per 36 min in 2015-16

A few months ago, Bismack Biyombo looked to be headed down the path of several former lottery picks who couldn’t quite meet the expectation of their draft status. Biyombo had spent an unremarkable four years in Charlotte after being acquired in a draft-day trade from the Sacramento Kings, posting a negative plus-minus each year. He particularly fell out of favor with the Hornets once Steve Clifford was hired and Al Jefferson was acquired, as his minutes dwindled below his rookie averages. Biyombo was even miscast as a power forward for the majority of his minutes (59 percent) in Clifford’s first year, all of which led to Charlotte electing not to offer him a small $4.05 million qualifying offer and make him a restricted free agent last summer.

Biyombo couldn’t find a real market for his services and signed a two-year, $6 million deal with Toronto, with a player option for year two. He had another unspectacular season with the Raptors as a backup to Jonas Valanciunas – a center who was taken two spots before him in the 2011 draft.

But when Valanciunas went down in the playoffs, the league got to see once more why Biyombo, who will turn 24 this summer, was valued so highly when he first entered the league. In the Eastern Conference finals, there was Biyombo – a supposedly washed up lottery pick – repeatedly meeting some of the best players in the world at the rim, and getting the better of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving more than once. He even busted out the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag for good measure.

All of a sudden, Biyombo was having a coming out party for the whole league to witness, and one that may be too expensive for Toronto to keep paying for. A center who signed for near the minimum last year now hits the open market again playing the best basketball of his career, capable of cashing in upwards of eight figures annually due to the cap spike.

Although it would be unwise to laud Biyombo for a well-timed stretch of good basketball in front of a national TV audience, a closer look indicates that this level of play isn’t exactly unprecedented for the former seventh overall pick.

In the last three years, Biyombo has been one of the best defensive centers in terms of field goal percentage allowed at the rim. According to stats available at NBA.com, Biyombo led the league among qualified players in 2013-14 by allowing opposing players to shoot 39.2% at the rim. In 2014-15, that jumped to 49.1%, still well below the league average. This past season, opponents shot 45.2% at the rim with Biyombo on the floor, which puts him in the range of respected rim protectors such as Serge Ibaka and Andrew Bogut.

In the playoffs, though he was responsible for more highlight-worthy plays, Biyombo produced at similar levels to his regular season rates, just over the course of more playing time. His per-36 minute averages in the regular season and postseason were near identical – 8.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. Therefore, it’s reasonable to believe that the defensive potential Biyombo displayed during the 2016 playoffs is sustainable, and that he’s capable of getting even better, given how young he is.

On the other end of the floor, however, Biyombo’s star doesn’t shine quite as brightly. As his defensive instincts are, Biyombo's offensive feel is correspondingly miserable. He finds himself in the wrong places on the court, he has butter fingers with the ball, and he doesn’t have great touch around the basket. If fans are hoping for a dynamic pick-and-roll big man to partner with D’Angelo Russell, this is not the guy. For years, Biyombo’s teammates have been loath to even pass him the ball. Deadspin calculated that he spent an average of 3.9 minutes between touches in the 2013-14 season. That number has cut in half since, but FiveThirtyEight still noted that he was the fifth least likely player to be passed the ball this season.

Nevertheless, Biyombo at least seems to recognize his limitations on offense. He has taken over 60 percent of his shots at the rim during his career, where he shoots about 64 percent. He also has a remarkably low usage rate: 11.2% for his career and 11.5% last season. He still managed to commit 28 offensive fouls last season, which ranks him 20th in the league despite his significantly below average usage, but centers are disproportionately charged with more offensive fouls (DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, and Hassan Whiteside, among others, all finished ahead of Biyombo on that tally).

Should the Lakers hire him? Absolutely. With Brandon Ingram now in the fold, the Lakers’ primary need is at center. Although there are plenty of centers on the market, a low-usage big who can concentrate on defense and rebounding while leaving the offensive creation to the talented young backcourt seems like an ideal fit. Biyombo may never be a dominant defensive center due to his size limitations, but he plays hard and has a statistical profile that suggests he will at least be good, which is far better than what Los Angeles has been working with the last few years.

Biyombo isn’t yet proven as a full-time starter, but he has done a good enough job in spot starts and as an injury replacement in the Raptors’ postseason run to earn the benefit of the doubt. Like the rest of the Lakers' core, he is young and capable of developing with the rest of the team, even on offense, where he can’t be worse than Roy Hibbert.

If the Lakers can sign Biyombo for $15 million per year over 3-4 years, that would solidify their starting lineup for the future and still leave the team enough cap room to pursue a max-level free agent. At his age and that price, such a deal would be a definite win.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.