Projecting Bismack Biyombo

Bismack Biyombo


6'9" (7'7" wingspan), 240lbs

18 years old (this analysis assumes this is true)



Bismack Biyombo moved from 1st round curiousity to upper-echelon prospect in one night by putting on a show against the best incoming freshman in the US. Biyombo recorded the Nike Hoop Summit's first ever tripple-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 blocks. He also impressed scouts in attendence with his high energy defense and absurd athleticism, both in the game and in the training-camp leading up to it. If you are yet to watch the highlights of this performance, you are missing out.

One game however, does not a prospect make. We need to look deeper into his success accross the pond, and put that together with his obvious physical tools to identify what level of prospect we are looking at. Bismack doesn't have enough of a track-record to make many certain pronouncements about his future, but we can at least narrow the range of what he "is" and "isn't".

NBA Projection:

I am treating Bismack as a defense-oriented center in this analysis. Some would question labeling a guy who is under 6'8" barefoot an NBA center, but Bismack has some freakish qualities that allow it. Bismack's 7'7" wingspan gives him the biggest arm-height differential in DraftExpress's database. He has a standing reach of 9'3", which places his effective height in the same range as Andrew Bogut and Dwight Howard. Remember, you neither block nor rebound with your head. You also rarely do either from the ground. This is where Biyombo's freakish leaping ability comes into play. If Ben Wallace can be an all-star defensive center at more than an inch shorter with a 7'2" wingspan, I think I can safely slot Bismack Biyombo into that position.

Biyombo has played 238 minutes over 14 games in the ACB. Not a great sample, but more information than can be gleaned from his NHS display of awesomeness. Let's see what his numbers in the second best league in the world say about his potential.

The real highlight here is Biyombo's block rate. Bismack is putting up 5.4 blocks/40min in the ACB. To put that in perspective, the next best rate in the ACB this year is 3.4 and the 4th best is 2.4. Bismack's closest competitor is only getting 62% of his blocks and after Fran Vasquez at 3rd, nobody else in the ACB is getting close to half as many blocks as Biyombo. Bismack could only go back on defense half of the time and still be a top 3 shot-blocker. This isn't an especially weak year either. Look at the ACB block leaders of the past three years: 09/10 2.9, 08/09 2.9, 07/08 3.4. Biyombo has been really good at blocking shots.

We shouldn't be suprised if Biyombo's blocking prowess carries-over to the NBA either. Blocks translate from the NCAA to NBA better than any other statistic (r^2=0.93 [3]). The best shot-blocker in college, will, in all likelihood, be the best shot-blocker (of his cohort) in the NBA. I don't know the R^2 for ACB to NBA, but I would be surprised if it is much smaller.

Block rates in the NBA and ACB are pretty similar. The top rate is ussually somwhere between 3-4 blocks per 40 minutes. Dikembe Mutombo recorded 4.9 blocks/40min in his best season, and averaged 3.6 for his career. 5.4 blocks per 40min in the ACB is really really good. Small sample size is a concern, but I feel comfortable projecting Biyombo as one of the best shot-blockers in the NBA (assuming he can stay on the court).

Biyombo is also the fourth best rebounder in the ACB at 11.9 per 40 (projected 12.6 per 36 in NBA via Hollinger's euro translation [4]). Even more impressively, he has the 2nd best free throw/shot attempt rate in the ACB at 0.82. If only he could shoot those free throws at better than 55.3%... Biyombo fairs really well in the composite metrics as well. He was top 20 in the ACB for both WS/40 and PER. Top 20 in the second best league in the world at 18 is no meager accomplishment. This is what we know about Bismack Biyombo. How do these numbers compare to similar players, and how have they faired?

The initial skepticism with Biyombo is ..."yeah, we've seen this before and it didn't pan out." We remember the over-hyped, big, quick, leaping center that got picked early and never left the bench. But is this reaction fair to Bismack?

It is tempting to lump Bismack with past underwhelming mysteries from the dark continent, but we need to update this bias with the fact that we have some real hard evidence of Bismack's ability, as well as some of these other players' inablity. We don't need to rely purely on tall-tales and speculation in the internet age. Going down the list, we can put Biyombo above many of these guys pretty quickly. Some like Cheik Samb were complete unknowns on draft day, others like the under-sized Stephane Lasme have clear physical defficiencies, and still others like Solomon Alabi, Hamady N'Diaye, Kene Obi and John Reik are less-productive relatively known quanitities. There is a reason these guys didn't go in the 1st round.

So what about the guys that did go in the 1st round? How does Biyombo compare to the more highly-touted great African hypes? Namely, the most recent incarnations of this trope Johan Petro (#24), Saer Sene (#7), Hasheem Thabeet (#2) and (non-African) Larry Sanders (#16).

Johan Petro, was never hyped to be what Bismack is. Petro was a seven footer that could kind of run and had a soft touch around the basket. More in keeping with our annual euro-big-busts than "the next Mutombo". He was quick "for his size" but not freakish. He played soft, failed to collect rebounds and blocks due to timing and awareness issues, and preffered the Darko hook to attacking the rim. We had a pretty long record on Petro in the French leauges and while he didn't look terrible, he never looked like what we have seen from Bismack.

The gushing over Sene's physical profile back in 2006 was much more akin to the Bismack hype. Huge, quick, hard-worker, freakish wingspan, potenial, potential, potential... Hell, he even dominated the 2006 Nike Hoop Summit (though not to the same degree as Biyombo). However, at the same stage Bismack is putting that potential to use in Spain, Sene was struggling in the inferior Belgian leagues. In fact, Bismack is already putting up much better numbers in Spain than the 24 year old Sene is in the French leagues. Sene is a good comp, but Biyombo has a stronger track-record and looks to be the better prospect.

Thabeet and Sanders look to be the two comps on my list that merit a closer examination. Thabeet isn't the best Biyombo comp in terms of physical profile or style. However, Bismack and Thabeet are very similar in terms of the production they bring to a team. Larry Sanders is a much better physcial comp to Biyombo. He has a 9'4" reach that is mostly arms and good athleticism, but is about 20lbs lighter than Bismack.

reb/40 blks/40 Stls/40 TO/pos Asts/pos PF/40 pnts/40 TS% FTA/FA

Biyombo (ACB) 11.9 5.4 0.8 0.25 0.04 4.7 15 56 0.82

Thabeet (NCAA) 10.4 6.2 0.3 0.25 0.06 4.3 10.1 55 0.95

Sanders (NCAA) 12.4 7.2 0.8 0.16 0.03 6.8 4.9 50 0.54

Thabeet and Sanders as a freshman. Neither Thabeet nor Sanders reached those block numbers again. Thabeet stayed above 5/40min the next 2 years, while Sanders dropped to around 4.

Unfortunately, I don't know exactly how NCAA and Euro stats translate, so take most of the following comparison with a grain of salt. The ACB is definitely the more difficult league. It looks like fouls, blocks, and rebounds come quite a bit easier in the NCAA, but I would love to know exactly how much easier. At the very least, we can say that these three have a similar patterning to their production. They all have really high block rates, although neither Thabeet nor Sanders were as dominant as Biyombo relative to their league-mates. Biyombo is also the best rebounder, assuming that rebounds come easier in the NCAA. Biyombo and Thabeet turn the ball over at a Milicician rate while Sanders was mearly Tolliveresque. Thabeet and Biyombo managed to get fouled constantly while returning the favor. Sanders gave out trips to the charity stripe like few others, but didn't keep nearly as many for himself.

Biyombo does look like the best prospect of the three, but I can't say by how much without a better understanding of how ACB/NCAA stats compare. However, these guys still offer a useful comparison. Thabeet in particular. I say this because I think that Thabeet's NBA career represents Biyombo's most likely route to failure. Thabeet rebounded OK (Biyombo should be better here) and was an excellent shot-blocker as soon as he stepped on the court in the NBA. Unfortunately, Thabeet also had ridiculously high foul and turn-over rates (7.3/40min, and 0.33/poss), and struggled hard with the nuances of the game. These problems were bad enough to send him to the D-league even though he was the #2 pick and a dominant shot-blocker. He was just too much of a liability out on the floor. We had similar issues with Pek last season. Pek is a very different player than Biyombo, but Pek's troubles with fouls and turnovers really neutralized his positive attributes. Expect the same from Biyombo early in his career. If Biyombo fails, this is how it will happen. There are lots of guys that can block shots and rebound (see Mickel Gladness' 06/07 8.6blks 10.4rbs/40min NCAA season). They don't make it in the NBA because they can't do anything else right.

So what about the more optimistic comps people have proposed? What about recent success story and fellow Congolesse big, Serge Ibaka. Both Ibaka and Biyombo are muscular, long-armed, relatively short-bodied bigs. While Biyombo looks to be a little bigger (about 20 lbs) and has slightly more freakish arms, they are pretty similar physically. Both players are lauded for their quickness, hustle and work-ethic. Another benefit of the Ibaka comp is that both played in the ACB as teens, finally allowing us a reliable statistical comparison.

reb/40 blks/40 Stls/40 TO/pos Asts/pos PF/40 pnts/40 TS% FTA/FA

Biyombo (ACB) 11.9 5.4 0.8 0.25 0.04 4.7 15 56 0.82

Ibaka (ACB) 11.2 2.5 0.7 0.14 0.03 4.0 17.7 58 0.25

During Ibaka's season with Ricoh Manresa, he approached Biyombo's rebound rate (11.2 vs. 11.9), but was far behind Bismack's block (2.6 vs. 5.4) and free-throw rates (.25 vs. .82). They were similarly productive on offense, and deemed very"raw" technically by scouts. Ibaka's case is also interesting because his stats transfered pretty consistently from the ACB to the NBA.

reb/40 blks/40 Stls/40 TO/pos Asts/pos PF/40 pnts/40 TS% FTA/FA

Ibaka (ACB) 11.2 2.5 0.7 0.14 0.03 4.0 17.7 58 0.25

Ibaka (NBA) 12 2.9 0.8 0.2 0.03 5.9 13.8 56 0.25

It seems a bit lazy to pick a recent Congolesse big as the best comp for Bismack. However, Ibaka really does look like a great fit, both in terms of physical profile and statistical production. In fact, if Biyombo's block rate isn't just small sample size theatre, Ibaka may undersell Biyombo as a prospect (at least defensively).

Can you really project someone as similar to the best per-minute shot-blocker in the NBA, but with considerably better shot-blocking? Serge Ibaka led the NBA in blocks last year with 3.6/40min. That is only 2/3rd of the blocks Biyombo is collecting in the ACB. If I could throw out Biyombo's small sample size problem, I would be willing to bet real money he leads the league in blocks per minute next year. Unfortunately, the small sample size problem might be a very real problem.

I've also heard people make the much more optimistic comparison to Dwight Howard. Seeing Biyombo's physical profile, especially after watching him destroy the rim in that NHS game, Dwight Howard does come to mind. He is a bit shorter than Howard, but thanks to Biyombo's crazy arms, Howard only has a .5" longer standing reach. Physically, Biyombo really does seem to be cut from a similar cloth as the best center in the league. Scouts also claim that Biyombo has the intelligence, work-ethic, and motor that a player needs to translate that frame into a successful career. So then why was Howard a lock at #1 and Biyombo isn't? It isn't like we had a better statistical track record on Howard. 14 games in the ACB is worth more to me than a lifetime of devouring high-school players, and while Biyombo's ACB dominance was very... "task-specific", combined with his NHS performance it speaks highly of his potential. The biggest difference between Biyombo and Howard circa 2004 comes from their respective ball-skills. Howard was viewed by scouts as a quality ball-handler with nice footwork in the post and a knack for passing out of trouble. None of these fit the current profile on Biyombo. In fact Biyombo receives pretty much the opposite comments from scouts.


"Offensive game is as raw as it gets and a long ways from being effective at the NBA level ... Basic fundamentals and technique are way behind, and may never catch up ... Footwork and offensive skills are basically non-existent... His jumpshot is more of a set shot and doesn't have a clean release" [2]

These are the things that make Howard great in the NBA and it will take a pretty steep developmental trajectory for Biyombo to ever reach that level. Howard is far too optimistic of a comp to seriously consider at this point.

Final player-comparison verdict:

Thabeet/Sanders <--------> a bigger stronger Serge Ibaka


Of the top prospects, Biyombo, assuming he can develop basic NBA skills, is the best fit for the Wolves. Bismack is pretty raw, and shouldn't be starting his first year in the league. However, the Wolves currently receive the worst production from the center position in the NBA (Millicic WP48=-0.096 and Pekovic Wp48=-0.094, [5]). Darko and Pek cannot see significant minutes if we hope to crawl out of the cellar. Bismack might not set the world on fire next year, but he may be an upgrade over our current line-up. Giving Biyombo time will be especially tolerable given that he projects as the perfect front-court compliment to Kevin Love.

Defensively Biyombo does everything that Love doesn't. He gets out on the perimiter, has the reach to combat any center in the league, collects blocks as a help defender, and is praised as a vocal leader on the defensive end. Offensively, Biyombo will be an oop target, a foul magnet, and will hang-out near the basket throwing down dunks and collecting boards.

Off the court Biyombo seems to be a high-character guy and has a nice smile. Apparently Bismack even lists Kevins Garnett and Love as his favorite NBA players.


With Biyombo's physical tools and demonstrated competence in the key areas he will be asked to perform (defense, rebounding, and efficiency near the basket --via getting to the line) he projects as a good role-player, with potential to be a uniquely dominant defensive presence. I think people often underestimate how difficult it is for a young-adult to acquire the basic skills necessary to participate at the NBA level. Many players in the past have failed to do so, even those widely regarded as "hard-workers". If Biyombo can pick-up these skills he will immediately be a "good" NBA player, whether he can become great will depend on how legitimate claims about his intelligence, basketball-sense, and work-ethic prove to be.


1. Draft Express (

2. (

3. Basketball-Statistics (

4. Hollinger: Rating the European Prospects (

5. Wages of Wins (