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Can the Wolves sign Biyombo? Should they try?

Free agency, low usage centers, and Bismack Biyombo

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Well. There certainly wasn't any time wasted in free agency this year. In the first day alone, 31 players signed contracts worth more than $1,000,000,000 !!!!! in total. (But remember, of course, the owners are broke%%%)

Unfortunately the Timberwolves have basically no ability to participate in free agency this year (or perhaps, fortunately, depending on how scarred you still are from last year's summer anxiety festival). The salary cap for this season will come in between $67-69 million. As it stands right now, the Wolves have just over $57 million in committed salary. They still need to sign Karl Towns and Tyus Jones to their rookie deals, which will add another $7 million or so in salary. And then, of course, Kevin Garnett is expected to sign a new deal soon, which will almost certainly push the Wolves above the salary cap.

The Wolves also won't have the Mid-Level Exception either, as that's expected to be entirely used to sign Nemanja Bjelica (as it should be)

So to generate any cap space, the Wolves will have to deal out players and take basically no salary back in return. That's not impossible - Brendan Haywood's $10 million unguaranteed contract is still out there, for example - but it's certainly not any easy deal to make. The players the Wolves would most likely deal are Anthony Bennett (who they're actively shopping already) and Chase Budinger (who they've been trying to move basically the entire season). Again, money out/no money in isn't an easy deal to put together, but if - IF - the Wolves can move either one under that circumstance, they could open up about $5 million to use in free agency. More than enough to make a cost-efficient signing, if you know where to look.

The name that intrigues me is Bismack Biyombo, who was released into unrestricted free agency by the Hornets.

You may remember that Biyombo was a Hoopus favorite in his draft year, particularly with Nate. Biz had a tremendous showing in the Nike Hoops Summit before the draft that year, and earned bonus points when he said he idolized the way Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love play the game.

Hakeem Olajuwon, this is my favorite player. But there are two others I idolize in the way they play the game. Kevin Garnett — I like the way he wants to win every game. Every time he's on the floor, he plays intense and plays hard. When he's not on the floor, you can see the team missing him. On the other hand is Kevin Love. Some of the time people say, "You're crazy man. Why you're taking about Kevin Love? The reason why I say Kevin Love is that I love him, I love the way he plays the game. He's smart; he knows where to be to get the rebound. He's the best guy at grabbing the rebound over anyone. Watching him, that makes me learn something.

The low usage, defensive-minded center is an ideal archetype for the NBA today, because he contributes to winning on one end of the floor and basically gets out of his teammates' way on the other end. So you can run a high usage guard and a couple of big scorers out on offense and not have to worry about the center slowing things down or demanding shots. If the center can also contribute offensively by helping to move the ball, catching lobs, or crashing the offensive glass, then even better.

As Nate pointed out again just this year, it's a format that's proven successful.

This past season alone, you saw this lineup format everywhere - CP3/Griffin/DeAndre Jordan, Lillard/Aldridge/Robin Lopez, Ellis/Parsons/Dirk/Chandler, Rose/Butler/Noah, and of course, Curry/Klay/Dray/Bogut. To a large extent, even Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard have transitioned into this, as they cede usage to Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden. It drills all the way down to Nate's idea back in 2011 to throw money at DeAndre, which yes, we should have done. Rubio/Love/Jordan. That would have worked great.

Biyombo's also held up his end of the bargain, despite a situation that very arguably was holding him back. The Hornets are, of course, built around Al Jefferson in the low post. Biyombo made a good compliment to Big Al on defense, as mobile defender and great shot blocker, but the modern NBA demands a shooter at one of the big positions, and neither Al nor Biz have much shooting range - thus why the Hornets have gone with a pair of shooting bigs in Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky.

Even so, Biyombo has steadily improved each year, to the point that he's now thoroughly a plus player (despite glaring limitations on offense) and is on the verge of becoming a real difference-maker defensively.

PER Offensive Win Shares Defensive Win Shares Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
2011 - 2012 10.6 -0.5 1.1 92 107 -6.5
2012 - 2013 10.1 0.1 1.3 98 109 -3.7
2013 - 2014 13.3 1.1 2.1 115 99 1.0
2014 - 2015 15.2 1.8 2.2 115 98 1.5

Biyombo ranked 17th in blocks per game, despite playing only 20 minutes a night. He was top 25 in defensive rebounding % and total rebounding %, and second in blocks %. He ranked 11th in defensive rating (just behind Marc Gasol) and 13th in defensive box +/- (just behind Anthony Davis). Per 36 minutes, he averaged 12 rebounds and 3 blocks per game, and the Hornets were 2.8 points better on defense with him on the court.He's become the player the Wolves were/are hoping Gorgui will become, but that I am having serious doubts about now. Dieng turned into a guy who needed the ball to be effective last season. That's high usage, not low usage. The Wolves can't really facilitate that long term, with Towns.

Biz also reeled off a few amazing, honest-to-goodness, real time games last season, like his 12 point, 15 rebound, 5 block game against the Spurs that resulted in one of Pops' snarkiest pressers all year.

Now, Biz has some real problems on offense. His free throw shooting is very much a work in progress - his career high set last season was just 58% - and he has almost no shooting range. He also, perhaps most worryingly, has bad hands. He struggles to catch bullet passes and lobs on the move, limiting even his pick-and-roll ability, which is where most bigs of his type get their easy buckets. He's improved at this a great deal since being drafted, but he's unlikely to ever be a mega-lob target like Chandler, Jordan, or Andre Drummond. Still, despite his limitations, he was basically a wash for the Hornets on offense: +0.8 on court/off court on offense last year.

But again, his value is on defense, and the idea of Biyombo being the low usage defense guy in a Rubio/Wiggins/Towns lineup is intriguing, I think. At the very least, the four of them would be a nightmare defensively. A year or two from now, 36 minutes of Towns and Biz alone could be like 25 rebounds and 6-7 blocks a game, just the two of them. He's a hard worker and fierce competitor, and a player who's still very much getting better.

We'll see where the market on him lands. It's likely he becomes a plan C or D target for the teams that strike out on DeAndre and Robin Lopez. But if his price tag comes in around the $4-5 mil/year range I expect, that's a good bargain in my opinion. It's worth creating the cap space to pursue that before the dust settles elsewhere, particularly considering the Wolves intend to deal a couple players out anyway. A two year, $10 million contract for Biz is a low risk, potentially high reward deal that would be a good use of any cap space the Wolves might generate.