On July 10, Al Jefferson officially signed with the Charlotte Bobcats. Now, this acquisition could mean a few things. It could mean that the Bobcats will see an increase in paint offense, where they were sorely lacking last year (they were ranked 24th in points in the paint). It could mean that the Bobcats have finally acquired a top-flight superstar whom they can build their team around. But it, along with the acquisition of first-round draft pick Cody Zeller, could also mean a reduction in playing time for young big man Bismack Biyombo. While this may not be a significant story in the NBA, it is a significant story in regards to Biyombo’s play time and can potentially give some direction to what a “bust” really is in the NBA.
Biyombo leaped into cultural relevance due to his breakout performance at the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit, where he registered a triple-double (12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks) in the World vs. USA game. This performance propelled him to be a lottery pick, where he was selected 7th overall in the 2011 draft at just 18 years old. Through two years in the NBA, he has played a modest 25.5 minutes per game and has shown promise, particularly on the boards, averaging 6.6 rebounds through his first two years. However, with the arrival of Jefferson, Biyombo may see his playing time severely cut. After all, there are only so many minutes to share, and Jefferson, Biyombo, Zeller and Byron Mullens all are competing for playing time. A cut in playing time could lead to a lack in progression and reduced numbers for Biyombo, taking his career to the doldrums and leading to him potentially being branded as a “bust.”
But why? For the simple fact that he’s not producing big numbers as a top draft pick. But being an extremely raw player coming into the league, he needs playing time to develop. Thus, the only real problem Biyombo has is that he is on a team that drafted Zeller and acquired Jefferson.
One of the most infamous busts in the modern era is Darko Milicic, a.k.a. “the human victory cigar” for his reputation of only entering a game when it was clearly in hand. Taken 2nd overall in the 2003 NBA Draft ahead of future NBA superstars Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, Milicic was immediately buried in Detroit’s depth chart behind veterans Ben and Rasheed Wallace, Elden Campbell and Mehmet Okur. As a result, Milicic saw very little playing time while in Detroit – he only averaged of 4.4 minutes during his stint there. At this point in his career, Milicic was already branded as a bust – but why? Because he seemed like he wasn’t producing up to where he was supposed to. Sure, he wasn’t developing into a NBA superstar like Anthony, but he also didn’t get to play for 36.5 minutes per game in his rookie season like Anthony did. Milicic himself once even stated, “I’ve said it 10,000 times, the best way for me to improve is to play. All the practice and individual workouts can only help so much.”
My point is not to try to say that the Jefferson pickup was a mistake, nor that Biyombo is a superstar. My point is that if Biyombo does not continue to get a sufficient amount of playing time due to the addition of Jefferson, Biyombo may fade out of relevance from the game. If this does happen, I want people to say “man, Biyombo really got screwed over, he never got a chance to develop” rather than “Biyombo? What a bust. Can’t believe he was a lottery pick”.
Because not even LeBron James can be an MVP playing only 25 minutes a game.