Bismack Biyombo, after losing starting job and nearly half his minutes, happily helping Hornets

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BOSTON – If you want to get Bismack Biyombo to light up, talk to him about going from a starter in 2012-13 to a reserve with his playing time nearly halved in 2013-14.

“It’s actually one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Biyombo said.

Biyombo watched the game from a different perspective. He learned to appreciate just being in the NBA. And he read more.

One of the books he picked up, on a recommendation from Ronny Turiaf, was “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.” Biyombo said a key theme was exposing a cycle of passive learning.

“Kids growing up the way they grow up, it’s just the same thing over and over. There’s no changes,” Biyombo said. “They don’t let you make mistakes in life, to find out yourself what life is about. They tell you to listen to old people, because they know better than you, but you don’t know any better. You never learn to know better.

“As we grow up, we go to school. They tell us this is a pen, and you know it’s a pen. But nobody lets you find out that it is a pen. Nobody lets you find out that a cell phone is a cell phone. They’ve got to tell you this is a cell phone. So, it’s over and over, generation after generation.”

After generations of basketball thinkers viewing the game similarly, we’re in a new era of analysis with advanced stats and easily accessible video. The NBA is more curious than ever.

Biyombo could benefit more than most.

At face value, Biyombo – the No. 7 pick in the 2011 draft – is a bust. A good indicator is the amount of faith his own team has in him, and Charlotte gave Biyombo just 13.9 minutes per game last season and 16.3 so far this season, his fourth. Most players drafted so high get every opportunity to succeed and develop, but Biyombo has not engendered more playing time.

Since the NBA instituted rookie-scale contracts, the only players drafted so highly to play fewer than 20 minutes per game in both their third and fourth seasons (or what would have been if not dropped sooner) of their rookie deals were: Jan Vesely, Ekpe Udoh, Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Greg Oden, Adam Morrison, Shelden Williams, Jay Williams, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Dajuan Wagner, DerMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm and Robert Traylor. Whether due to poor play, injury or both, players in this situation rarely go onto lengthy NBA careers.

Can Biyombo buck the trend?

This is where the NBA’s evolving methods of analysis come in.

Biyombo leads the Hornets – a 15-24 team that has been outscored by 115 points this season – with a plus-minus of +52.

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Before Charlotte beat the Knicks by 28 in its last game – pushing its win streak to five games, all with Biyombo starting for an injured Al Jefferson – Biyombo was the team’s only rotation player with a positive plus-minus.

“He’s very bright,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “The reason why his plus-minus is so good is he does what we do. He knows what’s supposed to happen, and he actually helps other guys play, too.”

Biyombo strengths and weaknesses each fall on extreme ends of the spectrum. Of the 251 players who have played as much as him this season, Biyombo ranks:

  • 2nd in block percentage (behind Rudy Gobert)
  • 7th in rebounding percentage (behind Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler, Omer Asik, DeMarcus Cousins and Zach Randolph)
  • 11th in field-goal percentage (behind Brandan Wright, DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler, Rudy Gobert, Ed Davis, James Johnson, Tyler Zeller, Mason Plumlee, Dwight Howard and Amir Johnson)
  • 240th in free-throw percentage (ahead of Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Andre Roberson, Elfrid Payton, Nerlens Noel, Mason Plumlee, Dwight Howard, Miles Plumlee and Larry Sanders)
  • 246th in usage percentage (ahead of Andre Roberson,Miles Plumlee,DeAndre Jordan,Joe Ingles andJason Thompson)
  • 236th in turnover percentage (ahead of Kendrick Perkins, Shabazz Napier, Rajon Rondo, Samuel Dalembert, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston, Zach LaVine, Elfrid Payton, Steve Blake,  Joe Ingles, Michael Carter-Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni and Evan Turner)
  • 251st in assist percentage

Essentially, Biyombo makes the most of his 7-foot-6 wingspan and impressive athleticism where he can. Anything that involves him skillfully using hands becomes more troublesome.

He does little things – setting good screens and rotating properly defensively are two Clifford pointed out – that don’t show up in the box score. When I watched him play, I noticed him frequently moving back and forth from one side of the paint to the other to avoid clogging any driving lanes. That energy helps, considering Biyombo – who has never made a shot beyond 17 feet in his career – can’t space the floor traditionally. I’m not saying Biyombo’s plus-minus makes him Charlotte’s best player or even good, but it’s a number that should encourage closer inspection of his game.

Perhaps, Biyombo is bound to fill a limited role the rest of his career. The right team could certainly put him in position to succeed with these skills.

But don’t completely discount the possibility of Biyombo developing into a more well-rounded player.

He’s still just 22, the second-youngest player in his draft class (behind only No. 46 pick Davis Bertans, who has yet to play in the NBA and whose rights are held by the Spurs). In fact, Biyombo is younger than a third of the players selected in the most recent draft, including first rounders Doug McDermott, Adreian Payne, Mitch McGary, Shabazz Napier, Bogdan Bogdanovic, C.J. Wilcox and Josh Huestis.

Heck, it’s even possible Biyombo tries to make that next step in Charlotte. But it seems unlikely with Jefferson around. Neither shoot well enough to space the floor, and they’ve yet to share the court since Jefferson joined the team.

The Hornets can extend Biyombo a qualifying offer this summer to make him a free agent. That’ll cost them $4,045,894 – or, if Biyombo somehow plays 2,000 minutes or starts 41 times this season, $5,194,227. Really, Biyombo continuing to play such a limited role – he’ll surely return to the bench once Jefferson gets healthy – might help him next offseason. The qualifying offer, which Charlotte is more likely to extend if it’s lower, wouldn’t be a bad salary for the big man.

Until then, he seems happy in his current situation.

Another book Biyombo read last season was “La Buena Suerte.” A theme of that one, written in Spanish (Biyombo speaks five languages), as described by Biyombo:

“Make your own luck,” Biyombo said. “Go after what you want. Know what you want, and do what you really want. And obviously, when you’re finished, whatever you’ve done, don’t have any regrets.”

Biyombo said he wants to play basketball as long as he can and win an NBA title. How long will he last in the league? Will he help a contender?

It really depends what teams see for themselves when they look at Biyombo.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

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Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.

Annual GM survey predicts Bucks vs. Warriors Finals, Doncic MVP

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The NBA’s annual GM survey is more of a snapshot of the conventional wisdom around the league than a good predictive tool — last season the GMs overwhelmingly picked the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Durant as MVP. Didn’t exactly work out that way.

Still, it’s an interesting view into where things stand — and where it stands is a Bucks vs. Warriors NBA Finals. When asked who would win the NBA title, 43% predicted the Bucks, 25% the Warriors, 21% the Clippers and 11% the Celtics (a number that unquestionably fell since the news of Ime Udoka’s suspension came out).

Here’s how the GMs see the top six in each conference, courtesy of Jon Schuhmann and NBA.com who did the survey:

EAST
1. Bucks
2. Celtics
3. 76ers
4. Nets
5. Heat
6. Cavaliers

WEST
1. Clippers
2. Warriors
3. Suns
4. Nuggets
5. Grizzlies
6-T: Mavericks and Timberwolves

Here are some other highlights from the survey:

• Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP and the choice of the GMs, with 48% of them picking the Dallas star to win the award. Second was Giannis Antetokounmpo (34%) followed by Joel Embiid (14%).

• But ask GMs if they were starting a franchise today and could sign anyone, and they take Antetokounmpo (55%) over Doncic (45%). Those are the only two names on the list.

• Asked the player most likely to have a breakout season and the Cavaliers Evan Mobley led the way with 21% of the vote, followed by Cade Cunningham and Anthony Edwards tied for second (17%).

• The most athletic player in the league? The GMs voted for Ja Morant (38%) over Antetokounmpo (31%) and Anthony Edwards (24%).

• When asked which team had the best offseason, 41% of the GMs picked the Cavaliers, with Donovan Mitchell being named the player changing teams who would have the biggest impact this season.

• The most underrated offseason pickup: Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, according to the GMs (28%).

• Most surprising move of the offseason for the GMs was Rudy Gobert to Cleveland (47% of the vote), but Mitchell to the Cavaliers was a close second (43%).

Paolo Banchero is the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year (79%).

• Antetokounmpo was voted the best defensive player in the NBA (45%), with Draymond Green a distant second (24%).

• Gobert, however, was the runaway winner of the best interior defender (83%).

• Best coach in the NBA? Erik Spoelstra led the way with 52% of the vote, followed by Steve Kerr at 22%. The Clippers’ Tyronne Lue, however, won the vote for best in-game adjustments by a coach.

• The Toronto Raptors were voted the team with the best home court advantage (21%), with Boston and Denver tied for second (17%).