Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri sees Bismack Biyombo as key part of roster transformation

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Raptors GM Masai Ujiri spent this summer transforming the Raptors roster — he went out and got some defense. That starts with adding DeMarre Carroll, who brings a needed lock-down guy on the perimeter to Toronto. But there were other moves, such as adding Corey Joseph, drafting Delon Wright, while letting guys like Lou Williams walk.

Then they added a big man and rim protector Bismack Biyombo to the roster. He will back up Jonas Valanciunas, but Biyombo gives coach Dwane Casey a guy who thinks defense and rebounding first.

Ujiri knew who he wanted and targeted Biyambo early in free agency.

“My agent let me know the teams that would be calling me and right after 12, it was like 12:03, I got a phone call from Masai,” Biyombo recalled on a conference call on Thursday touting the NBA exhibition game in Africa Saturday. “So I was asking myself if he was going to talk to me about the summer camps (in Africa) and stuff, or if it was just going to be about basketball. We talked about how my family was doing more than we talked about basketball.”

But they did get around to hoops and how Biyombo could help Toronto. Ujiri wants energy and for Biyombo to come in and be physical inside.

“He’s trying to figure it out in many ways, what his niche and his specialty can be in the NBA,” Ujiri said on the same conference call. “But what he does well now is offensive rebounding. He’s elite, blocking shots, offensive rebounding he’s elite.

“Defensive rebounding I think he’s going to get better and then as a defensive player, he’s really a solid defender. We needed more physicality with our team, a screen-setter, a roller, somebody that will always challenge, put a body on guys and that’s what Biyombo does.”

He wants Biyombo to be the counterbalance to the offensive-minded Valanciunas.

Biyombo said he agreed pretty quickly to a two-year, $5.8 million deal with the Raptors in part because of his relationship with Ujiri. He also recognized the opportunity. While in Africa Biyombo said he has worked with Hakeem Olajuwon (also over for the exhibition game) on his post moves and his free throw shooting. The more offense he can provide to go with that defense, the more run Biyombo likely gets.

He’s been in the league four years, but Biyombo is just 22 — there is still a lot of room for him to grow his game. But if he can bring some defense in the paint to a Raptors team that fell to bottom 10 in the NBA in defense last season — and was torched by the Wizards in the first round — then he will get time on the court to show that offensive improvement off.