With the 2023 NBA Draft now officially behind us, our focus has turned to free agency. For the New Orleans Pelicans, they spent the draft addressing one of their biggest weaknesses (shooting) by drafting Jordan Hawkins and signing undrafted rookie Landers Nolley II.
Given how important shooting is in today’s game, they will likely continue to add snipers in free agency. However, their recent acquisitions have made it possible for them to prioritize one of their other roster deficiencies: rim protection. Last season, the Pelicans were dead-last in opponent rim accuracy (per Cleaning the Glass).
Since a bulk of rim protection is provided by big men, New Orleans will probably be looking at centers/power forwards when seeking to fortify this area in free agency. They will also need to make sure that this player is someone that they can get with their bi-annual exception or full mid-level exception.
One big that could potentially be in their price range is Bismack Biyombo. But the question now becomes: is Biyombo a good rim protector?
To answer this question, let’s look at the three statistics we identified in our last post that we can use to measure a player’s rim protection prowess.
1. Block Percentage (BLK%)
So yeah, Bismack Biyombo is kind of a human fly-swatter. According to Cleaning the Glass, his block percentage (BLK%) placed in the 100th percentile for his position. And in every season of his twelve-year career except for one (2019-20), he’s ranked in the 82nd percentile or higher in this category. Holy blocks.
2. DIFF (inside of six feet)
In 2022-23, opponents shot 14.3% lower than expected (aka “DIFF”) on shots contested by Biyombo inside of six feet of the rim (per NBA.com). That DIFF score ranked second in the entire league among players who played at least 45 games last year, trailing only former Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) Giannis Antetokounmpo (who had a DIFF of -16.7%). What makes this mark even more impressive is that, unlike Antetokounmpo (who often had Brook Lopez playing next to him), Biyombo posted that DIFF percentage without normally having a second rim protector flanking him.
3. On/Off Opponent Rim Frequency
Despite his monster individual rim protection numbers, it doesn’t seem like he’s a great deterrent inside. Last season, he ranked in the 56th percentile in on/off opponent rim frequency (per Cleaning the Glass). The year before that, he was in the 63rd percentile. The year before that, he was in the 70th percentile. These are respectable marks, but far from the league’s best in the practice.
Overall, while his contributions don’t make him a DPOY candidate, he is a very good rim protector, especially at that price point. He’s incredibly limited on offense (hence why he’s not in super high demand). But the Pelicans should be able to mitigate the damage he does on that end by playing him alongside their star-studded cast of offensive players (Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, etc.). With all this in mind, I think it would be a great idea for New Orleans to pursue Biyombo in free agency.