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Michael Rosenberg: Stop comparing Bismack Biyombo to Ben Wallace

In his latest column, Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press perfectly expressed something that has always drove me nuts:

Who will it be? Well, Biyombo is the hot name — everybody compares him to Ben Wallace. This would scare me if I were a general manager. I am sick of every athletic big dude who can’t really shoot getting compared to Ben Wallace. I’ve heard that description for everybody from Tyrus Thomas to Jason Maxiell to Biyombo. It’s an insult to Big Ben. It makes me wonder if people realize why he was such a great player.

If all it took to be “another Ben Wallace” was athleticism and energy, every team would have a Ben Wallace. What made him special was that he had a rare combination of skills and was a truly brilliant defensive player. He could harass point guards coming across half-court, blow up a pick-and-roll, guard the best centers in the league in the post and grab rebounds away from taller players — sometimes on the same possession.

If Biyombo can do all that, then by all means the Pistons should take him. But if he is just a shot-blocker and rebounder who can’t shoot … well, sorry, but I don’t think that is worthy of a top-10 pick.

Read this line again — “If all it took to be “another Ben Wallace” was athleticism and energy, every team would have a Ben Wallace.” That’s fantastic. Wallace is truly one of the best, most impactful players of this era. He was the single biggest reason the Pistons won a championship in 2004, but because he wasn’t a scorer that impact is often overlooked. And Rosenberg is right — the NBA is filled with players who are as athletic or big or skilled as Wallace. But the NBA is not filled with big men who defend like he could. There’s a reason for that: defense is not simply about effort, as it is often portrayed. Defense is a distinct skillset that requires not only physical tools, but arguably more intelligence, instincts and ability to react than offense does. It is something that must be developed, worked on, perfected, etc., just like a player would work on post moves or a jump shot.

Biyombo has unquestionable physical tools, and I like that he seemingly has a willingness to learn. But to have anywhere near the impact on defense Ben Wallace had in his career, Biyombo will have to prove that he has the head to match the impressive physical feats he’s capable of. If the Pistons draft him, I hope he proves just that. But it often takes several seasons to develop and learn how to be a dominant defensive player, and it’s generally pretty hard to pick out guys who have that knack in the draft. After wall, Wallace himself wasn’t even drafted.

10 Comments

  • Jun 20, 20111:31 pm
    by RandomGuy313

    Reply

    I think the comparison is warranted in the sense that both players are decidedly one dimensional. The comparison between Biyombo and Big Ben are closer than Biyombo and Serge Ibaka as Ibaka at least is developing a 15 footer.

  • Jun 20, 20111:42 pm
    by Fennis

    Reply

    PH, come on, man. A comparison is merely a projection. Kyrie Irving has been compared to Chris Paul. Is he Chris Paul? No. Is he likely to be Chris Paul? No. But if you want to get a handle on the style of NBA play you should expect from a guy, you find someone in the NBA with a similar game.
     
    That said, I think the Ben Wallace comparisons are more than reasonable. Biyombo is not just some wildly athletic low IQ knucklehead (which is what Rosenberg’s poorly researched column suggests). From what I can tell (and from the scattered reports online) the guy has a high BB IQ and is “skilled” defensively. He avoids fouls, blocks shots with either hand, plays the pick and roll well, and seems to finish at the rim better than what I’ve seen from Big Ben.
     
    And when is the last time a lottery player was compared to Ben Wallace?! It almost never happens, which suggests to me that this guy has special talents that warrant the comparison.
     
    Another thing: just because there’s a fan consensus around this guy doesn’t mean the fans are wrong. Yes, group think lead to poor judgment, but sometimes the group is exactly right. Sometimes the hype is warranted.

    • Jun 20, 20112:19 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Oh, I get why we make comparisons. And honestly, I don’t think Rosenberg knows much of anything about this year’s draft prospects. But the concept he was touching on — that people assume defense in itself isn’t a skill but rather just a matter of going out and playing hard — is one that has long annoyed me. Wallace is the epitome of that — despite his dominance, how many people outside of Detroit still treat him as basically a hustle player? In reality, he was among the most skilled players in the league at what he did.

      I’m not saying fans are wrong to want Biyombo. I’ve never said they’re wrong. My point has always been that I hope that that hype doesn’t translate into immediate expectations for him to be some dominant defensive force. He has a lot to learn. And Detroit fans have had a tendency in a couple of cases to drink the Kool-Aid on young players. Amir Johnson? Rodney Stuckey? Austin Daye? All of those guys have had very vocal proponents over the years who insisted that they’re destined for stardom. Someone in the comments here frequently compares Daye to Kevin Durant.

      I always just try and keep my expectations tempered. There are very good indicators that Biyombo would be a worthwhile investment, but you can’t deny that the hype on this kid who no one knew a thing about four months ago is a bit out of hand right now.

      • Jun 20, 20114:34 pm
        by jprime18

        Reply

        I’m one to admit that I seem to expect too much from the young players. I always try to remind myself to give a player 3 years.

        Remember, Gary Payton was thought of as a bust for his first 2 years.

  • Jun 20, 20111:47 pm
    by Fennis

    Reply

    Re Ibaka –
     
    That’s a comparison that’s overblown. Biyombo is 25 pounds heavier than Ibaka was at the same stage and can play center (an important fact that adds considerably to BB’s value). Also, if you look at Ibaka’s profile on DraftExpress, scouts were concerned about his passion for the game and his ability/desire to bang down low. If you think passion and interior play are concerns for BB you haven’t seen the guy play.
     
    Again, although I’m a big BB supporter, I think Kemba Walker is going to be a star. I think it’s reasonable to take Walker over BB, perhaps even prudent. Still, I’d be a bit disappointed.

    • Jun 20, 20113:12 pm
      by RandomGuy313

      Reply

      I would counter that no one has really seen Biyombo…but I digress.
       
      Whether it Biyombo or Kemba I would be happy, my preference is Kemba as Biyombo will need someone to get him baskets and Stuckey is not the PG to do it

      • Jun 20, 20113:48 pm
        by tarsier

        Reply

        Just as long as it’s not Vesely. The man is pretty much Jerebko. Which would be great with a lte first rounder, but not mid-lottery.

  • Jun 20, 20112:14 pm
    by Ryan

    Reply

    Patrick is absoultely correct here.  Well, Rosenberg too

    And, THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER BEN WALLACE.  KNOW THIS.

  • Jun 20, 20113:04 pm
    by Aaron

    Reply

    When talking about players in a draft, there’s a tendency to typecast players to their maximum potential.  I don’t think anyone was saying that Biyombo IS Ben Wallace.  I’m saying that they think, at his maximum level, that he might become Ben Wallace.  That actually tempers expectations and allows coaches to emphasize certain skills with a player.
    I mean, there are some pretty wild comparisons.  For example, Truehoop (where I linked from) recently published a thing on Jimmer Fredette which said he could be Steve Nash.  STEVE NASH!

  • Jun 20, 20118:34 pm
    by vic

    Reply

    i think if Rosenberg had done any research he would see why Biyombo is compared to ben wallace. he’s not just an athlete, its his intangibles that are the most exciting part of him: intelligence, intensity, vocal leadership, etc…
     
    if he was just a high jumping shot blocker no one would be comparing him to Ben wallace. there’s lots of shot blockers out there. No one consistently compared Javale McGee or Theo Ratliff to Ben Wallace,
    Biyombo just shows a rare defensive talent and mindset that basketball minds appreciate. Kemba will be a star too, but i’d take Biyombo over Kemba, because good point guards seem to be dropping from the sky nowadays. Defensive stars are few and far between…. oh and it happens to be our biggest need, and we ranked dead last in all the categories Bismack dominates in.

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