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Winning early never hurts. The Charlotte Bobcats are 7-5, which makes the fans happier and makes it easier to sell a coach’s vision to his new players.
But when Mike Dunlap was hired in June, management was frank in telling the new coach that player development takes precedence above all else.
“People in our organization from the very top understand that,” Dunlap said recently. “We’re not in a rush” in pursuit of immediate gratification.
That applies to starting point guard Kemba Walker and power forward Byron Mullens, two guys who entered the season with unrealized potential. It might apply even more to Bismack Biyombo, the inexperienced but athletic big man the Bobcats selected seventh overall in the 2011 draft.
Biyombo missed Saturday’s game in Washington with a left leg contusion, so his status for tonight against the Thunder in Oklahoma City is uncertain. What’s definite is Dunlap’s commitment to finding Biyombo playing time and allowing the 20-year-old to play through some mistakes.
Biyombo entered the NBA as the youngest player in the league at that time. More importantly, his basketball background growing up in Africa was extremely limited. Rob Werdann, the big man coach on Paul Silas’s staff, literally had to teach Biyombo how best to catch the ball in traffic.
But Biyombo has big potential as a shotblocker-rebounder. He was central to the Bobcats holding off the Toronto Raptors, through five shot attempts at the end of a one-point victory. After that game Dunlap said he’ll find the minutes to help Biyombo reach his potential.
“He’s athletic, he’s powerful, he’s strong, and everybody needs patience with him,” Dunlap said. “When everybody jumps off the bandwagon, we’ll play him through the storm.”
That Dunlap would get this directive from the Bobcats’ front office is no surprise. Most of general manager Rich Cho’s NBA experience is with the Seattle organization that morphed into the Thunder. The Thunder philosophy was to draft youth and patiently let them develop together. That hatched the powerhouse that now features Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.
The hope is Biyombo can develop into the same impact defender Ibaka is with Oklahoma City. Sometimes that means correcting, sometimes it means letting him play through mistakes. Occasionally it means simplifying. It seemed for a while in the preseason the coaches so overloaded Biyombo with instruction that it robbed him of instinct. Instinctual defense is what Biyombo does best.
“We’ve taken some things away from Biz to relieve the pressure,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap said Biyombo and the other young players might see minutes fluctuate, but they won’t be disregarded.
“That’s just got to be the way it is,” Dunlap said. “We’ll always come back through the development guys.”