For the Bobcats, power forward was a position that exuded change and disappointment throughout the season. Tyrus Thomas underwhelmed consistently, D.J. White struggled with health problems. Bismack Biyombo slowly adjusted to the NBA game, and Eduardo Najera provided a welcome spark during the season's final chapter. After the jump, I'll discuss the ups and downs of each player's season and consider how they might figure into the Bobcats' future plans.
No Bobcat disappointed more than Thomas did in the 2011-2012 season. A year removed from an encouraging stretch cut short by injury, Thomas woefully underperformed in nearly every area. Thomas' per-36 minute numbers plummeted as he shot less than 37% from the field, rebounded at a significantly lower rate, and blocked less shots. Thomas regressed in almost every possible facet in 2011-2012 and finished with a 9.0 PER, less than half of the impressive 18.2 number he managed in 2010.
This precipitous drop in production can be attributed greatly to the apparent changes in the style of Thomas' game. Thomas became more reliant on low-percentage mid-range numbers and less willing to depend on his impressive athleticism, which was also sapped by injury and fatigue as the season progressed. The Bobcats' season is easily symbolized by the play of Thomas, something that'll hopefully change for the better in the coming years, as Thomas' contract isn't going away anytime soon. Grade: D-
The beginning of D.J. White's season was far more illustrious than its end. White's play was both encouraging and efficient to begin the season, but that soon fell away after he fell prey to an injury that would keep him sidelined for much of the same. White wasn't the same player upon his return, and his production and PER dived neatly in accordance with the rest of the Bobcats. Grade: C+
Any discussion of Bismack Biyombo as a power forward must begin with the fact that I don't believe he's best suited to be a power forward. My thoughts from an April blowout loss surmise my continued opinion on the subject:
Bismack Biyombo (4-11 FG, eight points, six rebounds) has shown promise this season, and often acquitted himself as the strong help defender and blocker that many expected him to be. He's also led the Bobcats in rebounding and been passable on offense for stretches. But where Biyombo currently has defensive limitations is in isolation situations. Biyombo's not yet strong enough to keep from being backed down by bigger centers and players, as was the case with DeMarcus Cousins tonight (11-21 FG, 29 points). Biyombo didn't do a terrible job guarding Cousins, and it's an area where he'll likely improve as he gets stronger, but it remains his greatest defensive issue. Because of Biyombo's lack of size compared to many other NBA centers, Coach Paul Silas has attempted to play Biyombo at power forward more often in recent games.
While this makes sense in terms of Biyombo's size, he's often moved away from the basket while guarding power forwards. This can cut down on Biyombo's opportunities to help close to the basket, and often negatively affects his offensive positioning. He simply doesn't have the offensive game to be effective away from the basket, and his opportunities become increasingly limited in these situations. The diverse offensive game of Cousins has troubled players league-wide this season, but the combination of his size and outside positioning was particularly difficult for Biyombo to defeat with any regularity. There are positives and negatives to both playing Biyombo at the power forward and center, but it's my belief that he's currently able to have a bigger impact on the game while at center, where he's able to flourish in help defense and act as the dominant rebounder. Essentially, Biyombo is worse in isolation defense at center and better on offense.
There can be no doubt that Biyombo struggled mightily on offense as a power forward (his post moves had some amount of effectiveness when he played center), largely due to his ineffectiveness with the ball when greatly distanced from the rim. Though he's able to play better isolation defense against smaller players at the power forward, the frequency of his help defense and general defensive effectiveness loses luster. While neither the center or power forward position is currently quite right for Biyombo, the added strength of another offseason could work wonders for his ability to guard centers in isolation. That transition is much more attainable than one that would make Biyombo a viable PF option on offense, and is thus preferable in my mind.
All the same, Biyombo fought through a typical rookie mix of struggles and flashes of brilliance, watered down somewhat by the lack of coherence and structure around him. Power Forward: C+; Overall: B
Though I was initially irritated by Najera's insertion into the lineup upon his return from injury, he soon became one of the few Bobcats I genuinely enjoyed watching. Najera's effort cannot be questioned, and he made a few jumpers to boot. On a historically bad team, that's better than what you'd expect. Still, a 9.3 PER and 37.5% shooting is pretty rough. Grade: C+