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Has Biyombo won minutes over Maxiell?

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Bismack Biyombo is back in the regular rotation. How has he played since his return and is this the end of Jason Maxiell?

Zeller, are you going to stop my man from scoring or will Biyombo do that?
Zeller, are you going to stop my man from scoring or will Biyombo do that?
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's note: This article was written before Wednesday's game against the Indiana Pacers, in which Bismack Biyombo played 13 minutes and had four points, seven rebounds, and one block.

After an eight-game vacation on the end of the bench, Bismack Biyombo finally returned to the regular rotation last week against the Phoenix Suns. Before that, coach Steve Clifford was using "big" man Jason Maxiell as the first center off the bench behind Al Jefferson. Having seen three games of Biyombo as the primary backup, is there enough evidence from the statistics, game tape, and lineup data to permanently #BringBackTheBiz?

The stats

Considering the Hornets' season is just 11 games young, the following statistics are subject to the small sample size disclaimer. Biyombo has appeared in just four games, while Maxiell has played in ten.

Looking at the traditional statistics, which are all based on performance per game, it is evident that despite playing almost the exact same minutes, Biyombo is having a much larger impact on the box score. In addition, Biyombo has been the more efficient (and prolific) shooter, both from the floor and the charity stripe.

If the per-game data is too noisy and considering each player has logged time in a few blow outs, here are the per 36 minute statistics for each player in the games where they came off the bench in the first quarter:

PTS OREB REB TOV BLK PF
Bismack Biyombo 13.2 8.1 16.2 1.5 2.9 4.4
Jason Maxiell 7.7 1.3 4 2 1 5.3

From an advanced statistics perspective, Biyombo has a clear advantage in every statistic except Defensive Rating (which measures the opponents points scored per 100 possessions while the player is on the floor). This would indicate that the team plays better defense when Maxiell is on the floor compared to Biyombo. However, making that conclusion from one statistic would be a lazy exercise. Instead let's dig deeper and consider the game tape and the lineup data.

Jumping to the tape

In his first game back as the primary backup to Al Jefferson, Biyombo had an incredible game against the Phoenix Suns. You might have heard about the double-double in just 14 minutes off the bench or maybe you watched him grab rebounds over 7-footers. However there were two possessions that really stuck out to me.

In this one possession, Biyombo did all of the following: stopped a fast break by speedster Eric Bledsoe (before the start of the video), prevented Bledsoe from taking his drive to the rim without over committing, rotated back to the middle of the paint to stop a shot from one of the Morris twins, and then rotated back to his man for a box out that successfully ended the play.

Just a few minutes after that play, Biyombo made a defensive rotation that completely saved Gary Neal and Brian Roberts from being featured in some sort of NBA version of the popular Monday Night Football segment dubbed "C'mon Man!".

Biyombo, who has received a lot of criticism for having low basketball IQ, showed a lot of defensive awareness on this play. First, he watched the pick and roll action happening on the other side of the court without losing sight of his man. Then, way before the pass is even made, Biyombo rotated to the spot where P.J. Tucker would receive the pass. The rotation was so well done that Tucker couldn't see the wide open Alex Len on the baseline and in a panic pulled up for a fall away jump shot, which Biyombo successfully contested without fouling.

The remainder of the game was more of the same for Biyombo, who received well deserved credit for being a large part of the team's victory.

The lineups

Lineups GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg REB%
Maxiell,Jason - Neal,Gary - Roberts,Brian - Stephenson,Lance - Zeller,Cody 7 19 102.7 56.5 46.3 64.7
Biyombo,Bismack - Neal,Gary - Roberts,Brian - Stephenson,Lance - Zeller,Cody 2 7 119 80.6 38.4 50
Hairston,PJ - Maxiell,Jason - Neal,Gary - Roberts,Brian - Zeller,Cody 5 25 118.5 122.5 -4 53.1
Biyombo,Bismack - Henderson,Gerald - Neal,Gary - Roberts,Brian - Zeller,Cody 2 9 107.3 118.8 -11.5 52.4

One reason coach Clifford may have been hesitant to pull Maxiell from the main rotation was that for the most part, the lineups that inlcuded Maxiell were playing well. The lineup that stood out the most to me over the first part of the season was Maxiell playing with Lance Stephenson, Brian Roberts, Gary Neal, and Cody Zeller. This unit would run a bunch of screens with Stephenson or set picks away from the ball in order to get Neal or Roberts open for jump shots. Defensively, Stephenson was playing against wings rather than guards and the rim was protected by Zeller, as Maxiell mainly took up space and boxed out.

In 25 minutes together, that unit posted a 102.7 offensive rating, 56.5 defensive rating (!!!), and a 46.3 net rating. Basically they were destroying their opponents by more than 40 points per 100 possessions. Watching these guys play together, it seemed like a natural lineup for Biyombo to contribute. After all, his strengths include rebounding and protecting the paint.

Again, remember that we're dealing with extremely small sample sizes, but when substituting Biyombo for Maxiell, in just seven minutes of game time, that lineup had a 119 offensive rating, 80.6 defensive rating, and 38.4 net rating.

The four man combination of Roberts, Neal, Stephenson, and Zeller has played well despite the choice at center and this has likely inflated the advanced statistics for both Biyombo and Maxiell (and maybe more so for Maxiell since he's played almost triple the minutes with this group). Step away from those four guys and both Biyombo and Maxiell have struggled with their heaviest minute units. The point? Both guys are specialty role players that have to be used correctly. Neither player is a guy that is likely to succeed in situations that call for them to step outside their comfort zone.

Conclusion

In just three games of being back in the regular rotation, Biyombo has proven to be the superior player. Although Maxiell likely never lost the Hornets any games, he didn't win them any either. In his first game back, Biyombo arguably was the key player in a win the team desperately needed. Barring a trade, this should be the last time the fans have to turn to #BringBackTheBiz.

All stats from NBA.com