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.

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