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Bobcats' Biyombo makes slow, steady progress

He’s 20.

In this microwave society, fans don’t want to hear that. But Charlotte Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo is a kid. A very directed, driven kid, but a kid nonetheless.

Sometimes coach Mike Dunlap reminds others of that. Sometimes he has to remind himself. Recently one of Dunlap’s mentors, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, told Dunlap that Biyombo will eventually average a double-double. It was important for Dunlap to hear that.

“Let’s say he’s doing that at 23,” Dunlap said following practice Tuesday. “There will be plenty of guys drafted at 23 who can’t do that.”

That’s the course the Bobcats set: Each of the past two years they used a lottery pick on the youngest player in that respective draft. In 2011, it was Biyombo. In 2012 it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Both of them start in a season that hasn’t produced many victories.

So player-development is atop the agenda. Biyombo isn’t where he’d like to be, but he’s way beyond what he was when he signed with the Bobcats two Decembers ago.

Some measurables: He made all six of his free throws Saturday night against the Detroit Pistons. In his rookie season, when he shot just 48 percent from the foul line, that would have been inconceivable. Biyombo is shooting 55 percent from the foul line this season, which sounds little different, but the trend line is moving up.

Now he’s making jump hooks fairly regularly. He’s taking and making the occasional jump shot from beyond 10 feet. These are baby steps, but that’s what the Bobcats bought into when they drafted a guy with great natural gifts and minimal coaching. In his second season he averages 4.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.66 blocks. That’s not a dramatic improvement on his rookie season, but Dunlap is encouraged by Biyombo’s 14 double-digit rebounding games and sees steady progress offensively.

“I’m patient with myself. From the starting point to where I am now, I’m a lot better,” said Biyombo, the last player to leave practice Tuesday.

“Stephen (Silas, a Bobcats assistant coach) tells me all the time it doesn’t happen overnight. Over time you’re going to see that I produce. My free throws have gotten a lot better. My whole game got better. I think I’m doing the right things.”

No one questions his desire. Last summer teammate Kemba Walker would occasionally tell Biyombo to go on home. He was haunting the practice facility, so much so that Walker worried Biyombo would burn himself out.

Dunlap said that isn’t an issue because the coaching staff sets a balance between the physical and the mental. Sometimes Biyombo is working out, but just as often he’s watching video. Next summer, Dunlap said, Biyombo’s time will be best spent playing – 3-on-3, 5-on-5, whatever – rather than drilling, so that he can test skills in a competitive setting

Regardless, you know Biyombo will be around the gym.

“Last summer I was working out sometimes five times a day. People told me I was crazy,” Biyombo recalled. “But you know what? That’s the only way I can get better. I still have a lot of stuff to work on. Eventually the improvement will come. But I have a lot of stuff to learn.”

He arrived in Charlotte as unrefined as any NBA player in recent memory. Raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he went to Spain to play professionally as a teenager. There he caught the eye of Bobcats general manager Rich Cho.

Last winter then-assistant coach Rob Werdann spent hours throwing him passes – lobs, bounce passes, chest passes – just to teach him how to catch efficiently.

It was worth the trouble, the Bobcats decided, because the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Biyombo has spectacular potential as a shot-blocker and a rebounder. He has a 7-foot, 6-inch wingspan and is a graceful leaper. The challenge is catching his offense up to his defense.

“(Fans) see his size, so when a game is coming down the backstretch, they want him to do certain things. You can hear a collective sigh when he doesn’t catch a ball or rebound or whatever,” Dunlap described.

“They don’t know his journey. He leaves home and he learns the game because he has this physical prowess. That doesn’t mean he’s as far along as some guy in New York on the AAU trail.

“So now he’s 20 and playing against the best in the world. When he doesn’t meet his mark in a particular game, I always remind myself that he’s 20. He’s getting experience and that’s painful for everyone involved – the fans, the coaching staff and most importantly him. And then there’s a game where he gets 17 rebounds against (Dwight) Howard.”

That’s the tease. Fans see what Biyombo could be, and want it now. Biyombo sees it, too.

“I’m going to be the guy who helps my team at both ends. I know it won’t just happen tomorrow, but I’ve come a long way,” Biyombo said.

“It’s going to pay off. I can’t project when, but I know it’s going to happen.”

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