It takes some guys an extra few years for it to finally click. No big deal.
And then there's Bismack Biyombo, whose career has officially entered the danger zone in season No. 4.
At some point, coaches start ignoring his age—only 22 years old—and start counting the years without progression.
Biyombo hasn't shown much since the 2011 NBA draft—the one where he was selected seventh overall ahead of guys like Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight and Nikola Vucevic.
As a prospect, he was one of those late discoveries overseas who came out of nowhere to find a role in the competitive Spanish ACB.
Just like that, Biyombo got an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit, where he put up a 12-point, 11-rebound, 10-block triple-double in front of dozens of NBA scouts. His stock was on fire at the time. Biyombo had emerged as a monster risk-reward target for a team looking to make a splash.
The potential reward was clear. DraftExpress indicates he sported a 7'6" wingspan, and he offered that giant above-the-rim presence. He was triple-doubling without any real skills. The room for growth was enormous.
But there was also obvious risk attached to a kid from the Congo with little experience and a limited offensive game.
Two weeks prior to the 2011 draft, ESPN's Chad Ford wrote of a workout Biyombo had in front of NBA executives that didn't quite go so well:
Biyombo is here to show the NBA world he deserves to be a lottery pick in the 2011 draft, which is less than two weeks away. Right now his audition seems more appropriate for a bricklayer. The more he misses, the more the NBA execs I'm sitting next to scribble in their books.
"Bismack Biyombo just played a game of one-on-none ... and he lost," one general manager told Ford at the workout.
Now if you told me back then that, in 2014-15, Biyombo's offensive game would still lack polish and fluidity, I probably wouldn't have been that surprised. Nobody was expecting the next Hakeem Olajuwon.
However, Biyombo's career isn't in trouble based on his 2.9-point-per-game scoring average in 2013-14. Or that it fell from 4.8 the year before, which fell from 5.2 in his rookie season—although that is pretty sad.
As scary as that regression is, it's not what's keeping him off the floor.
Biyombo is in trouble because his bread and butter is no longer bread and butter in the minds of Charlotte's coaching staff.
Defense and rebounding—those are the areas of his game that are supposed to act as his NBA life jacket keeping him afloat. But Biyombo's core strengths haven't even been strong enough to unseat Jason Maxiell in the frontcourt rotation.
“He and I have been talking about this for two years now—he’s got to be a more consistent effort, defense and rebounding player,” coach Steve Clifford told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
“In the preseason he just didn’t play very well. When he has the right energy level and thinking defense and rebounding, he has nights when he plays well. When he doesn’t do those things, the team doesn’t play as well when he’s out there.”
The fact that Biyombo offers nothing offensively gives him very little margin for error as a defender and rebounder. After the Hornets drafted Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh to join Al Jefferson up front, it's starting to get a little crowded.
His value to the organization has essentially rock-bottomed.
Maybe Clifford just happens to have it out for him, but if Biyombo can't beat out Maxiell, he could have a tough time convincing other teams he's worth investing in as a free agent later on.
Ironically, some of Biyombo's numbers last year percentage-wise—he only played 13.9 minutes a game—weren't that bad at all.
Defensively, he held opponents to just 39.1 percent shooting at the rim, a better number than Roy Hibbert's. The difference is Hibbert played regular minutes and saw twice as many shots per game as a defender.
In a full-time role, Biyombo just hasn't been able to make a consistent enough interior impact to neutralize the dead weight he adds at the offensive end.
Chances are Biyombo will get his opportunity sometime before the season ends, whether it's as an injury replacement or due to Maxiell's limited overall services.
At this stage, we can forget about Biyombo's offensive development. He hit just five shots outside the paint all season last year, and he wasn't exactly an option to feed inside it.
For Biyombo, it's all about activity. That's how bottom-level guys like Joel Anthony and Ekpe Udoh have lasted. Challenging shots, making rotations, cleaning the glass, putting back misses, tipping back loose balls—that's what Biyombo can do to regain his spot back in the rotation and ultimately the NBA's radar.
As of November 2014, he's in danger of completely falling off the map.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of NBA.com.