After being sidelined for a month and a half, Andrea Bargnani returned to action on March 10.
Since Bargnani's return the Toronto Raptors have posted a 2-4 record. On the season as a whole, the team sports a 15-30 mark, which means the post-Bargnani return record is precisely keeping the pace.
While many anticipated that the return of Bargnani would signal a turnaround to an otherwise dismal season, the Italian center has struggled to return to game speed, and has failed to give the Raptors a much-needed boost. His defense, which was heavily lauded before the injury, has been inconsistent, and he has struggled to score efficiently, hitting only 26 of 63 shots since his return.
It is hard to fault Bargnani for these struggles. Rarely does a star player return to form immediately after an extended layoff. But despite the pardon Bargnani receives for his sub-par play, the fact remains that his production is not where the team needs it to be. So what is the solution?
Dewayne Casey has played Bargnani 31.8 minutes per game since easing him back into the lineup with a 19 minute shift on March 10. While it's unfair to say that that amount of time on the floor will rundown the healing European, it does suggest a return to normalcy.
In the Raps' most recent game, Andrea was only on the court for 28 minutes. The game before, he played 39 minutes. Going forward, it seems the average will end up somewhere in the middle.
My question is: is this really necessary?
How long will it be before Bargnani plays to his full potential again? Five more games? 10? This rest of the season?
The squad only has 23 games remaining this season and is in no danger of stumbling into the postseason. With limited time remaining before the season finale, and the absence of playoff aspirations, why not limit Bargnani's minutes more austerely?
As of now, Bargnani is not the asset he was at the beginning of the year. Since his return he has deferred primary scoring duties to Demar DeRozan and Jerryd Bayless, and has left rebounding to the Johnsons (Amir and James) and Aaron Gray.
Though he remains the teams best center/power forward, leaving him on the court for more than 25 minutes a game comes with diminishing returns. So why bother?
Allowing Bargnani a little more rest would mitigate the potential for physical relapse. Even if the chances of injury are minute, the reward of playing him is so small such that any risk is too great a sacrifice.
And while no team should ever play to lose, the Raptors are in a position where losses are beneficial long-term. Right now, the team is positioned to pick fourth in the upcoming NBA entry draft. This makes the risk all the more pointless. Is a counterproductive win really worth any increased risk, however small?
It's time to cull Bargnani's minutes. The team is playing cautiously by sitting out Jose Calderon right now; following suit with Bargnani is the right move for the team now and in the future.