Jonas Valanciunas is likely to once and for all establish the legacy of Andrea Bargnani one way or the other.
That's a pretty bold statement to make, that a rookie is going to define the career of a veteran entering his seventh season in the league. The reason why the statement can be made is the bold contrasts between the two players. Some have called Jonas the “Anti-Bargnani” as a way to justify his selection and explain to Raptor fans the notable differences between the two players.
Andrea Bargnani is basically a flat out scorer, and is all about offense. Even his former coach, Sam Mitchell, admitted as much in the NBA-TV preview of the Raptors, that you might have seen this weekend on NBA-TV Canada. Andrea is rarely going to have big rebounding nights. He is likely never going to be a defensive standout on any level.
Jonas Valanciunas, on the other hand, is an aggressive defender and attacks on the glass. In a perfect world, and in if things meet the Raptors vision, they are the perfect complements to one another on the floor. You will have Andrea on the outside dropping three point bombs and Jonas in the post and running pick and rolls with Kyle Lowry.
Sounds great doesn’t it, a modern version of the "Twin Towers" that the Raptors can count on for the next decade.
Things don’t always tend to go that way for the Raptors though, in fact they rarely do. Many times the Raptors' strengths have become the greatest weakness in the end.
There was Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, that duo was going to team together and challenge for titles for years. Jose Calderon and T.J Ford were a dynamic one-two punch at the point guard position. Chris Bosh just needed another star alongside him to take the Raptors to the top so here comes, Jermaine O’Neal or maybe Hedo Turkoglu . You get the idea here, the Raptors' plans have not always gone as expected.
Andrea Bargnani has not always been embraced fully by the Raptors fans. Along the way, they have fallen off and got back on the Andrea Bargnani bandwagon many times. Given that fragile loyalty you wonder what the impact of Jonas Valanciunas will be on this.
Raptor fans have always been quick to appreciate players that bring effort regardless of talent level. After being educated on what Jonas Valanciunas actually is and getting to see it first hand it's obvious that he fits that prototype of a guy that brings "it." Andrea Bargnani doesn’t fit that at all.
They are also as different off the floor as people as anyone who has spoken with both can see. Both have English as a second language, so it is a bit of a challenge for both to express themselves in that language. Bargnani tends to come off most of the time as blunt and direct. Even with a better handle on the language that has not changed. Jonas on the other hand is much more warm and engaging in his comments.
The Raptors also took a year and half selling fans on Jonas and trying to show him in a positive light. They did a great job in that which helps Jonas but likely hurts Bargnani in the grand scheme.
What this all adds up to is Andrea Bargnani may have all his weaknesses exposed by the presence of Jonas. They will be more glaring and noticeable to even the most casual fan. You can sit someone down to watch a game, who has no interest in the sport and they could tell you which guy is busting his butt and which guy isn’t.
The other thing working against Andrea is the fact that patience has worn thin for him with everyone. It is time to produce and become the all-star player that many have expected him to be. Jonas has pressure too, but as rookie will be cut some considerable slack, in contrast to what will be given to Bargnani.
Andrea finally had a good performance in the preseason against the Knicks in Montreal. He led the Raptors in scoring and actually had seven rebounds and two blocks which is huge news when were talking about him. The Raptors have ten days and two preseason games left before opening night against the Indiana Pacers. That could be enough time for Bargnani to turn around what has been a horrible preseason for him.
It is also leaves time for Jonas Valanciunas to confirm what is looking more and more like a role in the starting line-up at center for him. This was something that has been a surprise for me. The Raptors seem confident enough to go with Jonas right off the bat. Something coming into training camp I didn’t see happening.
The contrast between these two could be a dynamic duo that will help the Raptors recover from the post Bosh era. It also could be the breaking point for Andrea Bargnani in the minds of Raptor fans and perhaps at some point the minds of the organization as well.
This season was always going to be a make or break one for Andrea Bargnani. What some might not have counted on was Jonas Valanciunas being the catalyst to making or breaking Andrea Bargnani’s run with the Raptors.
If Andrea can do what he does and have his weaknesses hidden by Jonas than it is a positive for the Raptors. If the opposite happens and Jonas’ hustle and determination exposes those weaknesses all of the sudden there is a big problem.
If that problem materializes and Andrea is a disappointment, this is a huge chance for Ed Davis to step up to the plate. If you have a struggling Bargnani, an improved Davis and a Jonas that is better than expected that might be a case to make a move.
The Raptors have always fought against the idea of trading Andrea Bargnani at every turn. So they are hoping for the optimistic point of view. If not you have to wonder how long it will take for Raptor fans to once again jump off the Bargnani bandwagon and want him traded again.
A big factor in if the Raptors could even entertain that idea, will be if they can find more offense beyond Bargnani. He, for all his faults, is easily the Raptors' best option to put points on the board and their toughest match-up to defend on a given night in the NBA.