Make no mistake: New York got better in the short term by dealing for Bargs. He may not have been worth the three draft picks the Knicks gave up to get him, but he represents an upgrade to the rotation nonetheless.
The Knicks also sent Steve Novak, Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson to the Toronto Raptors, but the Raptors only retained Novak. Both Bargnani and Novak have similar glaring holes in their games, but Novak might be the only comparable NBA player who is Bargs' inferior in those areas.
First of all, let's agree that both these players are power forwards. Novak is too slow to defend the wing, and Bargnani is too clueless to protect the rim.
Bargs is a woeful defender and a pitiful rebounder for a 7-footer, but he's still better guarding post-ups than the 6'10" Novak. And while neither is particularly disposed to crashing the boards, Bargnani has pulled in 5.7 rebounds per 36 minutes in his career, while Novak has corralled just 3.7 per 36.
Of course, Bargnani can't touch Novak's three-point prowess, but the 2006 first overall pick has a much more varied offensive game. He is better off the bounce than Novak and more willing to attack defenses and create opportunities rather than just exploit open looks.
A combination of shooting ability and trickery allow Bargnani to play with deceptive explosiveness.
Look at how long his pump fake takes and how badly it fools David West, a savvy defender. West gets lulled in by Bargs' feint, lunging forward to contest him almost as slowly as the Italian goes up with the ball. With West out of position, it takes the lanky forward one dribble to get past his man at the three-point line and all the way to the rim, where he finishes with a one-handed flush.
Bargnani once scored 21.4 points per game with that quirky offensive play, and he'll benefit from being a tertiary option in New York next to Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. If Iman Shumpert makes strides in his off-the-bounce game, Bargnani will feel even less pressure to produce.
At the same time, the Knicks' scoring was not at issue before Bargnani arrived. His ability to create for himself will come in handy when the offense bogs down, but New York can get by without him on that end of the floor.
After all, the Knicks didn't trade three picks for Bargnani just to fill Novak's limited role.
Bargs has played 30.3 minutes per game for his career, and he has been getting plenty of run with Melo, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton during the preseason. Per Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, the newcomer is slated to start on opening night.
If that's the case, he'll have to work fast to shore up his weaknesses.
New York played Novak in spurts, capitalizing on his deadeye shooting without risking too much on defense. If Bargnani plays for long stretches, the Knicks will be forced to cope with an interior defender with negligible technique and awareness.
He is competent defensively in one-on-one situations on the block, but he's hopeless whenever he has to pay attention to more than one man. Whether he's contesting the pick-and-roll, defending on the drive or helping on the weak side, he is slow to the task and poor when it comes to positioning and footwork.
If anything, he's worse after the ball goes up. He's not eager to box out, and his hands are just awful when he tries to collect rebounds. Despite what his 7-foot frame would lead you to believe, his poor rebounding track record is not at all a fluke.
Even so, he'll help the Knicks in that regard, if only because they will shift from a small-ball look to a traditional two-big lineup. The defense is another matter.
Chandler is still looking to return to his Defensive Player of the Year form, so playing another minus defender alongside Melo could be disastrous. New York can't play Bargnani inside and Anthony on the perimeter and expect them both to hold up simultaneously; there will be cracks somewhere.
In his brief preseason run with the Knicks so far, Bargs has not looked strong enough on offense to offset his defensive shortcomings.
He's enamored with mid-range jumpers, has a slow motion when he's spotting up and hasn't connected enough to take pressure off Anthony.
Normally that would be Smith's job, but he's still rehabbing from offseason surgery and has a five-game suspension to serve. Taking into account that Bargnani is adjusting to a new system, leaning on him as a second shot-creator could go poorly, especially early in the season.
Therein lies the difficulty in determining whether or not he will disappoint: It all comes down to how much the Knicks ask of him.
As a contributor and not a key on offense with plenty of protection on defense, Bargnani is a definite improvement over Novak and will do his part to make the team better.
But if the Knicks lean on him to do Smith's job offensively and to hold his own on the other end, Bargnani will inevitably let them down.
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