Andrea Bargnani, BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Perhaps no player in the NBA has been booed by his hometown fans more often in recent years than Bargnani. Toward the end of his Raptors career, Bargnani was booed off the court at every opportunity. In his first home game as a New York Knick, the Madison Square Garden waited all of two Bargnani missed shots to begin a booing campaign of their own.
With the Knicks struggling mightily in the wake of making Bargnani their marquee offseason acquisition, the former first overall pick is drawing more scrutiny than ever.
On the court, Bargnani will probably probably always be an easy mark for ridicule. He moves with all of the grace one would expect from a 7-footer...a seven-footer stumbling down the court on a pair of rusted roller blades, nursing a quart of Glenlivet and and inner-ear infection. He sports a rebounding rate that a 5'3" Muggsy Bogues could still top...and Muggsy Bogues is nearly 50 years old.
Yet all of Bargnani's awkward foibles could be tolerable—charming, even—if he were simply taking the bench minutes of the man for whom he was traded: fellow tall, awkward dude Steve Novak. But Bargnani's name, draft position and the Knicks' own managerial incompetence has kept him on the court far longer than he has deserved.
Let's break down his contributions thus far.
The Mediocre: Shooting, Shot-Blocking
Bargnani has a reputation as a strong shooter, proving yet again that reputations last much longer than results.
In truth, Bargnani hasn't even been an average shooter—in general or behind the arc—in nearly five seasons. Last season he shot a pathetic 39.9 percent from the field and 30.9 percent from three, a far cry from the league average of 45.3 percent and 35.9 percent, respectively.
But Bargnani is having himself a perfectly average shooting season thus far in 2013—slightly above average from the field at 47.0 percent and slightly below average from beyond the arc at 35.0 percent. And he has achieved that mark despite missing some shots at the rim rather spectacularly, such as this "dunk" attempt.
For many players, an average shooting season wouldn't be much cause for celebration, but for Bargnani it represents a significant step in the right direction.
Bargnani is also holding his own in one surprising area, according to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal:
In his defense, Bargnani, despite being a wholly ineffective rebounder, has proved to be a competent rim protector thus far, holding opponents to 46.7% shooting when defending at the rim, according to SportVU player-tracking technology.
"Competent" rim protection has been all everyone has ever asked of Bargnani until now. Sadly, Knicks coach Mike Woodson has done his best to ensure Bargnani's competence at defending the rim counts for as little as possible, as Herring explains:
But the team's strategy of switching on nearly every pick-and-roll play—particularly when Felton is defending—often pulls Bargnani from the basket, putting him in poor position to shadow quicker players.
With opponents forcing switches repeatedly, the 6-foot-1 Felton has been forced to defend more shots at the rim (18) than Bargnani (15).
Such is the life of Andrea Bargnani: Even when he does something moderately well, like protect the rim, his coach rewards his effort by forcing him to guard Tony Parker and Kemba Walker.
The Bad: Rebounding
It's not always easy to comprehend just how bad Andrea Bargnani is at rebounding the basketball; fortunately, there is a whole cornucopia of numbers to help us paint a picture of his incompetence.
Following his pathetic 26-minute, one-rebound performance on Sunday, Bargnani now has a 6.9 percent rebound rate. That rate is just a shade higher than that Pablo Prigioni, the 35-year-old point guard, who lost his starting spot to Bargnani in Mike Woodson's "big" starting lineup.
That 6.9 percent would also be the second-worse rebounding rate in NBA history for a 7-footer if it holds up, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Coming into this season, Bargnani had four of the 15 worst rebounding seasons in NBA history by a 7-footer, including the worst season ever by someone not named Brad Sellers.
The Ugly: The Knicks with Bargnani on the Court
Individually, Andrea Bargnani has not been a terrible player this season. But no matter which New York Knicks lineup Bargnani gets plugged into, the results have been atrocious.
In his analysis of the Knicks' frontcourt situation, Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan made some disturbing discoveries regarding Bargnani's impact on various Knicks' lineups:
On the other end of the efficiency spectrum, six of the eight lineups that have yielded a negative net rating include Andrea Bargnani in the front court, with five of them featuring Bargnani at center—exactly where he'll be logging his heaviest minutes in Chandler's stead.
On offense, Bargnani's average shooting numbers haven't forced opposing defenses to play off Carmelo Anthony, as the Knicks had hoped. On defense, stuff like this happens.
How to explain Bargnani's "defense" here? Personally, I keep coming back to my wife's grandmother. She was born in a region of China that used to be called Manchuria in January 1928, during the reign of the warlord Zhang Zuolin. Her village had neither electricity nor running water. She has never seen even a minute of a basketball game in her life, nor has she ever played a video game. Here is a photo of her spoon-feeding medicine to a kitten.
Now, try to imagine this sweet 85-year-old Chinese lady picking up an X-box controller and being asked to play defense in NBA 2K13. What would happen? That Bargnani thing would happen!
But this play also demonstrates the defensive incompetence of Bargnani's frontcourt mate Carmelo Anthony. Check out the .gif again: Lost amid the sheer stupidity of Bargnani's jumping is Melo, casually slinking away from the ball-handler as he makes his way to the hoop. Though not as obvious, Anthony's defense on the play is just as terrible as Bargnani's.
Bad Player in a Bad Situation
Even with Tyson Chandler out, should Bargnani start for the Knicks?
It's not Andrea Bargnani's fault that he was picked first overall in a weak draft. It's not his fault that some so-called experts took a look at a tall, European shooter and made comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki before Bargnani had even played an NBA game.
Bargnani is not a good NBA player, and it's debatable as to whether or not he has ever been a good player at any point in his career. With the exception of the odd, lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Bargnani's teams have always fared worse with him on the court than with him on the bench.
But if there's any positive contributions to be had from Bargnani, the Knicks will not get it by burdening him with starter's minutes and switching him onto every speedy guard in the league. Bargnani is not a franchise-savior; he proved that much in Toronto.
The Knicks would do well to learn that lesson.