In an offseason filled with free agent signings and trades, the only NBA team north of the border has dramatically improved their roster.
With signings such as the Magic’s clutch playoff performer, Hedo Turkoglu, and Chris Bosh’s close friend and productive PG Jarrett Jack, the Raptors have put themselves in a great position for this upcoming season.
But one of the most criticized No.1 picks of this decade will decide the fate of the Raptors; and that player is Andrea Bargnani.
Drafted number one overall in 2006 and standing seven feet tall, Bargnani is an up and coming player in the NBA. In the second half of last season, he was beginning to prove his doubters wrong and looked like a true No. 1 pick.
Averaging 19.4 points per game after the break, Bargnani showed he can score with the best of them. He stepped into his role at the center spot and was responsible for the Raptors late season run. But that wasn’t enough, as the Raptors still missed the playoffs finishing with a record of 33-49.
For the Raptors to be serious contenders for the NBA Championship, Andrea Bargnani needs to play like he did in the second half of last season. Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has surrounded Bargnani with the right talent in hopes of propelling him to All-Star heights.
For one, Sam Mitchell is no longer coaching. Although Bargnani only averaged 8.6 points per game in December, he also only played 24 minutes a game, his lowest average for the season.
When Jay Triano took over as head coach, Bargnani was put into his appropriate role of hybrid big man.
With the arrival of Jermaine O’ Neal last season, Bargnani's confidence was shot. He felt under-appreciated and under-utilized. But for this upcoming season, he was signed to a contract extension which showed Bargnani that he’s crucial to this franchise’s success.
Now with the addition of Hedo Turkoglu, Bargnani doesn't need to score 20 PPG. He will have the opportunity, but won't have all the pressure from fans, team-mates, and the front office to produce. As long as he contributes and does his job, the Toronto Raptors will be successful.
On offense, expect domination by Bargnani. At seven feet, he is taller than the average center. But not only does he have height, but the shooting touch of a guard. After the All Star break, he shot 45.7 percent from three-point land. Not known for his low-post game, Bargnani also shot close to 50 percent from the field in the second half of last season.
The pure match-up problems Bargnani creates are evident. For example, if Bargnani stays out of the post against teams like Cleveland, he can free up the paint for penetration. With players like Kendrick Perkins and Shaq in the conference, the inside and outside combination of Bosh, Bargnani, and Turkoglu will cause various matchup problems.
On defense, where Bargnani isn’t historically strong, he needs to bulk up this offseason to hold his own down low. If he can rebound like fellow European Pau Gasol, the Raptors can almost guarantee themselves a 4th or 5th seed.
But Bargnani being a league-leading rebounder isn't realistic yet. If he can continue to improve, be a force on offense when needed, and rebound a little bit more, the Raptors will be a serious force in the coming years.
At the end of the 2009-2010 season, where ever Toronto finishes, it's almost a guarantee that Bargnani's numbers will affect the outcome.
With less pressure, better head coaching, and great team-mates surrounding him, expect an All Star appearance out of the Italian. Don’t be surprised by a line of close to 20 points per game and seven rebounds a night for the former No. 1 pick. Those would be great numbers to compliment the already All Star games’ of Bosh, Turkoglu, and Calderon.
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