As of this writing, he is looking down on Deron Williams, Danny Granger, Kevin Love, Zach Randolph and “Mr. Max Money” Joe Johnson in the scoring race. His shooting percentage is nine points higher than MVP favourite Derrick Rose. He is more efficient than Chauncey Billups, Ray Allen and Michael Beasley. Dirk is the only seven footer shooting better from the line. Dwight Howard is the only 5 scoring more points. He has dropped 67 triples on the year—every other centre in the league has combined for 74.
He is playing a position he is not suited for. He shares the floor on a night-to-night basis with perhaps one National Basketball Association calibre starter. On a terrible team with few weapons, he is the focal point for opposing defenses. He is having a career year. He is entering his prime. He is unwanted.
"If only we had a REAL Center!” they cry. Bargnani, it seems, is not what Raptor fans want in a center—and in some cases, they are advocating for his outright banishment.
And why not? He doesn’t rebound with the tenacity of Reggie. He doesn’t hustle like JYD. He doesn’t battle and get dirty in the trenches like Oak’. He’s not as imposing as Antonio Davis. He can’t block shots like Keon Clark.
Listening to many Raptor fans, you would think they were lamenting the good old days when Zan Tabak was patrolling the paint, such is the disdain for their former 1st overall pick.
They seem to be clamouring to ship out the player who was the closest thing they had to an All-Star this year. Their patience seems to be at an end with their 5th year project, who despite suffering through the indignity of playing on a sub-20 win team, is having a career year in several categories. A constant cavalcade of injuries and personnel changes have meant he has been one of the few constants over this trying campaign, pouring in 22 points a night—seven higher than his career average.
Yes, he is a flawed center. His finesse game makes him ill-suited to the rigours of life inside eight feet. He doesn’t have a knack for anticipating the bounces. He lacks a nuanced post game. He doesn’t inspire fear in the lane. He lacks the killer instinct of a lock-down defender. He is by no means a prototypical center.
Yet, no big man outside of Dallas can stretch the floor like Bargnani. When he decides to put the ball on the floor, there isn’t a 5 (and a lot of 4’s) in the league he can’t blow past. His paradigm warping skill set means nightly matchup problems for opposing coaches. He can shoot from everywhere and can get to the rim. If he goes to the line—unlike conventional centers—he is usually money.
Raptors fans have been experts at dissecting the weaknesses in Andrea’s still evolving game and point to them as ample reason to send him packing. Among the biggest criticisms—he can’t rebound. “Give us Marc Gasol!” they cry, Bargnani’s locker not yet cool. The same Marc Gasol who’s career progression seems to have halted—if not regressed. The same Marc Gasol whose rebounds per 48 minutes place him behind such board crashing menaces as Kwame Brown, Nenad Krstic and Aaron Grey. The apologists for Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol quickly point to their partners at the 4. “But he plays with Kris Humphries/Zach Randolph!” they protest. However Gasol’s numbers are also behind Darko Milicic, who also happens to play with a pretty good rebounder.
Andrea Bargnani is a unique and unconventional talent who has yet to reach his full potential. A 3 in a 5’s body, his time at Center has been through virtue of expedience, rather than preference and his shortcomings have been exposed as a result. During the offseason, Bryan Colangelo attempted to address the situation in the middle by acquiring Tyson Chandler in a deal that eventually fell through. Had it not, the situation in Toronto would look significantly different today.
As this team is gradually re-tooled, Andrea Bargnani will be a critical part of any success in the near future. With the right supporting staff he would be free to spread the floor, expose lead-footed defenders with impunity, drop threes over undersized defenders, and rack up 20-25 points a night without having to face the criticism regarding his defensive game.
Reggie Evans is free from criticism on the offensive end because that’s not his game. If we asked him to play that game, would we be shocked if he crumbled under the pressure and didn’t drop 15-18 points a night? Defensive dominance is not Andrea’s game, scoring is.
Why can’t the Raptors draw marquee talent? For those Raptor fans who would continue to pillory Bargnani—if you were an upcoming free-agent and you were thinking of joining a new team, ask yourself…would you enjoy playing in front of fans that eat their own?
He’s not perfect, he doesn’t have a complete game, but let’s cut Il Mago some slack—this guy is a great player. Get him some support and let him rip.
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