Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani the Small Forward of the Future?

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Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani the Small Forward of the Future?
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If the Raptors are going to trade Andrea Bargnani at some point, why not try something crazy before they do so? Bargnani will not be traded this summer, and the Raptors will likely have to wait until next year’s trade deadline to get something done.

So in the meantime, is there really anything to lose by experimenting with Andrea Bargnani at the 3-spot?

Bargnani is not a center; in fact, I would argue that he is not a big man at all. Do not be fooled by his size: Bargnani is a shooting guard in a seven-foot frame. Toronto must compromise and play him at small forward, where his size will be an advantage, allowing him to take all the jump shots he wants. 

More importantly, this would leave two open spots at power forward and center for players who are willing to bang down low—Ed Davis and Amir Johnson or maybe an upgrade at center via free agency.

Bargnani may not be lightning-quick, but for a guy his size, he is certainly not slow. Bargs has a great first step and the ball-handling skills necessary to hold his own against average NBA small forwards and challenge the elites on offense. 

Furthermore, he is more than capable of creating shots for himself using his deceptive pump fakes that more often than not leave his defenders with no other choice but to bite. This allows him to take one or two steps forward and drain an open jumper. If the defender does not leave his feet, then it really isn’t any trouble for the long-armed seven-footer to shoot right over opponents with his high release and excellent form. 

Highlights of Bargs being aggressive and driving to the rim, note the crossover at 2:03.

What’s more, Bargnani is capable of driving to the rim once his defender leaves his feet on a pump fake; he just chooses not to do it as often as he should. However, do not fret, because I think we have a far better chance of getting Il Mago to drive to the basket more often than we do of convincing him to improve his rebounding and defense against seven-foot centers.

If Bargnani manages to drop 20-plus points per game and grab five rebounds per contest as a small forward while playing average defense—using his length rather than strength and awareness rather than speed—he would be a decent option at the 3. We would get a good 30 to 35 minutes per game from Il Mago at small forward, and James Johnson and Linas Kleiza would cover the rest.  

This video provides a glimpse of the things Andrea Bargnani could do if he was moved to small forward and embraced a more aggressive style of play versus shorter, weaker small forwards.

The only question is whether this move would be an upgrade for the Raptors or simply be one more example of Toronto settling on an average talent with no real defensive game.

I will conclude with my opening statement: I can’t imagine Bargnani being traded before the deadline next February, so provided there is not a lockout, do the Raptors really have anything to lose by playing Bargnani at small forward for the first three months of next season? 

No.

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