Toronto Raptors Center Andrea Bargnani Breaking Out

Stephen Brotherston@@ProBballNBAAnalyst IJanuary 10, 2010

MIAMI - NOVEMBER 19:  Andrea Bargnani #7 of the Toronto Raptors drives past Daequan Cook #14 of the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on November 19, 2008 in Miami, Florida. The Raptors defeated the Heat 101-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Not everyone believed that the Toronto Raptors No. 1 pick from 2006 would continue improving from his career-best season last year.

And possibly even fewer would have believed that the big center from Italy’s Benetton Treviso would start to dominate on the defensive end.

Those who have followed Andrea Bargnani’s progress with a more optimistic view would say that they are not surprised.

Not to suggest that Bargnani has elevated his game to an All-Star status yet, but Bryan Colangelo’s faith in his big center is proving to be very well placed.

Bargnani has followed up last season’s averages of: 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks with 17 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks over his first 36 games of 2009-10.  And his field goal shooting has improved from 45 percent last year to 47 percent currently.

Presently, Bargnani stands fifth in scoring amongst NBA centers tied with Dwight Howard and he is 22nd in rebounds with 220, tied with Chuck Hayes. Bargnani is 17th overall in the NBA for blocks with 49.

But it hasn’t been smooth ride.  Bargnani started the season hot, averaging 22 points and 6.75 boards over the first four games.

However, Bargnani, like the Raptors, was inconsistent in November and in a four-game stretch near the end of the month, averaged 11.8 points while playing just 27 minutes per game.  Inexplicably, there were two fourth quarters where he watched from the bench while the Raptors lost because they couldn't score (or defend).

December was better for both Bargnani and the Raptors.  The team won 9 of 15 games and Bargnani played better despite a dip in stats and a cold shooting month.  Actually, he was just cold from three, still hitting on 47 percent of his shots.

And Bargnani’s defense was getting noticeably better, recording five multiple block games in the second half of December.  Raptors TV analyst Leo Rautins actually praised Bargnani’s defense and even some of the haters posting in online blogs were running out of things to say.

Jay Triano must have noticed as well.  Starting with the Dec. 27 game versus Detroit, Bargnani has averaged 39.3 minutes over the past six games.  He played less than 40 minutes only once against in Orlando due to some very suspect foul calls.

In the previous 30 games this season, Bargnani had averaged just 33 minutes.

And Bargnani has rewarded his coach’s new found confidence in him with some of the best play in his career, averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game.

Other Raptors seem to have noticed Andrea Bargnani improved play as well.

Chris Bosh has been making a habit of finding the wide open Bargnani for threes and dunks recently and Jose Calderon, who could have been accused of wearing Bosh-colored glasses in the past, has discovered there Bargnani is an option too.

But more important, Bargnani has played some excellent effective single coverage defense against Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard in Toronto Raptor victories, going as far as collecting three blocks on Duncan and one (should have been two or three) blocks on Howard.

And from the Raptors last game, the block of an Andre Iguodala jump shot to maintain a one-point Toronto Raptors lead with 52 seconds left to play illustrates the improved defense Bargnani has brought to bear.

A six-game stretch does not a season make, but the Toronto Raptors fourth-year center continues to make big strides in his game.  Even just the season averages thus far show significant growth from last year.

And a 20, 6, and 2 stat line while playing big minutes does look good.  But it’s Andrea Bargnani’s defensive intensity since the middle of December that says the Raptors big man has finally broken out for real.


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