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Andrea Bargnani: Toronto Raptors “New” Defensive Stopper

Stephen Brotherston@@ProBballNBAAnalyst IFebruary 25, 2010

ORLANDO, FL - APRIL 20:  Andrea Bargnani #7 of the Toronto Raptors fouls Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the Amway Arena on April 20, 2008 in Orlando, Florida. The Magic defeated the Raptors 114-100. 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

In a game against the supposedly inferior Washington Wizards during the Air Canada Center’s traditional Toronto Maple Leafs time slot, the Toronto Raptors were saved from an embarrassing home loss by the defensive heroics of their offensive-minded center, Andrea Bargnani.

In a brief two-minute stretch during the closing moments of the game, the Raptors former No. 1 overall pick rejected three lay up attempts and was the pivotal defensive force shutting out the Wizards for over four minutes with the game on the line.   Raptors-Wizards: Bargnani Headlines

And those supposedly inferior Washington Wizards are now 3-1 post All-Star break because of it.

On most nights, Bargnani’s defensive contributions go unnoticed. 

Either overshadowed by his offensive prowess or just lost behind yet another amazing game played by the Raptors All-Star, CB4.

But the oft maligned defense from the Raptors center didn’t just suddenly appear on the eve of an NBA invasion into hockey’s most sacred time slot. 

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One could argue Bargnani has been contributing defensively since he was drafted and as the young center has adapted to the NBA game; his defense has only gotten better.

To start, it doesn’t take much effort to realize that the Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo is attracted to offensive talent.  None of Colangelo’s recent teams would be mistaken for defensive powerhouses.  On the other hand, teams Colangelo builds do score points.

Since Colangelo’s arrival in 2006, his teams defensive ratings have been:

2006-07,  106.0
2007-08,  107.0
2008-09,  110.0
2009-10,  111.8

(Defensive Rating = estimated points allowed per 100 possessions)

Not exactly Detroit Pistons-like.

But the current season’s defensive rating has been blurred by the Raptors poor start.

Note:  In the Raptors second 10-game stretch of the season, the team allowed an uncharacteristic 116 points per game.  Setting that period aside, the 2009-10 Raptors have a plus 2.1 points differential.  A New Era of Raptors Basketball.

While Andrea Bargnani own defensive rating may not have been better than his team’s, it wasn’t any worse either.

2006-07,  106
2007-08,  109
2008-09,  110
2009-10,  112

But the events that created Andrea’s new found defensive accolades have revolved primarily around his ability to erase shots. This was something that the big man brought with him to the NBA and it’s a skill he continues to get better at.

In Bargnani’s rookie season, the young center swatted 53 shots for better than 0.8 per game and good enough for fifth best amongst rookies that year.

The next season Bargnani’s blocks dropped to 37 as Sam Mitchell cut his young center’s minutes to less than 24 per game.  In a year many people described as a step-back for Andrea, the young center was never given an opportunity to build on his first season’s work.

With Mitchell released early the next season, Bargnani’s game began to move forward again.  Not just in the offensive categories that many fans and analysts concentrate on, but on the defensive side of the ball as well.

Well it might have remained obvious that Bargnani was still a step slow on his defensive help rotations, he wasn’t having the same problems with his man-to-man defense. 

In the 2008-09 season, Andrea Bargnani led the Raptors in total blocks and was the team’s leader at the end of the season with 1.2 blocks per game.  Only the departed Jermaine O’Neal had more blocks per game in the 41 games he played for the Raptors.

During the 2008-09 season, Bargnani had 26 multiple block games. Six times he had four or more blocks and on the last day of the season, Bargnani set a personal best of six blocks in a game.

This year, the block fest by the Raptors center has continued.  He should be happy a few people have finally noticed, but he probably doesn’t care.

With 80 blocks in 53 games, Bargnani is ranked 16th in the NBA this season.

At 1.5 blocks per game, Bargnani is leading his team in this category by a substantial margin. The closest Raptor, Chris Bosh, has 1.1 blocks per game.  Already, Bargnani has contributed 21 multiple block games this season.

Bargnani currently has at least one block in the each of past 15 games and at least one block in 26 of the past 27 games.  A streak that has included 14 multiple block games and the five block effort against the Spurs on Jan. 3; four blocks against the Nets on Feb. 3; andthe recent four block effort against the Wizards.

Bargnani as the Raptors last line of defense is really nothing new.  It has happened on a regular basis for some time now.

It only took three huge efforts since the new year to get noticed.

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