Andrea Bargnani: Can He Be the Raptors Saviour?

Paul TaylorCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2010

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 16:  Andrea Bargnani #7 of the Toronto Raptors drives past Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic during the game at Amway Arena on December 16, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.  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 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Chris Bosh was never a franchise player; this much we can agree on.

While his statistics were easily the best on a game-to-game basis for the Raptors, he was never capable of galvanising his teammates or elevating his play to another level as a superstar should.

In this respect, the only mistake Bryan Colangelo made was trying to build a team around the now former Raptor.  But, to criticise the actual moves Colangelo made in his attempts to surround Bosh with the right components is wrong.

At the time, virtually every major move made was met with a positive response by the majority of Raptors nation.

In any event, nothing can be done about the past; it’s time to move on.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think the team will have as a big a drop-off as Toronto’s fanbase fears.  There are still enough elements in place to keep the team competitive while Colangelo figures out how to turn this thing around.

Perhaps the most crucial element in the immediate future of the Raptors franchise is former number one overall NBA draft pick, Andrea Bargnani.

There is no doubt that he is both an enigmatic and polarizing player, with many critics having labelled him as a bust.  However, I have always felt that the Italian is capable of big things.

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During his rookie season, I was living in Toronto and got to watch him play live on a regular basis.  From day one, ‘Il Margo’ impressed me with his shot—one of the smoothest I have ever seen.  Every time he attempted a three-pointer, I was convinced it would go in.

His relaxed demeanour on the court was another plus.  Fans mistook this lack of emotion for someone who didn’t care, but underneath that calm exterior lay the heart of a passionate competitor.

After an impressive initial season, when he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting (including twice being named Rookie of the Month), Bargnani regressed in his sophomore year.

Many people were surprised by this step back, especially as before the campaign began, he was voted by the general managers as the international player most likely to have a breakout season.

As the season wore on, he was widely criticised for various aspects of him game, including not getting nearly enough rebounds for someone standing seven feet tall.  The campaign ended on a sour note for only the fourth Italian-born player ever to compete in the NBA, as he was hardly featured in the playoff series loss to Orlando.

(Consider than in his first post-season, he averaged 17 points and five rebounds in three starts.)

There were even calls for Bargnani to be traded. This was ludicrous for a second-year player still finding his feet.

Over the summer, the Raptors invested a lot of time and effort into coaching the Italian to become a better inside force.  For his part, Bargnani added some much needed muscle to his weight and appeared primed to bounce back in a front court that included Bosh and the newly acquired Jermaine O’Neal.

However, as the 2008-09 season began, it was becoming apparent that Bargnani was never going to embrace Sam Mitchell’s aggressive, almost belligerent, style of coaching.  It didn’t help that the coach didn’t seem to know where to play him, which left the youngster unsettled, as he was shifted around to every position in the front court.

As it turned out, the sacking of Mitchell turned out to be the turning point the player needed.  Jay Triano came in, and Bargnani responded better to the Canadian’s more measured and personable coaching approach with career highs of 15 points and five rebounds.

The development continued last season as steady improvement was seen in the play of Bargnani. This resulted in an increase, to 17 points and six rebounds, although the campaign ended in disappointment with the Raptors missing out on the playoffs by one game.

Now, with Bosh gone, it’s time to see if Bargnani can step up another level.  For this to happen, he will have to continue to improve his aggressive play and enhance his post game.

He may never be quite as good as the player he is often compared to, Dirk Nowitzki, but the Italian still has the talent to replace Bosh as the team’s 20-10 man in 2010/11.

And if he is called upon to take the final shot of the game to win a contest, expect to see someone with more composure than Bosh ever showed in the crunch.