Declaring a player a draft bust is never a venture to be entered into lightly. However, the 2006 No. 1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani is now 351 games into his career and without a major turnaround in the efficiency of his play, he will go down in history as the worst No. 1 NBA draft pick since Michael Olowokandi, who was selected first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1998 NBA Draft.
As a result of Bargnani's uninspired play, as long as the Toronto Raptors have their future invested in him as their primary scoring option, they will remain deeply mired in mediocrity.
It should be clearly stated that the reason Bargnani could rightly be considered a bust is not because of his scoring average. This season, Bargnani is averaging 22.0 points per game, and for his career he is scoring 14.9 points per game. While those scoring averages give the impression he is a reliably good scoring option, scoring averages in basketball are as misleading as batting averages in baseball.
Whenever confronted with a scoring average, the first question that should be asked is how the player is arriving at that average
—in Bargnani's case, the answer is in a pretty inefficient manner.
Bargnani's career started off inefficiently, a trend that continues today. In his rookie season, Bargnani only produced 99 points per 100 possessions. He then followed that up in his second season by producing 98 points per 100 possessions.
Over his third and fourth seasons, where he produced 105 points per 100 possessions and 108 points per 100 possessions respectively, Bargnani seemed to be improving as a scorer, but that improvement has been completely undone this season.
With the departure of Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat, the burden of being the go-to scorer has fallen upon the shoulders of Bargnani, a task for which he is unsurprisingly unsuited. After four seasons of usage percentages that came in between 22.3 percent and 22.7 percent, Bargnani's 2010-11 usage percentage has jumped to 28.6 percent and his offensive rating has dropped to 103 points produced per 100 possessions.
Bargnani's play this season should serve as a reminder that if a role player is an inefficient scorer, then whenever he is called upon to be the primary scoring option, he will become even more inefficient.
If Bargnani did anything else besides rely on his below-average career 53.9 true shooting percentage, his struggles on offense would not be so crippling to his productivity—but he doesn't.
His career total rebounding percentage is an underwhelming 9.6 percent and his career assist percentage is an even more meager 6.5 percent, so he is either unable or unwilling to grab rebounds and dish out assists.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki has showed us that a 7-foot perimeter-oriented scoring threat can find time out of his busy shooting schedule to grab rebounds and set up his teammates for baskets—Nowitzki has a career total rebounding percentage of 13.0 percent and a career assist percentage of 13.1 percent. Bargnani has no excuse for not doing the same.
Were Bargnani's poor season out of character for him, that would be one thing, but his substandard level of play has been a persistent issue throughout his career. For his career, he has produced 103 points per 100 possessions while allowing 111 points per 100 possessions. Additionally, he has only contributed 0.061 win shares per 48 minutes.
Even in his best season, Bargnani only produced 105 points per 100 possessions while allowing 110 points produced per 100 possessions and contributed just 0.076 win shares per 48 minutes.
It is his extremely low career 0.061 win shares per 48 minutes that explains why Bargnani is the most disappointing No. 1 draft pick since Olowokandi.
Only Olowokandi's career mark of 0.009 win shares per 48 minutes is lower among former No. 1 draft picks since 1998 that have played in a couple of seasons. John Wall is currently contributing only 0.041 win shares per 48 minutes and if he does not improve in that aspect over his career, Bargnani will have some more company on the No. 1 draft pick bust list.
Even 2001 No. 1 draft pick Kwame Brown, looked upon as one of the worst No. 1 draft picks in recent history, has still contributed 0.075 win shares per 48 minutes over his career, and 0.077 win shares per 48 minutes over his first five seasons. Both of those marks are higher than Bargnani's.
The question one must ask is which is worse—a player who will average a lot of points per game but will do so in an inefficient way and provide no value for a team or a player who is without any sort of offensive prowess but can provide enough in other areas to make up for it and help a team to win?
For me, I would rather have the more complete player who is not great at anything, but will still help his team win more than a player whose whole game is wrapped up in something he does not do that well. At least then I would not be tricked into building a team around a player who cannot carry it.
The case could even be made that the way Bargnani's career is developing is more harmful to the Toronto Raptors than 2007 No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden's has been to the Portland Trail Blazers. Oden's major issue was staying healthy—the reason he is looked at as a bust has nothing to do with his actual play on the court.
In fact, when Oden did play, he did so fantastically, producing 117 points per 100 possessions and allowing 103 points per 100 possessions while contributing 0.180 win shares per 48 minutes. Should he ever be able to stay healthy—an unlikely occurrence given his track record with injuries—whichever team does retain his services will be pleased with his play.
Since the Trail Blazers know they cannot depend on Oden to stay healthy, they have yet to invest any more money in him and he will be a restricted free agent going into the 2011 season. Thus, they will have more money to spend on more reliably healthy players.
The Raptors, on the other hand, are under the false impression that Bargnani is a player on which they can rely and gave him a five-year, $50 million contract extension that kicked in this season.
Unless Bargnani becomes a better overall player, he will continue to be an incredibly disappointing No. 1 draft pick even though his points per game average might keep him from receiving too much criticism. As for the Toronto Raptors, until they find a true primary scoring option, their poor performances will mirror Bargnani's.