The Case Against Bargnani

Posted on April 9, 2010 | 7 Comments

Blogger’s Note:

Is anyone else pissed that LeBron played against the Raptors, but took the night off against Chicago, which resulted in a Bulls win? How exactly is that fair? If the Bulls end up getting one more win than the Raptors, and make the playoffs, the Cavs should be fined heavily. Actually, they should be fined anyway. That just sucks.

Now back to my irregularly scheduled blog…

I’ve been accused of being too hard on Bargnani. And with the likelihood of Bosh leaving increasing, the chance of the “Bargnani-era” starting in Toronto is increasing. You’ll excuse me if I shudder while I type that, won’t you?

In the days leading up to the 2006 draft, I had high hopes that the whole Bargnani thing was a smokescreen. I hoped that Colangelo certainly didn’t think a soft, jumpshooting big man who couldn’t rebound and wasn’t a great defender was worth the number one pick. I was wrong. And disappointed.

I’m going to make a confession here. I’m a bit biased when it comes to basketball players. I think PG’s should pass first and shoot second, and I think big men should rebound and defend on top of whatever else they want to do. I believe these are ingredients to Championship basketball. And I’m not completely set on the pass-first point guard as long as you’ve got SOMEONE who can run an offense.

When I saw Bargnani, I saw everything I hated in a big man. He didn’t rebound and didn’t seem to know how to defend. Sure, being able to score inside more than he did would have been nice, but, quite frankly, I didn’t really care about his offense. To me, a big man who can’t rebound is like a hooker who can’t give a blow job. It’s sort of necessary for the position.

Look back for pretty much as long as you like. Every single Championship team has had their two starting big men average, at the very least, 7 rpg per 36 minutes. And those that averaged as little as 7 rpg were extraordinary defenders. Bargnani as never averaged close to 7 rpg per 36 minutes, and is certainly not an extraordinary defender.

Now, Bargnani’s backers will point to his strengths, which he does have. For a seven footer, he’s a very good shooter, and he is extremely agile for his size. He’s no lumbering giant. The main problem with his strengths, which I’ve discussed in earlier posts, is that he’s simply not an efficient enough offensive player to become a top scorer in the league. And if you’re rebounding and defense are as lacking as Bargnani’s, you have to be a GREAT scorer. And he will never be that.

The problem, of course, is he’s a jumpshooter, plain and simple. That’s really all he does well. After four years in the NBA, he’s still a poor post player, he doesn’t move well without the ball, and his only real move is a pump fake and drive from the three point line. He’s never, ever going to dominate a defender because he can’t. He depends so heavily on others creating shots for him, that he can never be counted on to be the 1st option in any offense, and probably shouldn’t every be the second option, either, considering how poorly he creates his own shot.

An incredibly high 75% of Bargnani’s shots are assisted. That’s a whopping 25% more than Bosh and 11% more than a guy like Amir Johnson, who would not be someone who you think of creating his own shot. He’s actually on par with a player like Denver’s Nene, who is certainly not close to the 1st or 2nd option. In fact, I’d say he’s usually the last option in Denver’s offense. Same with Boston’s Kendrick Perkins. The difference between those guys and Bargnani is they actually are above average rebounders and defenders, so any offense you get from them is a bonus. The funny thing, though, is that Nene only scores 3 ppg less than Bargnani, but he shoots at a much higher percentage, but you also get defense and rebounding.

In an earlier post, I discussed WHY Bargnani can’t become a top scorer. He doesn’t get to the line, which is a necessity. As we’ve seen recently with Bargnani, if his shot isn’t going down, he has little else in his arsenal to put points on the board. With Bosh, if his jumper’s not going, he can still get to the line. In a sense, manufacture points. Bargnani’s only real move to get to the line is the pumpfake, which doesn’t really work if his shot’s not going down. In fact, Bargnani is getting to the line at a LOWER rate than ever before.

The rate is derived from dividing the free throws attempted by the field goal attempts. This gives a true indication of how well a player gets to the line, because it doesn’t take into consideration their role in the offense or how many shots they take.

2007- .227
2008- .233
2009- .278
2010- .208

Last season, it looked like he had made a leap, which I discussed in the earlier post, but not only regressed this season, hit rock bottom. In fact, Bargnani gets to the line at the lowest rate of any rotation player (I didn’t check the others). That’s horrible for your second option.

And for a guy who is supposed to be such a good shooter, it would be nice if he actually showed it. Did you know that Bargnani is not even in the top 60 for 3 point percentage? There are 67 players in the league with a better 3 point percentage than Bargnani. This is his biggest strength, yet he’s not even above average at it.

So, he is an average shooter, doesn’t get to the line or create his own shot, doesn’t rebound and plays extremely inconsistent defense. Explain to me again why I am being too hard on him?

Now, Bargnani certainly has his backers, and I don’t think I’ve encountered a player who has more excuses from fans than Bargnani. Here are some:

Bargnani only plays outside as much as he does because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

WRONG! Bargnani has been asked to play inside more, even with Bosh healthy, but consistently floats outside. He doesn’t hold position well and doesn’t catch the ball well in the post. And when he does get the ball in the paint, more often than not will it end up being a fade away. Triano is loathe to publicly throw someone under a bus, but coaches have privately told reporters that Bargnani has frustrated them by continually floating outside when they want him inside.

Bargnani would have improved more had he had better coaching.

WRONG! Again with the coaching excuse. Many Raptor fans seem to be under the impression that good coaching is a cure all. NBA graveyards are littered with talented big men that Hall of Fame coaches never got what they needed from them. Larry Brown certainly didn’t make Darko Milicic an All-Star. Phil Jackson never made Stacey King look anything like what he was expected coming out of college. It’s Brad Sellers, though, who I am reminded of when talking about Bargnani. A lottery pick for the Bulls, he had a very good coach in Doug Collins teaching him. Collins, for all his weaknesses, was always considered a great teacher.

of the big pieces of which the Bulls were building around a young Jordan. Sellers could score, rebound and defend. He was athletic and had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, he seemed to be allergic to the paint. After a promising rookie season, Sellers eventually faded away into NBA obscurity because he was the player he was. A soft, jump shooting big man. No one, not Doug Collins nor Michael Jordan could change that.

Bargnani worked out with Moses Malone this past summer, a Hall of Fame big man. He’s been taught by coaches like Marc Iavaroni, a big man with a lot less talent who won a ring as a starter in Philadelphia. He’s been tutored by veterans like Bosh, Nesterovic and Reggie Evans. At some point, it’s up to the actual player to develop his skills.

Bargnani rebounds at a lower rate because he is out on the perimeter.

WRONG! Apparently no one told this to guys like Dirk Nowitztki and Troy Murphy, who are three point shooting big men who don’t hurt their team on the boards. Being a perimeter player only hurts your chances of getting OFFENSIVE rebounds. On defense, chances are you’re in the paint guarding the other team’s big man.

Bargnani rebounds at a lower rate because Bosh takes his rebounds.

WRONG! Bargnani rebounded at a LOWER rate when Bosh was injured this year.

Bargnani is a good defender, because he gets timely blocks.

WRONG! Bargnani looked like he might become a pretty good defender this season, but he continues to constantly miss rotations, turn his back on the ball on defense, and allow his man to grab offensive rebounds. He’s not a good defender, and getting a couple of blocks doesn’t change that fact.

Bargnani is playing out of position and would be better if he played power forward.

WRONG! This has got to be one of the stupidest excuses. What position Bargnani plays has absolutely no bearing on how many rebounds he’d get, how often and where he’d score, and how good a defender he would be. In fact, playing at PF would allow more agile defenders to guard him, guys that are more accustomed to defending on the perimeter. And it would mean that Bargnani would also have to guard more out on the perimeter, which he is not very good at. And there are far more good PF’s in the league than centers, so day in and day out, he would have tougher defensive assignments. The fact is, Bargnani is best suited for center because few centers have the ability to guard him on the perimeter, which means he can get more open looks.

Bargnani has improved his post up game.

WRONG! Okay, maybe that’s not wrong, but his post game has gone from awful to below average for a big man. Sonny Weems, who is by all intent and purposes a rookie, has better post moves than Bargnani. Watching him during one play when he bullied Paul Pierce for a hook shot is something I’ve never, ever seen from Bargnani in fur years.

CONCLUSION

Bargnani is the type of player that can be fun to watch if you don’t really know a lot about the game. It’s amazing to see a guy that size shoot the three and the fact that he does sometimes get some timely blocks makes some people forget all the lapses on defense during the other 35 minutes of the game. Or maybe they simply didn’t notice them in the first place.

The reason I’m harder on Bargnani than any other Raptor is because every other player actually does something that is above average. Turkoglu is a great passer and playmaker. Calderon is an above average shooter (better than Bargnani) and is adept at running an offense. Johnson rebounds and defends very well. Wright is an above average defender. Both Weems and DeRozan are incredibly athletic gym rats who should only get better. Belinelli is a great passer, above average shooter and excellent playmaker. Bargnani is an average shooter who does very little else.

It’s been four years and he’s relatively the same player he was in his rookie season. And he wasn’t all that good then.

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Comments

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  • http://khandorssportsblog.com/wordpress khandor

    Tim,

    1. Great piece of work on your part, sticking mainly to the facts of the matter, re: Andrea Bargnani!

    2. re: “Bargnani is the type of player that can be fun to watch if you don’t really know a lot about the game.”

    100% correct.

    3. re: Johnson and Wright

    Amir is a very good rebounder but only an average defender overall, given his different pluses [e.g. shot-blocking, defensive transition, switchability, etc.] and minuses [e.g. lack of physical size, strength and discipline].

    Antoine is, at-best, an average defender, given his different pluses [e.g. tenacity] and minuses [e.g. lack of strength, agility and discipline]. On the Raptors, however, he just SEEMS to be a fair amount better than that because almost everyone else is just SO BAD.

  • mikes

    Wow! You do an excellent job of analyzing Bargs’ game (or lack there of). The fact that you back up your opinion with a solid statistical analysis AND insights you can only get from watching the games (e.g. how he’s so often looking away from the ball on D) is fantastic. I agree that he’s average and doesn’t do the most important things for players at his position, including setting SOLID SCREENS, which I don’t think you mentioned. I have no idea if this is something the coaching staff tells him to do, but when Bargs sets a screen, he rolls to the basket before the other player has a chance to get “caught” on his screen. (Compare this with how Dwight Howard sets screens, and then ask yourself why it seems like Hedo has lost his ability to turn the corner.) I think Colangelo’s faith in him will bring the Raps even further down…Keep the articles coming!

  • http://www.wearingfilm.com Tim W.

    Thanks, guys. Ya, Bargnani is a piece if work that seems to polarize Raptor fans. Some people just can’t seem to see how average a player Bargnani is, overall. They’re dazzled by his jumpshooting and once in a blue moon drives, fooling themselves into believing that he’s got the potential to be something he’s not. I’ve been called anti-European, which is funny since I give Calderon and Belinelli way more slack than others do. I know some people are turned off by continuous criticism of a certain player, so I’ve done my best over the last year to not rant too much (sometimes I simply couldn’t help myself).

    khandor,

    I think Amir is an above average defender, but he’s simply too slight and gets bullied by stronger players. That doesn’t mean he’s not above average, it’s just that he’s at a disadvantage against certain matchups.

    Wright, also depending on the matchup, can be a very good defender. I mean, he didn’t start in Dallas last season (and was called by Carlisle the best Dallas perimeter defender) for his offense. He can certainly make some poor decisions, but he’s still an above average defender.

    mikes,

    You know, I’v never really thought much about his lack of screening skills, but you’re right. He’s piss poor at it. He’d probably get a lot mor open looks on pick and rolls if he could do it better.

  • Slick_Rick

    That was a refreshing read. Every year that I watch the Raptors, I’m optomistic that Andrea will turn the corner. And every year he seems to prove me wrong. As you stated, he has no major strengths in his game. I actually think that he has in some ways his game has regressed from his rookie season. He is an extremely lazy defender that does not use his height properly.

    You were pretty much right that Andrea has not taken in much from the coaches that have been around him. You could’ve also mentioned thatt even the tough love approach of Sam Mitchell’s couldn’t even get through to him. I just believe that there is no changing players that won’t accept change. Sam Bowie had a lot of expectations when he reached the NBA, but his college game never really seemed to take off in the league. I figure that Bryan Colangelo knows that he made a bad choice, but he needs to accept defeat and move on.

    I am not one for just blaming one player because you have to bear in mind that he is Bryan Colangelo project. We can keep on beating a dead horse and say that Andrea will never… never… learn, but keep in mind that Raptors management selected him and signed him to a recent contract. I’m like you in that I would rather team’s be built around player positioning (shooters shoot and centers rebound). That’s is where I get really annoyed at the way the Raptors have been constructed. Last year, the went through a similar fiasco with Jermaine O’Neal playing the same position as Bosh. The primary problem with Colangelo’s logic is that he is doubling up on positions. For instance, this season we have Hedo and Andrea setting up at the same spots (which is at the three point line). That is why I do think that things may have been different had they had kept Shawn Marion.

    An earlier comment mentioned that Andrea does not set solid screens. I would argue that none of the Raptors set good picks (Bosh included).

  • http://www.wearingfilm.com Tim W.

    Slick_Rick,

    I’ve obviously never been a fan of Bargnani, but I had some hope earlier this season that he might end up becoming an above average defender, which would mean I could live with his other weaknesses (barely). Bargnani can be a half decent defender when guarding his man, depending on the matchup. Quick or strong big man cause him problems, but he’s able to guard guys like Tim Duncan (at this point in his career) well, because he’s got good length and can stay in front of them. The reason, I think, he can be pretty good guarding his man is that he doesn’t have to think too much. His role is obvious- stop your man from scoring. Unfortunately, that’s why he’s a bad team defender. He simply doesn’t understand the basic concepts of it. It can be quite frustrating to watch him, because things that seem obvious to me, he doesn’t seem to see. And I’m glad I’m not his coach because watching him turn his back on the play time and time again would cause me to tear my hair out.

    Personally, I just don’t think he has a very high basketball IQ. It’s four years and he STILL looks like a rookie out there half the time.

    As for Colangelo, I am guessing that he sees what you and I see, but Bargnani is an investment, and they’ve got to get SOMETHING out of him. It was a mistake to pay him what he did, but allowing Triano to bench him doesn’t help the team in the long wrong. I can only hope he does well in the playoffs (not too well, though) so he increases his trade value. If he’s not gone by training camp, I’m not sure I can watch the Raptors on a regular basis with Bargnani as the main guy. It would just be too frustrating.

    And you might be right about none of the Raptors being good at setting screens. Considering hw important pick and rolls are to their offense, that’s not a good sign, is it?

  • Slick_Rick

    The Raptors front court is one of tallest in the entire league. We always have a decided advantage height-wise at the four and five on most nights. So, why is there such a rebounding issue? When you compare the 2001 Raptors playoff team to this current team, you can make the argument that size really doesn’t matter. Antonio Davis was a undersized center and Charles Oakley was an undersized power forward (notable mention Keon Clark and JYD). I am bringing up these players because I think that it has a lot to do with the Jay Triano’s system.

    From the start of the season, we could see that this team was constructed strickly for offensive purposes. If they wanted to focus on defensive the coaching staff would’ve taught the players how to box-out properly. I’m serious, check out the players confused reaction when it comes to rebounding. I am not a professional, but I know that you have to locate your man, get inside position, and spread out your arms to prevent other teams getting an offensive board. I believe that the basic fundamentals are missing from this team.

    Another goof up by Triano is that he rarely goes to players strengths. For instance, take Reggie Evans, now I was overjoyed to have a person that we can finally enforce some muscle on opposing teams (i.e. Celtics). Instead of using Reggie to set screens, what does Triano have Reggie doing? Posting up. Yes, we have a player that has historical been known as a “garbage man of the NBA”… Posting up.

    I actually think that Andrea would do better in a more structured offence/defense where he is pressured to perform. I don’t like Lamar Odom, but Phil Jackson has managed to find a important spot for him on the team. I’m making this comparison because both Andrea and Lamar have the same potential and tendencies.

    The thing that Jay does well is develop players. Amir and Sonny were the lone bright spots to this forgotten season. (I had to put in one positive)

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