- What Makes A Great Scorer?
- Top 10 Myths About Andrea Bargnani
- Jonas Valanciunas Is Like Two Cookies (and Amir)
- Is The Big Man Era Over In The NBA?
- What Would Einstein Say About the Raptors Trading for Rudy Gay?
- Seeing Through Colangelo's Reality Distortion Field (Part 1)
- Can The Raptors Contend Without Tanking?
- The Case Against Signing Steve Nash
- An Open Letter to Bryan Colangelo
- 5 Stupid Reasons NOT To Trade Bargnani
- The Gospel According to Allen Iverson
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Posted on September 17, 2010 | 49 Comments
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I’ve had a couple of posts dedicated to Andrea Bargnani, but why not one more.
I don’t know whether there has ever been a Raptor who has ever been such a lightening rod for debate than Bargnani. It’s been mentioned by many that if you want to get your hit count up, just write a post abut Bargnani. Well, I’m certainly not going to be left out, so here is mine.
I find one thing about Bargnani is that there are a lot of myths about him that people seem to have latched onto and use in order to back up their opinion. Unfortunately, many of them are simply not true. As always, your input is always appreciated, so please leave a comment whether you agree with me or not.
[Edit: Kshiz, over on his excellent blog, has a somewhat different take on Bargnani, here and here. Keep in mind, that while I disagree with his premise, he presents his case intelligently and without resorting to namecalling, even in the comments section where the two of us debate his posts.]
10. BARGNANI IS A TOP TEN CENTER
There was a poll recently on Raptors Republic that asked whether Bargnani is a top ten center. Half of the respondents answered yes, which was rather disconcerting. I’m not sure whether these people simply HOPE he’ll be a top ten center, or whether they just value offense over defense and rebounding, but the way Bargnani is right now, he’s not.
The main argument seems to be that Bargnani is such a great scorer that he’s obviously a top ten center. Well, not quite. First of all, according to ESPN, Bargnani was 6th among centers in scoring this season, a hair above Al Jefferson. It’s certainly not ridiculous to argue that he has a chance to be the top scoring center in the league this season. No center scored more than 20.2 ppg last season and without Bosh, it’s possible Bargnani could average more than that.
And while it’s certainly possible, although no probable, that Bargnani could end up being the top scoring center, does that automatically make him a top ten center? Well, no. Again, that brings us back to defense and rebounding.
Last season, Bargnani was 45th in the league in rebounding, despite being 42nd in minutes per game. 16 centers grabbed more rebounds than Bargnani did last season. All but 2 played fewer minutes than Bargnani. Per minute, Bargnani is even worse. He’s 79th overall or 30th in rebounding among centers. In fact, Bargnani was the second worst rebounding center in the entire league, ahead of only Ryan Hollins. And the only PFs who are worse rebounders are guys like Jeff Green and Rashard Lewis, who are naturally small forwards. Needless to say, Bargnani is a very, very poor rebounder.
Just looking at his statistics, Bargnani certainly isn’t a top ten center. John Hollinger’s PER is renowned for not paying attention to defense, and last season Bargnani was 27th among centers. However much I don’t like the PER rating, it does give a good idea of the on court production of a player. What I don’t like is that it doesn’t properly take into consideration defense. Of course, defense isn’t a Bargnani strong suit, either.
Bargnani is a pretty good post defender, in certain circumstances, but he’s certainly a poor defender overall. So if not even the PER rating, which mostly ignores defense, doesn’t place him in the top ten, why on earth would anyone rank him that high if you include defense?
Offensively, I’d say he is a top ten center. Overall, there’s no way.
Just for the record, here are the centers I believe are inarguably better than Bargnani. Notice there are more than 10. And keep in mind I only included legit centers, so no David Lee, Al Jefferson or even Tim Duncan, who probably is a center, but is generally listed as a PF.
In no particular order:
Most are not the scorer that Bargnani is, but all are better defenders and rebounders than Bargnani is.
9. BARGNANI IS A GOOD INTERIOR DEFENDER BECAUSE HE BLOCKS A LOT OF SHOTS
One claim that some people make is that Bargnani is a good shotblocker so he MUST be a good interior defender. Well, no. Just as someone who gets a lot of steals is not automatically a great defender. Two perfect examples. Joe Dumars is one of the better perimeter defenders of all time, yet never averaged more than 1.1 spg his his entire career. On the other hand, Micheal Williams, who played his best years in Indiana and Minnesota, was a virtual sieve on defense, yet one year was second in the league in steals.
Same goes for blocks. One of the best big man defenders of all time was Dennis Rodman, who never even averaged a block per game. Karl Malone was another excellent defender who only averaged more than 1 bpg once in his entire career.
Personally, I love playing against shotblockers because they often aren’t good defenders. They fall for fakes, are often out of position on defense and leave their man too quickly, making it easy to pass to them for a layup. A guy like Tyrus Thomas is a great shotblocker, but not a great defender. This is the case with Bargnani.
Bargnani actually gets a lot of his blocks on his man posting him up, often times without ever leaving his feet. He’s pretty good at doing this and CAN be a good post defender because he doesn’t leave his feet. What he is not, however, is an intimidating lane presence. Players don’t see him waiting for them and think twice. In fact if they see him waiting in the lane, it’s often an invitation to drive the ball. Once in a while he’ll get a block, but more often than not, the offensive player will get a layup.
Now one excuse I have heard is that Bargnani simply looks bad because Jose Calderon is such a poor defender that it puts too much pressure on Bargnani. Of course this doesn’t explain why Mike Bibby, Jameer Nelson and Tony Parker, despite being poor defenders, don’t make Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Al Horford look bad.
8. BARGNANI IS A GOOD PASSER
I read all the time that Bargnani is a very good passer because he made a great pass in this game or that game. The problem is that there’s a difference between someone who makes a good pass once in a while and a good passer. Despite playing 35 mpg and having the ball enough to take 14.3 shots per game, Bargnani only managed to rack up 1.2 apg. And that was the same average as last season. One of the biggest complaints about him on offense is that he is a black hole. And he was probably less so of one this year than other years, but he still has never, ever managed to rack up more assists than turnovers over the course of a season.
And you certainly can’t use the excuse that he wasn’t given the ball enough because he managed to shoot it a lot. And Sonny Weems certainly didn’t have the ball more than Bargnani, and played nearly half the minutes Bargnani did, but still managed to average more assists per game than Bargnani did.
Any way you look at it, passing is certainly not Bargnani’s forte.
7. BARGNANI SHOULD REBOUND BETTER WITHOUT BOSH
This one confounds me. Apparently with Bosh gone, there should be more rebounds available for Bargnani. So if there weren’t enough rebounds available for Bargnani to grab with Bosh last season, why is it that Toronto was such a poor rebounding team and were consistently outrebounded by their opponent? Obviously there were SOME rebounds that a Raptor player should have grabbed.
And considering that Amir Johnson has very similar rebounding numbers to Bosh, why would there suddenly be more rebounds available? Ed Davis was a good rebounder in college, so it’s likely he’ll be a good rebounder in the pros. That means he’s going to be grabbing his share of rebounds.
One of the most ridiculous statements I’ve read is that there isn’t any team with two guys who average double figure rebounds, so you can’t expect Bargnani to average a lot of rebounds when Bosh does. Considering only 9 guys averaged double figures in rebounds last season, having two guys that do that would be very rare. The Lakers actually had 3 guys who averaged at least 8.3 rpg. And what that did was make them one of the best rebounding teams in the league. If Bargnani had grabbed even a couple of more rebounds a game, the Raptors would have gone from poor to okay. Seven of the bottom ten rebounding teams in the league last year didn’t make the playoffs. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how important good rebounding is.
That’s the whole problem with Bargnani. He’s not going to help his team on the boards. And no matter who he teams with, it’s going to be the same problem. When Bosh was out last season, Bargnani’s rebounding totals actually went DOWN.
6. BARGNANI HAS IMPROVED EVERY YEAR IN THE NBA
When you look at his per game stats, it appears that Bargnani has improved just about every year in the league. That is proof to many that he will continue to make the same improvements, especially without Bosh. The only problem is that the statistical improvements Bargnani has made since he entered the league have been fairly negligible. What has gone up have been his minutes. Obviously when you play more minutes you’re going to produce more.
I know some people scoff at per36 stats, but they are very useful in certain circumstances, like, for example, seeing how much a player has improved his stats. In four years, Bargnani has increased his scoring by 1.1 ppg, his rebounding by 0.7 rpg, his blocks by 0.2 bpg and his assists by 0.1 apg. This doesn’t describe a player who has improved much. There IS one area where he has made improvements, and that’s fouls. His fouls have dropped by 1.2 fpg, which is one of the main reasons he now is able to play 35 mpg.
In some ways, he’s regressed. He got to the line at a lower rate last season than every before. If Bargnani is playing more inside, shouldn’t he get fouled more? Of course this brings us to the next myth.
5. BARGNANI IS A GREAT SCORER
People mistake being able to score in a variety of ways with being a great scorer. Bargnani is a good scorer. He was 36th in the league in scoring last season, averaging 17.2 ppg. That’s good, but certainly not great. Of course, with Bosh gone, his shots per game will surely go up, right? Maybe.
Bargnani took 14.3 shots per game last season. That’s more shots per game than ANYONE on Boston, Orlando, San Antonio, Utah and Philadephia. Bosh only took two more per game.
The big problem is that Bargnani requires a lot more shots than most scorers in order to get his points because he doesn’t get to the line. Read this post to understand what I’m talking about. As I mentioned previously, Bargnani actually got to the line at a lower rate last season than ever before. And that’s despite taking fewer three point shots. Without the ability to get to the line, Bargnani is going to struggle to score consistently. It’s why the top scorers almost always get to the line at a high rate. When your shots not falling, as will invariably happen, great scorers can still get their points. Bargnani can’t.
4. BARGNANI HAS NOT BEEN GIVEN A CHANCE TO SHINE
This may have been true the first couple of seasons, but the last two seasons, Bargnani has averaged 31.4 and 35 mpg, while taking 12.3 and 14.3 shots per game. This is not a guy who hasn’t been given an opportunity. Most players would kill for the opportunity Bargnani has been given the last couple of years. And when Bosh went down at two different times last season, it was the perfect time for Bargnani to step up. His averaged fewer points and rebounds during that time.
Both Colangelo and Triano have bent over backwards to give Bargnani the opportunity to excel. Colangelo fired Sam Mitchell, in large part, because Mitchell wouldn’t play Bargnani enough. Something Triano has done plenty of.
Last season, Bargnani played MORE minutes per game than Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Russell Westbrook, Carlos Boozer, Paul Pierce and Tim Duncan, among many other All-Stars or future All-Stars. And this while being a liability on the defensive end and on the boards. On another team he probably would not have gotten those minutes.
And he took MORE shots per game than Carlos Boozer, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Brook Lopez, Andrew Bogut, Pau Gasol and Paul Pierce among other players who no one would ever claim haven’t been given a chance. And he’s taken that many shots despite not being an efficient scorer.
No one can honestly say that Bargnani has not been given every opportunity to succeed.
3. BARGNANI IS LIKE DIRK NOWITZKI OR PAU GASOL
When Bargnani came into the league, the guy he was most compared to was Dirk Nowitzki. Both of them were/are European 7 footers who can hit the three and are very mobile for their size. Other than that, there’s very little difference. Dirk has always been able to get to the line at a high rate, making him a more consistent scorer. He was also a better low post scorer and better at getting to the hoop, hence his ability to get to the line. Dirk also took just a season and a half to really become an elite player. In his third season (and his first was the protracted season and he only played 47 games) he averaged 21.8 ppg and 9.2 rpg. After four years, it’s pretty evident that Bargnani is not Dirk Nowitzki.
Of course, another player has surfaced that Bargnani is being compared to, and that’s Pau Gasol.
Unfortunately, unlike Bargnani, Gasol immediately excelled and was immediately an above average rebounder, despite moving from Europe to the NBA game and being asked to play a completely different role than he was used to. And Gasol made the All-Star team in his third season. Bargnani struggled much more with his transition and entering his fourth season he still is a poor rebounder and not close to making the All-Star team.
The one claim that people (falsely) make is that like Bargnani, Pau Gasol was a poor defender his first few years until he went to the Lakers. This is apparently a fact that can be used to show that Bargnani, too, can become a good defender. Unfortunately the premise is completely false.
Gasol did struggle defensively while in Memphis, but that was due to playing center and being overpowered defensively by bigger and stronger players in the post. When he was traded to the Lakers, he moved to power forward where he didn’t have to defend the bigger stronger players, anymore.
And Gasol was actually a half decent defender overall with Memphis, which is why they were one of the best defensive teams in the league the year they won 50 games. And that was partly due to Gasol who, while not a great post defender, was a good defender overall, including team defense.
Bargnani’s strength is actually post defense. It’s the other facets of defense that he struggles with.
2. BARGNANI IS REALLY A POWER FORWARD
This is one of the biggest fallacies about Bargnani. I could write an entire post about this one. The thinking, apparently, is that if Bargnani could play his “natural” position, he would be a better player, including on the boards, on defense and scoring the ball.
First of all, in the NBA, there is no difference between what a center does and a power forward does on offense. It completely depends on the player. Mehmet Okur takes a lot of perimeter shots. In fact 62% of his shots come from outside the paint. And he’s a center. So is Channing Frye, who last year took 88% of his shots from outside of the paint. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol, a power forward as we all know, took 61% of his shots from INSIDE the paint last season. Now it is true that most centers tend to play in the post and score close to the basket, but the two are not necessarily linked. Bill Laimbeer had absolutely no post moves, but won a Championship as the Pistons starting center.
Obviously what Bargnani does on offense has little bearing what position he plays. In actual fact, Bargnani’s offensive skills make him more valuable as a center. With other centers defending him, he can draw them outside and use his quickness against them. Against power forwards, he simply doesn’t have a quickness advantage, so it takes away a big part of his game.
Inside, Bargnani would most certainly have a height advantage against mostly shorter power forwards, but Bargnani is not an inside player. He is a below average post player, doesn’t draw fouls down there and lacks the soft hands to be able to catch quick passes inside. Plus, his whole advantage and allure is that he’s a 7 footer who can shoot the three. Bargnani is above average in one area, and that’s offense. Making him a post player takes that away.
Of course, another argument is that he’ll rebound more at power forward, especially now that Bosh is not there. The belief, apparently, is that Bargnani would have a height advantage over the other power forwards. True, but they would also have a quickness advantage over him. And since grabbing rebounds that come to him isn’t Bargnani’s problem, being taller than his opponent is not going to help. What Bargnani lacks the ability to do is actually GO GET rebounds, and having an opponent that is quicker to the ball than him is a disadvantage.
Besides, the best rebounder on the Raptors last season was Reggie Evans, who is 6’8 and shorter than most other power forwards. One of the best rebounders of all time was Dennis Rodman, who was also 6’8. Three of the top 10 rebounders in the league last season were 6’9 or shorter, including the 6’7 Gerald Wallace. So could you please tell me again how Bargnani’s height advantage is going to get him more rebounds?
Lastly, people claim that moving Bargnani to power forward will lessen him being a liability on defense. Let’s forget the fact that moving him to power forward takes away the ONLY defensive strength the guy has. Bargnani is actually pretty good at defending in the post, especially against less mobile players who can’t beat him off the dribble. And let’s also forget about the fact that Bargnani would now being guarding more mobile players who he generally has trouble defending, especially on the perimeter. Apparently moving Bargnani to power forward would hide his inability to play team defense.
Bargnani is still going to be out on the floor, right? So exactly how is he going to be hidden better playing at power forward? Well, again, apparently centers are the interior defenders on the team and the power forward generally doesn’t have to protect the rim at all. Tell this to Josh Smith and Pau Gasol, both of whom are the leading shotblockers on their team and the best interior team defenders. Again, it doesn’t matter what position you play, whether power forward or center. You’re going to be responsible for interior defense because the player driving the ball doesn’t always go to the side where the center is. They usually end up going at the weakest interior defender, and that would be Bargnani.
So Bargnani would gain no advantage on either offense or defense by moving to power forward, and in fact would have more disadvantages. Whether you like it or not, Bargnani’s best position is the one he has been playing for most of his four years on the Raptors. Center.
1. I HATE BARGNANI AND AM BEING TOO HARD ON HIM
This epithet is the last line of defense in an argument when a player is being criticized too much. It’s a `catch-all’ against all arguments. When you call someone a hater, nothing they say has any weight, so their argument suddenly is invalidated. It’s a great way to ignore a solid argument. Just call them a hater.
So I must be a hater, right? That could be the only explanation of why I criticize Bargnani so much. The only problem is it’s not true. In fact, I have no personal feeling about Bargnani one way or the other. There are a few players I DO have personal feelings towards. I can’t stand Shaq because I think he’s basically a full-grown child who craves attention, and then there was that whole incident about waiting until just before training camp to have surgery on his foot because ”I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time.”
And as a Canadian who doesn’t have a lot of size or athletic ability, I have a soft spot for Steve Nash. I also like how he conducts himself on and off the court. He’s one of the few professional athletes I actually respect.
Bargnani, however, I don’t like or dislike. He’s simply one of 15 Raptors on the team of which I also have no personal feelings about. After following the NBA for more than 25 years, I’ve come to realize that getting emotionally attached to certain players is pointless. I was disappointed to see Bosh leave the Raptors not because I liked him, but because he was such a good player. I have no more interest in him as a member of the Heat as I do with any other member of the Heat.
That’s not to say I don’t have opinions about their game and basketball in general. I’ve followed the NBA long enough to know what type of players you need on your team to succeed and win a Championship. Going back more than 30 years (that’s all I went back) no team has ever won a Championship with a starting big man who was neither an above average defender or rebounder. Some teams had an average rebounder, but he made up for it by being an above average defender and visa versa. Bargnani is neither. Winning a Championship in the NBA is hard enough. Why make it even more difficult by having a player on your team that, historically, can’t help you win?
As a Raptor fan, I feel it’s my responsibility to want what’s best for my team. And what’s best for my team is for Bargnani not to be on it. Trading him away would not automatically make the team more successful, but having him on it doesn’t help it. I want the Raptors to be successful, and I see Bargnani as a stumbling block to success. I wouldn’t be a fan of the team if I didn’t voice my views.
Of course, I probably wouldn’t be so vocal about my views if Bargnani defenders were more reasonable. When met with a barrage of stats supporting my view, it’s frustrating to be met with an ignorant response that either ignores the evidence or simply dismisses it as meaningless. And even more frustrating are the defenders who continue to bring up the myths I’ve listed as evidence that Bargnani is, or will be, a great player.
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