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Old 10-19-2012, 08:55 AM   #1
RaininThrees
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Default Andrea Bargnani facing sink-or-swim season with Raptors

Quote:
TORONTO — The pre-season usually comes with a clean slate for everybody involved. It is one of the interminable month’s merits: It is a season of renewal.

Not for Andrea Bargnani, though; not anymore. For Bargnani and the Raptors, it is the stuff of broken-up couples that frequently reunite for the very same reason: They have too much history together.

Through six years, there have been all sorts of asterisks used to explain his failure to reach heights that were likely never attainable for him in the first place. He clashed with Sam Mitchell. He played in the frontcourt with Chris Bosh, who was too similar to him. He was misplaced at centre. The Raptors stagnated his growth when they acquired Jermaine O’Neal. Playing with weak defensive players such as Jose Calderon and Hedo Turkoglu just exposed Bargnani’s weaknesses.

Now, it might be sink-or-swim time in deciding whether Bargnani is an integral part of the Raptors.

“I’m going to push him and pull him as much as I can,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “But it’s up to Andrea. The talent is there. He’s the only guy that can pull it out from himself. I think every method in the world, every scenario has been played for him for this organization.”


Casey has only been here for a little more than a year. Imagine how the patience is draining from long-term Raptors employees.

A recurring calf strain — and, yes, he left Wednesday’s game with a calf contusion — kept him out of 35 of 66 games last year and cut his season into two distinct parts. He averaged 23.5 points and 6.4 rebounds on 48% shooting at the start of the season, while providing the best defence of his career. In the 18 games following his injury, he averaged 16.5 points and 4.9 rebounds on 39% shooting, with his defence slipping.

Bargnani was tentative on his calf, but it has also been suggested that he was less intense because the Raptors were playing for lottery balls.

“That’s not a reason not to come back,” Casey said. “I think it was more that he was cautious on the calf … But that could have played into it. At that point, when he did come back, we were playing young guys and had no chance at the playoffs.”

If you are going to believe this season is going to be any different — that Bargnani will be consistent rather than uneven — you would do well to look at the composition of the team.

Kyle Lowry is the best defensive point guard the Raptors have had during Bargnani’s time in Toronto, meaning there should be fewer direct instances of penetration into the heart of the defence. Up front, the players Bargnani will be paired with, such as Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis and Aaron Gray, are all capable of being high-volume rebounders. And Johnson and Valanciunas are solid help defenders. Raptors analytics consultant Alex Rucker said pairing Bargnani with a bunch of good rebounders, especially on the offensive end, was by design.

If the key pieces stay healthy, Bargnani will be counted on for two things above all others: high-volume scoring and quality defending on his man and in the pick-and-roll. His historic weaknesses — rebounding and help defence in the middle — will fall largely to other players.

And so far in the pre-season, even though he has been struggling offensively, his defence has looked fine.

“That’s evidence of growth, because there are going to be nights where teams take you out of what you want to do,” Casey said. “But you still have to give it to us defensively and also rebounding. Andrea’s done that. That’s where his growth is. But we need him on both ends. We need him offensively because we’re going to go as far as he takes us.”

It is up to Bargnani to make that a pleasant proposition.

***

The numbers

Andrea Bargnani’s best offensive seasons have come the last two years, but he has also missed 51 games over that stretch. A look at his per-36-minute numbers since joining the Raptors:

Season Pts Reb Blk FG% 3pt%
2006-07 16.6 5.6 1.2 42.7 37.3
2007-08 15.3 5.6 0.7 38.6 34.5
2008-09 17.6 6.1 1.4 45.0 40.9
2009-10 17.7 6.3 1.4 47.0 37.2
2010-11 21.6 5.2 0.7 44.8 34.5
2011-12 21.0 6.0 0.5 43.2 29.6

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