The Point Forward : An "opinion" on the Top 100 by Zach Lowe CNNSI writter
66. Andrea Bargnani
F-C, Toronto Raptors
2010-11 Stats: 21.4 PPG, 44.8 FG%, 34.5 3PT%, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 APG
Many will hate this ranking, I realize. The Bargnani devotees who see the next Nowitzki — still — will yell and scream about how there is no way a guy who averaged 21.4 points per game should rank this low. And then there are those who believe that Bargnani’s historically bad rebounding makes him one of the worst players in NBA history.
The truth is he’s somewhere in between, which is why we’re going to place him here — a dismally low spot for a No. 1 overall draft pick. But Bargnani is still a reasonably good player who could work in the right context (i.e. not as a No. 1 scoring option, surrounded by inexperienced or poor defenders). He is indeed terrible on the glass — one of the worst big man rebounders who has ever played in the NBA. That matters. To say he’s an equally bad defender is both true and too general. As Sebastian Pruiti has pointed out, Synergy numbers have consistently painted Bargnani as a solid defender in the post and in one-on-one situations. That is not a made-up thing or an exercise in excuse-making. The numbers are there, and the evidence is there on the video, if you remove the anti-Bargnani blinders.
Unfortunately, the trouble starts when Bargnani has to move around the court, either to quash a pick-and-roll, help a teammate or dart out toward a shooter. He has never been much good at any of this. And this is the stuff big men have to be better at now, in an era where there aren’t too many back-to-the-basket brutes who play to Bargnani’s relative strengths.
Add it all up, including the rebounding, and you’ve got a subpar big man defender at the center of just about every dismal Raptors lineup that took the floor last season.
Ranking him here, at No. 66 and above a few intriguing bigs, reflects the confidence that Bargnani’s shooting percentages will rebound to their career norms, and that a slowly changing team context in Toronto — the hiring of Dwane Casey and the maturation of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and others — will turn Bargnani into a better player and serve to hide his weaknesses a bit more.
If Bargnani continues to flounder on defense, Gortat and Ibaka are going to blow right past him as all-around players. And if you wanted to put all of the four preceding big men — Gortat, Varejao, Ibaka and Okafor – ahead of Bargnani now, I wouldn’t argue.
Bargnani was a less efficient scorer last season, since his three-point percentage dropped to 34.5 percent — around the league average — and his overall mark dropped along with it. In his defense, Bargnani is miscast as a No. 1 scoring option. Having a 7-footer who can shoot threes should help your team because it loosens up spacing so much, but the benefits are lost to some degree when you’re asking a third or second banana to do first-banana work.
Bargnani should be an asset, especially since he started to get the line at an above-average rate last season. And given how alleged defensive sieves have turned their careers around when gifted better playing environments, it’s fun to wonder if Bargnani could emerge as a neutral defender under a guru coach and alongside an elite defensive player or two. Can that happen in Toronto? Hiring Casey is a start.