The evolution was apparent on Wednesday, as Bargnani's 28 points in the Raptors' win came in a variety of ways. He hit two three-pointers, scored with his back to the basket a few times, and scored on a drive or cut a few more.
This does not mean you should purchase your Bargnani Eastern Conference all-star jersey just yet — he scored 20 points in 22 minutes in the season opener two years ago, before battling through his worst year to date. However, it was an undeniably auspicious start for a player that has shown little to no aptitude down low before.
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It's doubtful Bargnani will ever get truly comfortable in such a situation, but it's not out of the question. It's not that long ago that Bargnani had a similar aversion to playing in the low post, but early indications this season suggest that's no longer the case.
On his first touch Wednesday night, Bargnani went baseline around a flat-footed Anderson Varejao and finished with a thunderous dunk. Later, when the Cavs went small and Bargnani had LeBron James on him, the big Italian backed the smaller James down twice for scores.
In between, Bargnani was a threat all night from beyond the arc and even, on one occasion, slashing to the hoop, where he converted another easy dunk on a pass from Jose Calderon.
Perhaps prompted by foul trouble, perhaps by the Cavaliers' preference for a small lineup, and perhaps by the uncertainty of a new season, the Raptors' rotation was all over the place on Wednesday.
Triano was very quick in his substitution patterns, something he said he did not plan on doing. He also blamed himself for point guard Jose Calderon's early problems at the free-throw line.
"I'll take credit for those missed free throws because he had no legs," Triano said. "I gassed him out. Our coaches were saying we needed to get him out, but I wasn't going to go with four subs that early in the game."
Instead, Bargnani took his time. He backed into the paint. And using his height advantage on James – understanding that James, at 6-foot-8, was at the mercy his 7-foot length – Bargnani reeled off a beautiful up-and-under move for an easy two.
"Last year he would have never taken LeBron back to the basket to try and score on him," said Maurizio Gherardini, the Raptors senior vice-president of basketball operations. "It's just a matter of a kid – a former kid – who has grown, and whose level of confidence has grown. … He's just becoming more of a man in every sense of the word."
These are early days, of course. And just as Gherardini spent Thursday peppering his praise for Bargnani with disclaimers – "It's just the beginning of a long journey," the executive said – Raptors coach Jay Triano wasn't especially effusive about Bargnani's performance in Toronto's 101-91 season-opening win.
Marco Belinelli shook off a pre-season shooting slump to contribute a bench-high 10 points in the Raptors season-opening win Wednesday.
Yesterday, with the team still basking in the glow of their upset over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Belinelli had one more reason to smile.
General manager Bryan Colangelo pulled him aside after practice and informed the 23-year-old Italian that the Raptors were exercising the team option on his rookie-scale contract. The decision means Belinelli now is guaranteed a job through the end of next season.
As exciting as it was to see the Raps stun almost everyone in their home opener win against the Lebrons, given the schedule ahead, securing a W against the Grizzlies is as close to a must-win situation as there is at this point in the season.
Ok, so it is probably a little early to talk about "must-win" games, but let's be realistic here and understand that if the Raps intend on being at least a second tier team in the East, beating the likes of the Grizzlies is essential.
Now make no mistake, this Grizzlies team is not nearly as bad as in years past…at least on paper. Rudy Gay is a maturing and explosive player, OJ Mayo had a terrific rookie season, and Marc Gasol is proving to be a solid center in a league almost devoid of traditional centers. They also acquired a PF who is is constant 20 and 10 guy, which would be a good thing if his name wasn't Zach Randolph.
Raptors head coach Jay Triano said the two Jose Calderon missed free throws early in Wednesday’s game were actually the coach’s fault, not Calderon’s.
“I left him in too long because I’m trying to find a way to keep two of (Bosh, Bargnani, Turkoglu and Calderon) on the floor at all times. I’ll take credit for his two missed free throws because he had no legs. I gassed him out. Our coaches were saying we had to get him out but I didn’t want to go with four subs at that point in the game.”
Another positive element from Wednesday was how the team responded to Cleveland's push in the third-quarter. Despite their early season struggles, the Cavaliers are too good to simply get blown out in the first half and lie down dead. They were going to make a run and they did so on the back of some impressive long-range shooting from their backcourt. The Raptors, to their credit, never lost their composure and when their jumpers weren't falling they were able to ride Chris Bosh and his efforts to get to the free throw line until the rest of the club caught fire again.
That development pays off in two ways: one, it showed a steadfastness that this club has rarely demonstrated to withstand a run and not buckle, but more importantly it showed an understanding by the team's star of what he needed to do to get his team a win.
“The first thing is to take your time, don’t rush,” he says of his mindset now. “Wait to see the situation, do everything slow. You learn that from experience. I still have to improve a lot, I’m not very good.”
He doesn’t need to be great down there, just good enough to allow the rest of his skills to flourish.
“His game has evolved,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano said. “First year, teams would switch and he wouldn’t go inside; then he’d go inside with a point guard on him. Now, he’s not afraid to go inside with bigger guys on him. That’s just a confidence factor and a strength factor. He’s not only standing on the three-point.”
Welcome Andrea Bargnani: Many, many people scoffed when the Toronto Raptors gave big man Andrea Bargnani – the first player taken in the 2006 NBA Draft – a five-year, $50 million contract extension this summer. The reasoned Bargnani was inconsistent and hadn't done enough to justify giving him so much money at this point.
The Raptors could have done nothing and Bargnani would have been a restricted free agent next summer, but by signing him early this past summer they may have just grabbed themselves a steal.
In 30 minutes of play in an opening night win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Bargnani posted 28 points, five rebounds, an assist, a block, a steal, made 2-3 three-pointers, and hit 11-15 from the floor overall. And all of this in a game where he had to match up with the likes of Cleveland's Shaquille O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Anderson Varejao.
– Substitution pattern: “Honestly, I can’t tell you if I’m comfortable with the substitution pattern yet because of the fact that we did have foul trouble. If I have to play 10 guys or 11 guys, I feel comfortable that I can do that. I don’t think it’s where I have to stick to an eight-man rotation just because of the quality of players we have sitting on the bench. I joked with Jose today that I left him in too long because I’m trying to find a way to keep two of those guys on the floor. I’ll take credit for those missed free throws because he had no legs. I gassed him out. Our coaches were saying we needed to get him out, but I wasn’t going to go with four subs that early in the game.”
Andrea Bargnani shot the ball extremely well last night. In part due to an excellent individual shooting performance and in part due to a poor defensive effort + lack of a suitable one-on-one defender from the Cavs.
– Bargnani shot 11-15 from the floor and added 4-4 from the line.
– That was good for a true shooting percentage of 83.5% (or 82.4% since there were no and-ones, whichever figure you prefer)
– Now obviously Bargnani isn’t going to post a true….
Andrea Bargnani – Bargnani was the leading scorer for the Raptors yesterday in their win over LeBron James and the Cavaliers. He finished with 28 points and 5 rebounds and appeared to be more than just the jump shooter he had shown over his first few years. Of course, the Cavaliers frontline players are not known for their perimeter defense so they did struggle with the 7-footer and his perimeter ability. Can he continue this production throughout the course of the year?
For Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo, it could be whether he has the team headed in the right direction.
"I take the criticism as a challenge," Colangelo said when his team started training camp late last month.
"I try to funnel that and channel that the right way and apply myself even that much more. It's not that I don't work hard all the time, but when it's time to fight, I want to know that the people around me have the same attitude and mentality that I have, and people want to get in the trenches and dig through it."
Veteran guard Allen Iverson participated in a full-contact practice today but he is not scheduled to play Friday when the Grizzlies host the Toronto Raptors, team officials said. Iverson, 34, is recovering from a partially torn left hamstring that caused him to miss the entire preseason and the Grizzlies’ season opener Wednesday against Detroit.
Andrea Bargnani, Raptors: He connected on 11 of 15 shots from the floor on the way to 28 points to help Toronto overcome a triple-double from LeBron James in a 10-point Raptors' victory.
3. Toronto Raptors
Int’l players in last five years: 23/86
International Diversity Index: 26.74%
Winning Percentage: .453
A team based in Canada should be open to international players and the Toronto Raptors comes in as the third-most popular destination for international NBA players.
With 86 roster spots in the last five years, 23 (26.74%) were filled by foreign-born players like Jose Calderon of Spain and Andrea Bargnani of Italy. Adding to their international flavor, the Raps have drafted 4 foreign-born players with their 9 draft picks over the last five drafts.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Gasol's 15 rebounds Wednesday against Detroit were one shy of a career high. … Toronto is one of six teams that held an opponent to less than 40-percent shooting from the field on opening night. The Raptors held Cleveland to 34.9-percent shooting. Raptors point guard Jose Calderon has led the NBA for two consecutive seasons in assist-to-turnover ratio. His combined 4.77 assist-to-turnover ratio is tops among all players in the NBA. New Orleans' Chris Paul is second with a 4.13.
At 13-14, Toronto is one of four NBA teams (Charlotte, LA Clippers, Washington) that have a losing overall record against the Grizzlies. Since the Grizzlies relocated to Memphis in 2001, they are 5-2 at home against the Raptors.