No, this isn’t trolling. I’ve committed to not reading the comments on this post, so you’ll have to tweet or email me with your vitriol for me to see it.
But please, stop it. Sure, the booing of Andrea Bargnani was funny the first time. And I guess it still kind of is. But it’s also stupid. You should NEVER boo your own players without good reason.
I understand that Bargnani’s seven years in Toronto have been less than fulfilling. I’ve never been his loudest critic, but I’ve also never been his biggest fan. When he had “The 13 Games” last year, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And every time I chirped him on Twitter this year, I was waiting for a three-ball to shut me up. If Bargnani has shown anything in his seven years, it’s that he’s never as bad or as good as he presently looks.
Regardless of that, even if Bargnani was deemed to be consistently and irreconcilably bad, you shouldn’t boo the guy. Vince Carter gave the fans a reason to boo by admitting he gave it less than his all and checked out mentally. Bargnani has just been bad and looks disinterested at times (mostly because he’s a stoic mouth-breather – I feel like he’d show no reaction if you stabbed him in the stomach), which isn’t quite enough to crucify him, really. We’re not Philadelphia Eagles fans, after all, and we don’t want a reputation for booing Santa Claus.
Now, you can certainly make a case for being unhappy with Bargnani. I’ll do it for you, actually: seven years in, he’s making $10M a year and providing less production than at any other point in his career. 41% shooting? Second worst of his career. 29.5% three-point shooting? Worst. 2.9 free throw attempts per 36 minutes? Worst. 7.4% rebound rate? Worst. 0.06 Win Shares per 48 minutes? Worst. In fact, if he kept that rate up long enough to qualify for the leaderboard, it would be the sixth worst mark in basketball, ahead of only Michael Beasley, Austin Rivers, Kevin Seraphin, Thomas Robinson and Norris Cole. Nice company there.
He’s been terrible. The team’s offense improves by 4.1 points per 100 possessions when he leaves the floor. The defense improves by 3.8 points per 100 possessions when he leaves the floor. Overall, the team plays winning basketball with him on the bench (+1.3 points) and terrible basketball with him on the floor (-6.6 points). He has been god-awful.
And you are MORE than welcome to gripe and groan over those stats. Tweet your heart out, comment here, post in the forums, make up memes, whatever. It’s our right as fans to complain about guys playing poorly, especially when they appear to have bottomed out at age 27. But don’t boo (if this sounds like an arbitrary line in the sand, it’s not – it’s the one place players are assured of knowing about it).
However, I have trouble believing the narrative that Bargnani simply doesn’t care and is mailing it in. I do believe that Bargnani is soft and is not the strongest player in the league mentally. But it’s difficult to imagine someone who cares that little making it this far. Success in sports can’t require just natural talent. At some point, hard work and dedication come in. Otherwise, how could you explain Bargnani’s improvement in man defense over the years? Yes, all of his numbers have fallen off dramatically, and even his shot selection has gotten worse as he’s struggled. But you don’t make it to the NBA and have stints as an elite scorer without putting in the work.
It’s why, despite the fact that Bargnani probably doesn’t read Twitter or blogs or whatever, he’s likely struggling right now. It has to be difficult to have an extended absence from a team only to see them thrive without you. He’s now being asked to change HIS game, when others have always adapted around him. He’s being asked to come off the bench for the first time since 2009 and he’s being asked to take a more complementary role when he plays with the starters.
Yes, he should respond by playing better defense, hitting the glass for easy buckets, and doing other things to help the team and build up the trust of his teammates. And maybe he will, eventually, develop into the scoring sixth-man that Arse has long pictured him as.
In the meantime, he’s going to continue to struggle.
And the fans have every right to be displeased. With Bargnani, with Colangelo, with the franchise, and with the last seven years of re-build-no-go-for-it-now-mini-rebuild-now-all-in kind of roller coaster. And after a terrible game or at the end of the year, if you’re disappointed, go ahead and boo the team as a message to the franchise.
But you don’t boo your own guys just for playing poorly. It’s not going to help Bargnani, it can frustrate other players on the team (see: Lowry, Kyle), and it’s definitely not going to help attract other players to town.
Toronto has gotten some really positive attention as a great re-emerging basketball market of late. The ACC has been bonkers since the Rudy Gay acquisition, and I’m really proud of Raptor fans for showing the NBA what we’ve long known, that we’re a great fanbase. But the booing has to stop.
(Credit for the hashtag idea goes to reader and pal Louvens.)