Andrea Bargnani’s offensive game is, in theory, beautiful. The Toronto Raptors big man has the habit of putting together spurts during which he is unstoppable. He will take one controlled dribble to the side to elude a too-slow defender and unleash a feathery jumper. The ball will dip just in time, splashing through the mesh just inside the back rim.
During those spurts, he will sometimes go a few steps further. He will catch the ball on the baseline, take a few dribbles to blow by a defender, twirl and dunk the ball on the other side of the rim. Or he will get the ball in the post, dribble and turn around for a hook shot. He will get to double digits in scoring in an instant on the strength of these surges. For all of his flaws, Bargnani is tremendously gifted.
But as the years roll on, it is becoming more difficult to believe in those moments. Bargnani’s drawbacks are well documented, but even his offence exists more in the speculative world than the practical one. Bargnani has started the season averaging 16.2 points per game on 36% shooting. Following a three-game stretch in which he shot worse than 33% from the floor, his 7-for-19 effort against Orlando on Sunday was almost welcome.
He has performed poorly without star guard Kyle Lowry, who was brought in partly to make Bargnani’s life easier. But Bargnani is being paid US$10-million, a salary befitting a secondary star. Those players are supposed to be able to help carry the load when adversity hits.
Last year, in the 13 games he played before sustaining a calf injury that bothered him for the rest of the year, Bargnani supplied the best production of his career — averaging 23.5 points on 48% shooting while adapting well to Dwane Casey’s defensive system. In almost every imaginable way, he has regressed back to his old self to start this year.
“I’m going to push him and pull him as much as I can,” Casey said before the season started. “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.”
Bargnani has been typically maddening this season. In last Monday’s triple-overtime loss against Utah, he shot 3-for-4 in the first quarter and had an impact defensively. The rest of the way, he shot 2-for-13 and disappearing from the final 51 minutes as DeMar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson tried to carry the Raptors to a win. That is Bargnani, at this point: reliably unreliable, varying from productive to lost within the span of single games.
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesToronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani has started the season averaging 16.2 points per game on 36% shooting. And that is just his offence. He has been poor defensively this year, and the Raptors have taken a major hit from last year. He is rebounding at the worst rate of his career this season, with DeRozan — a shooting guard who has grabbed a mere 6.7% of available rebounds over the course of his career — rebounding at a better rate than him.
Over the last five years, Bargnani’s individual defensive rating (the points per 100 possessions the Raptors allow when Bargnani is on the floor) has been equal to or worse than the Raptors’ team rating each season. And his offensive rating (the points per 100 possessions the Raptors score when Bargnani either shoots or turns it over) has only been better than the Raptors’ team rating once in that span — last year, when he had that career-best stretch of games to start the season. That means putting the ball in the hands of Bargnani with the expectation that he scores has been an inefficient proposition. That does not account for Bargnani’s ability to create shots for others. Quite frankly, he does not do that very well.
Without knowing the potential return, it is impossible to say for certain whether the Raptors should trade Bargnani. His detractors would argue that Bargnani has been a net negative for his entire career, with three different coaches, a few different roles and a cavalcade of different teammates. They would say it is nearly impossible to hurt yourself by trading Bargnani.
His most ardent believers would argue that his ability to stretch the defence makes life easier for his teammates, even (and maybe even especially) when he does not touch the ball.
One thing is for sure: It is time to stop judging Bargnani on what he might be able to do and start judging him on what he actually does.