Say Hello to your 2010/11 Toronto Raptors

Folks, welcome to the Andrea Bargnani era.

Hedo is not impressed

Folks, welcome to the Andrea Bargnani era.

The Raps struggled out of the gate, losing Hedo Turkoglu early to another bump to the head, but were buoyed by a great first half by Sonny Weems to stay in the game. The Celtics pulled away in the third, but the home team brought it to within two possessions before Michael Finley, yeah Michael Finley, drank from the fountain of youth and nailed a couple of 3 point daggers to ice the game. Good overall effort, much better than games past but just not ammunition. The booing of Calderon was highly undeserved, the guy’s going through a shooting slump and the ACC crowd decides to boo, way to support the player and the team. I can accept booing if there’s no effort but you can’t say it was lacking last night. On that note, it’s too bad you can’t boo individual players. Which brings us back to Andrea Bargnani.

There exists a faction of Bargnani fans that support the Italian 7 foot project to no end and overlook the obvious on too constant a basis: after 4 years, he is still a major project with no real per-minute statistical improvement. The greatest irony perhaps comes from the fact that Bargnani supporters feel that Chris Bosh was the reason that Il Mago plays so poorly and without the former, he could thrive in a system more geared towards his strengths. Cue the supporters:

“He draws out the opposing team’s center to free up more space for Bosh to operate.”

“Chris takes away his rebounds”

“He needs more plays run for him, more touches”

Who was he freeing up space for last night? Reggie Evans and his newly acquired post game? He fired off 7 three’s hitting just one and a bunch of long two’s for misses, most of them low-percentage heaves rather than what even a bad coach would consider “good looks”. On top of it, throw in another mediocre rebounding night and you’re left to wonder whether his 4 blocks were really all that worth it. Let’s just admit it: e is allergic to the paint and Jay Triano isn’t doing a single damn thing about it. Is it really that hard to ask him to roll towards the rim more than just occasionally? There was a telling play when Amir Johnson tried an interior pass that would have resulted in a layup for Bargnani, but Il Mago had disappeared, running back to his comfort zone on the 3 point line. Funny part is that the guy isn’t even that great a shooter (36% 3FG). He does not consistently hit his 3’s even when wide open so you can’t even say that he’s “supposed to take that three” because he just doesn’t make them at that high 41-46% clip. What people forget is that Chris Bosh’s presence results in half the open looks he gets and without him he’s crippled. Chris Bosh’s presence exposed Bargnani for what he truly is: a complimentary shooting big man, with no ability to defend consistently as a center. Think Sam Perkins, not even the young Sam Perkins, but the 30+ version that played for Seattle and Indiana.

What I find the most disturbing is how he rarely ever gets into foul trouble. It’s happened maybe a couple of times this year. How is that possible for the starting center on the worst defensive team in the NBA? How is he not in foul trouble a little more often, as he contests all the guard and wing penetration due to Calderon and Turkoglu’s defensive struggles? Here’s why. He chooses not to. He realized not too long ago that by providing aggressive help defence, he will not be able to play a full allotment of minutes by saddling himself with fouls. Saving himself on defence to play offense. Novel concept. He stays away from high traffic areas because he might look bad getting outhustled by more energetic players. He doesn’t drive as much because he might look bad picking up offensive fouls like earlier in his career. But he’ll play adequate man defense, even with an emphatic block, and get his 15 – 20 points, most of them jumpers, with few trips to the line or assists (2.98 FT/gm, 1.1ast/gm). The assists numbers are especially disappointing because he’s supposed to be this high IQ player that is supposed to be fun to play with and will “find you” if you’re open. If he had a stretch of bad rebounding games, he’ll get a few more the next game, and then regress. It’s all about the optics. Score some points, do little else, why get your hands dirty if that’s all that’s required of you?

Yet after shooting horribly last night, not defending and rebounding, Jay Triano checks wonderboy back into the game with 3 minutes to go just as the Raps were showing signs of life. What did he do to deserve going back in the game? Why is their never any accountability for this guy? Even Calderon and Hedo have been disciplined in some way. Both lost their starting jobs, albeit temporarily. What makes Il Mago so untouchable? Because his GM drafted him first overall and then signed him to a huge 5 year contract the moment he put some points on the board?

Andrea Bargnani’s future is undoubtedly intertwined with Colangelo’s now. This level of stubbornness and refusal to accept a mistake is just unfathomable. It’s Bryan Colangelo’s hubris. For all the confidence and swagger he possesses that had many of us drinking the koolaid for the last 4 years, it’s that same burgeoning confidence that refuses to let the man accept that he screwed this one up, Large. Andrea Bargnani is not an NBA center nor will he ever be. And all this time Bosh has covered Bargnani’s weaknesses by commanding attention on offense, rebounding and providing decent team defence (not great, decent).

Now, the franchise player may be gone, for good.

It’s a different feeling than when you know an important guy’s out for a week or two, even a month. You know that he’ll be back, so the team can step it up for a short while until that happens. But when he definitely ain’t comin’ back, it’s a stark realization that is hard to overcome. Then it becomes a matter of not just elevated effort, but some guys just have to become better players. One of those players may be Sonny Weems. The first half was the best half by a Raptor shooting guard in a long, long time. DeMar DeRozan had a quality stretch playing alongside Sonny, and being only 20, he is expected to improve. Amir Johnson had a rough night with fouls, but he has shown a lot of promise. To me, Amir already had 2 very good skills, defense and rebounding. He can’t shoot, but he’s still a skill player. These are skills that are just as important as having a jumper, especially for a big man. Thank goodness for the Milwaukee trade. At least Colangelo has shown some ability in finding mid-range talent. But after those three, there’s not much hope.

The opening chapter of the Bargnani era can attest to that.