See You Next Season, Andrea Bargnani. Thanks For Those 13 Games

Mr. Optimism is back, talking about your favorite jump-shooting pasta peddler.

So, Andrea Bargnani is done for the year. You already know this and you’re likely not bothered much by it. These games don’t matter, there’s no sense risking further damage and it’s a good chance for other guys to show what they can do.

The only downside: this was supposed to be the time for Bargnani to show what he can do. Or, rather, show that what we’ve seen him do is sustainable. On both ends, we saw him play far and away the best basketball of his career before the strained calf from hell. I can’t link to the Hardwood Paroxysm post I wrote 10 days ago because some miserable people decided to hack the site, but at the time I argued that this closing stretch was important for Bargnani. Now that’s gone, so the debate will remain:

Were those first 13 games representative of Bargnani?

It’s important to note that the Raptors believe they are. Click the link at the top of this post to see quotes from Dwane Casey on the matter — he’s going to demand that Bargnani plays like an All-Star in 2012-2013. He’s going to expect that he comes into training camp ready to put the effort in on defense. Now that we’ve seen him do it, there’s no excuse.

This might be my confidence in Casey talking, but I’m inclined to expect the same. Yes, I know I’m going off a 13-game sample size in a six year career. I know that the broader evidence suggests consistency and focus on the defensive end are not his strengths. But I’m willing to give Bargnani a pass on the way he played when he came back from his injury — it’s a short season, he didn’t have time to get good practices in and he’s never before been expected to produce on every possession at both ends. As we approach the summer, he knows this isn’t the same old Toronto team. He knows that the organization won’t settle for being below average on defense. He knows he’s expected to make it his team.

Back in August, I was unsure if Bargnani deserved another chance. Now I’m thrilled he got one. As convenient as it may be for ping pong ball purposes, it’s unfortunate that his injury took away his opportunity to definitively show that he’s an elite player. But to my eyes, those early season performances give us more than enough reason for optimism.

Guess I’ll have to wait until November to see if he’ll make me look smart.

The RR End of Season Party is this Wednesday at St. Louis at Yonge/College (7:30pm).

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