Andrea and the Dreaded B-Word

Why don’t you take a seat. Take a seat, right over there.

Deep breath, Bargs. Now hear me out.

Alrighty, let me preface this article by saying this: I know it’s becoming borderline cliché to hate on Andrea around here, and I don’t want to fall into that trap. Clearly, the guy is a useful player, a starter on a good percentage of teams around the league and a guy who would get minutes wherever he played – hell, if they had the All Star game after the first 10 games of the year last season you’re looking at the East’s starting power forward.

That said, for Andrea, the start of this season has been… inconsistent, to say the least. Despite some flashes of offensive brilliance, Bargs has been, for the most part, ineffective on that end – shooting 36% from the field, which is the worst percentage of his career, by far – he hasn’t gone below 43% since 2008. As Blake’s pointed out a few times, he’s averaging just barely a point per FGA, his Hollinger PER is the lowest it’s ever been, etc, etc.

Basically, the statistics back up the eye test. For anyone watching the Raptors this year, it’s more or less impossible to argue that it’s been a strong start this year for Andrea on the offensive end, to say nothing about his… let’s say, occasional effort when it comes to rebounding that has become a bit of a Bargnani staple. This is something the team brass expected (players don’t suddenly become incredible rebounders in year seven) and have taken steps to remedy (surrounding him with a true center, an excellent rebounding point guard in Lowry, and what looks like a better-than-we-all-expected rebounding shooting guard in DeMar). The offensive woes, though, are a huge issue – even with all the changes, you’d have to believe that this team and its fans expected big things from Bargs on that end.

All of this preamble is likely old hat to most of the Republic faithful, who’ve been watching the same games I have this year. We all know Bargnani’s been struggling. So, let’s get to the idea posed so eloquently in the headline:

Is it time for Andrea to go to the bench?

There are a few obvious pros to this idea, as well as a couple of not so obvious ones. For the team as a whole, bench scoring has been difficult to come by. The Raps are currently ranked 16th in the league in bench scoring – a number that doesn’t seem too bad when taken on its own, but that becomes more problematic in regards to the Raptors, specifically. This is a team who’s hallmark coming into the season was supposed to be its deep bench, but, as we’ve seen through the first eight games of the year, through no fault of a specific player (as well as some injuries), the bench doesn’t really have anyone besides Jose who can create his own shot, save for the hot-and-cold Linas Kleiza. Adding Bargs to the bench rotation would immediately stabilize the scoring on that end, giving the team a number one option for the second unit it doesn’t have right now.

Secondly, becoming the number one option of a unit should invigorate Andrea’s game. It’s been stated by my fellow Republic writers this season that Bargs needs a couple of quick touches to get into a game and get motivated (the fact that we’re having this discussion about a guy making $10 million a year is another column altogether). To the extent they can, the stats back that up over his career – Andrea’s best two seasons in terms of Hollinger PER (reasonably effective in measuring offensive efficiency), and the only two seasons when he was above the league average, had his usage rate above 25% (it’s closer to 21 this year). With a scoring point guard in Lowry, an emerging DeRozan, and a player in Jonas who’s role in the offense will only be increased as the season rolls along, it’s hard to believe Bargs’ usage rates will ever come back to that level with the way the starting lineup is currently constructed.

Essentially, the more often Bargnani has the ball, the more effective he is – a trait that’s great for players who are true number one scoring options, but seriously problematic for players who aren’t talented enough to assume that role on a successful team. In a bench role, he’d immediately become the alpha dog of the second unit, getting more touches, and, assuming the stats hold, the requisite efficiency boost that comes with that. There’d be a bit of a minutes drop, of course, but I’d imagine it wouldn’t be too drastic – there’s no reason he couldn’t play in crunch time and given the way Casey plays his bigs (and the way the bigs get in foul trouble) it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Bargs couldn’t get 30 minutes a game as the team’s first scorer off the bench (he’s currently averaging 34.5).

Clearly, a move to the bench would improve the second unit’s scoring punch, and, if you can accept my premise that it’d improve Andrea’s effectiveness as well, there’s a case to be made for moving the big Italian to the bench. Now, what about the case against it?

Well, for starters – who’d replace him in the starting lineup? Common logic would suggest it’d be Amir (also finally uniting a very intriguing big combo with JV that Casey seems loathe to use, for some reason), but I’d guess that the team would settle on Ed Davis, if only because a Davis/Bargs frontline of the team’s second unit is softer than Andrea’s favourite Primo pasta after 20 minutes in the pot. Davis is a solid rebounder who arguably deserves more minutes than he’s been getting this season, but the drop-off in offence is a precipitous one in this scenario – you’d go from one of the team’s top scoring options to a guy who, to borrow a crude expression, couldn’t catch a cold.

Assuming the defensive switch from Andrea to ED is more or less a wash, given Davis’ stronger rebounding tendencies and Bargs’ slightly better on-ball defence, the crux of this proposed switch comes to the offensive side – basically, can Lowry (once healthy) and DeMar take on enough of the first and third offense to offset Bargnani moving to the bench? The answer to that question is one that likely depends on who you’re asking and when  – anecdotally, I’d say yes, but I don’t have stats to back that one up.

So, what’s the answer here? Do the potential advantages from moving AB to the bench outweigh the additional offensive strain it puts on the starters? Can ED and/or Amir handle the additional minutes such a move would entail (even if it was a non-traditional minutes distribution)? How would Andrea take the idea of a move to the bench in from a motivational standpoint? Does it even matter, really?

As you can see, I’ve got plenty of questions but am short on answers. My thoughts: if Bargs continues his slow start to the season I’d like to see Casey consider it on a short term basis, if only to put some fire under Andrea’s ass. That said, we’re not exactly overflowing with strong big men, and “he might not be perfect, but he’s the best we’ve got” is a refrain Raptors fans have heard far too often.

What do you think? Is this a move worth trying? Will this column, at the very least, inspire Andrea the way my DeMar extension reaction clearly motivated DeMar to make me eat my words? Comment below or tweet at me  @GarrettHinchey.

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