Andrea the All Star?

By now, everyone has to have seen the latest musical gem from the guys over at The Basketball Jones, proclaiming Andrea Bargnani as a “2012 Orlando All Star man.”

But behind the insanely hilarious video is an actual message: Andrea Bargnani is playing at an All Star level, or at least was playing at that level before a calf strain sidelined him for the last five games.

In years past, even mentioning Bargnani in the same sentence as All Star weekend would have been enough to warrant a comedic video on its own. Now it’s a legitimate thought in an awesome video, a thought which Tas Melas has voiced seriously on TBJ, a point I made many times during the season’s first few weeks and a point Dwane Casey has said he has discussed with other coaches around the NBA.

For the first time in Bargnani’s six-year NBA career, the All Star buzz is at least out there. But what I never really did put thought into, since we were so early into the season, was how Andrea’s numbers and overall play compared to others in the league and others in the Eastern Conference.

Now we’re about a quarter of the way through this condensed season, and I am ready to officially ask the question, Is Andrea Bargnani an Eastern Conference All Star?

Before I go on, I’ll point out that this post is based on the assumption that Bargnani will return to the floor as early as Sunday’s game against the Clippers and no later than the next week or so. If he doesn’t play in enough games, he’s obviously not All Star worthy.

Let’s look at the numbers.

In 35.2 minutes per game over 11 games played, Bargnani is averaging 22.3 points (career-high) on 48.9 per cent shooting (career-high) to go along with 6.5 rebounds (career-high) and 1.9 assists (career-high).

His blocks per game is below 1.0 for the second consecutive season, but anyone who has watched Bargnani this year knows that his overall defence is vastly improved. He was already an underrated one-on-one defender, and Dwane Casey has somehow taught Andrea how to be at least an average team defender, if not above average.

In general, it’s Il Mago’s hustle that has made the difference. He’s leaving it all out there on both ends of the floor, and though his rebounding total could and should still be higher as a seven-footer, his rebounding instincts and fight on the glass are also noticeably improved.

So we know Bargnani is having by far a career year and is finally looking like the type of player Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors selected No. 1 overall in the 2006 NBA Draft, but that doesn’t necessarily make him All Star worthy.

To determine his All Star worth, we must also look at what other players in the Eastern Conference are doing and how Bargnani’s numbers stack up. If you look at the last few years of NBA All Star games, you’ll see that each season, the respective rosters have anywhere from four to seven big men, with an average of five or six.

Voting for starters is broken down by guards, forwards and centres, but the selections to fill out the rest of the roster are much less strict. Right now, it looks like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will be the East’s starting forwards, so the only actual big man in the starting five will be Dwight Howard.

This means that realistically, Bargnani will have to be viewed as one of the next best three to six big men in the East (after Howard) to have any chance of playing in Orlando on February 26.

In terms of scoring, Bargnani is third in the Eastern Conference and tops among big men in the East. He’s also one of only six players in the NBA averaging 20 points or more while shooting above 48 per cent (along with LeBron, Howard, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin).

Bargnani’s low rebounding numbers could hold him back, but I feel as though if he can keep his average above six, and perhaps flirt with seven or more, it will be a respectable enough number to not become a negatively deciding factor. In the four games before he was injured, Andrea totaled 32 rebounds for an average of eight boards per game, so his most recent play does suggest he can keep those rebounding numbers respectable.

In terms of advanced statistics, the only big men in the East with a higher Player Efficiency Rating or Win Shares are Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith.

When you look at the numbers as a whole, it becomes clear that at worst, Bargnani is playing like a top-10 big man in the East, and at best, is a top-three Eastern big.

Skeptics and critics will make the “winning team” argument, but the NBA’s belief that All Stars should come from successful teams is one of my biggest pet peeves in sports. As I’ve said countless times, the success of a player’s team should come into question in the MVP race, not in determining which players are more worthy of All Star selections. If two guys are neck and neck in terms of numbers and performance, then I’m fine with using team performance as a type of tie-breaker, but to rule out potential All Stars simply because their teammates aren’t as talented as other players’ teammates is just plain stupid.

Based on what I’ve seen, the only two big men that should be surefire All Stars in the East are Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. After that, you could make an argument for guys like Ryan Anderson, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Roy Hibbert (yes, I’m aware of how ridiculous and underwhelming that list seems, but look at the numbers this season) with Bargnani right in the thick of that conversation.

If only four big men are granted access this year, then I could understand a tough decision to leave Bargnani out. But if five or six bigs end up on the Eastern Conference roster and Andrea Bargnani is not one of those players despite maintaining his current numbers, it would be a pretty tough ruling for decision-makers to defend. And if guys like Carlos Boozer and Amare Stoudemire get into the game ahead of Bargnani based on their names alone, it would just be pathetic.

So if Andrea Bargnani returns to action and picks up right where he left off, then sing along Raptors fans, because for God sake, NO ONE MAN SHOULD HAVE ALL THAT PASTA!