If you’re a sports fan with internet access, you know that outside of theScore.com, Grantland is King of Kings when it comes to blogs and commentary. You may not always agree with their write-ups, but led by Bill Simmons, you have to agree that most of their stuff is must-read.
If you frequented Grantland on Thursday, you might have noticed that one of the posts on their front page was Raptors-related, entitled “The Versatility of Andrea Bargnani in Pick-and-Rolls.” It’s a Sebastian Pruiti play breakdown (which are always great reads) that basically explains what the title entails, using a few plays from the Raptors’ big fourth quarter against the Nuggets on Wednesday night as evidence.
This isn’t the first time someone from outside the Raptors’ usual beat coverage has taken notice of Bargnani in a positive light lately. Clyde Frazier was all over Bargs on an MSG broadcast last week and the Nuggets play by play team was praising him as he went off for 26 points on 14 field goal attempts against Denver. While I was in New York last week, the couple of times I struck up casual Raptors/Knicks chats with some locals, the conversation immediately turned into the New Yorkers telling me how they think Bargnani is underrated.
This all got me thinking. Do outsiders praise Bargnani because they don’t watch him enough to see his faults, or do us Toronto folk sell him short too often because we magnify his faults and have become numb to his talent? The answer is likely somewhere in between. Bargnani is a phenomenal offensive player who is insanely versatile for his size and position. He’s also an inconsistent and insanely frustrating defensive player, outside of a small sample this season.
He’s not Dirk Nowitzki, not a current superstar and most certainly not a future Hall of Famer. But he doesn’t have to be, and I think that’s what a lot of us forget. Yes, he was a No. 1 overall pick, and he hasn’t lived up to the expectations that come with that. But does the fact that he isn’t a No. 1 guy mean that he can’t be a valuable part of something going forward?
For nearly seven years, we’ve debated what Andrea Bargnani is or isn’t. We’ve occasionally marveled at his unique skill set, but have usually lambasted his perceived laziness and obvious inconsistency.
The only thing that really matters in the end is whether Bargnani can be a piece of a contending puzzle in the future, and I believe he can be. He absolutely cannot be the piece, that much we know, but he can be a piece. Whether he can be that piece in Toronto depends on whether Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors’ management surround Andrea with the neccessary talent to compliment his skill set and mask his weaknesses.
But it also depends on whether Colangelo and co. believe Bargnani can still be a productive player by the time the much younger Raptors’ core, which isn’t even fully assembled yet, eventually hits its stride.
If Colangelo actually wants to build around Bargnani, then we’re in serious trouble. And if he doesn’t believe Bargnani will still be a valuable player by the time the young Raptors core develops into something worthwhile, then BC should trade him this off-season for draft picks and intriguing young assets.
But if the Raptors’ brass plans on continuing a rebuild that could see them take a step forward in the next couple of years, then isn’t it possible that Andrea could be a beneficial part of that, and we just ignore it because he’s not the superstar we once hoped he’d become?
With the right, defensive-minded, true centre beside him (which everyone hopes Valanciunas will be), and another option to defer to in the future (hello 2012 Draft), Bargnani could be a valuable member of a solid team for years to come.
Is he perfect? Hell no, far from it. Are there other power forwards I’d rather have? Of course. But is it possible that maybe we’ve sold Andrea short in the same way hometown fans are often known to overrate their own players? You don’t have to admit that the answer is yes like I have, but just know that it is.
And for the record, before the Bargs haters find my address and show up with torches, I’m not in any way, shape or form suggesting that Bargnani has to be a part of the future, or that he has played consistently enough to earn a place in that future. I’m just admitting that if the team is built the right way over the next couple of years, you can benefit from having a starting four with Andrea’s skill set, as frustrating as that might be at times.
I still fully expect Bargnani to both dazzle us and infuriate us over the last 15 games of the season. I’ve just come to accept that, and hope that management makes the right decisions to maximize Andrea’s talent while minimizing his risk, so that he dazzles in the future a lot more than he infuriates.