We’re going to handle preseason player profiles differently this year on RaptorBlog. For each player on the 2012-13 Raptors’ active roster, Joseph Casciaro and I are going to email our thoughts back and forth and then post the resulting conversation on the blog. It’s an edgy new form of journalism! Or something…

Andrea Bargnani, PF, 7’0″, 256 lbs.
2011-12 stats: 31 games, 33.3 MPG, 19.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.5 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 43.2 FG%, 29.6 3P%, 87.3 FT%, 17.9 PER

Scott: All right, let’s do this. Let’s talk about The Andrea Bargnani Experiment: Year Seven. Has he revolutionized the great sport of basketball yet? I zoned out for a good part of the previous Raptors season so I might have missed that part where he changed the way we look at NBA big men the way Steve Jobs changed the way we looked at ghetto blasters.

From what I can recall, he missed half the year with injury problems — I mean, that must have been why I named one of my fantasy teams “Bargnani’s Recurring Calf Injury”. I know there was this mystical 13-game stint last season that was so exceptional that we’re supposed to ignore his shortcomings in the other 385 games of his NBA career. Do you think we’ve finally built a team around Bargnani that will maximize his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses? Or do you expect another frustrating season of teeth-gnashing and excuse-making?

Joseph: That 13-game stretch didn’t erase any of the failings over his first five seasons, it only frustrated me more because what I believed about Bargnani appeared to be confirmed – that he always had that extra gear in him, but just limited himself from getting there. As simplistic as it sounds, I’m convinced that Andrea’s calf strain was more a result of his body not being used to being pushed to maximum effort than it was a result of the chaotic lockout season.

On the positive side, Bargnani’s new found all out hustle in that stretch gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe Dwane Casey was finally the guy to get through to him about maximizing his talents, and the team that’s been put together does seem to be well equipped to mask some of Andrea’s weaknesses. If he’s healthy, I do think we’ll see his best season yet, but I don’t believe we’ll see a good rebounder or a franchise player suddenly emerge.

Scott: I can pretty much guarantee Bargnani won’t start averaging seven rebounds per game this season because Bryan Colangelo has surrounded him with good-to-great rebounders at all the other positions — including Valanciunas, Gray, Fields, Ross and Lowry. The good news is that Bargnani’s rebounding shouldn’t matter because his teammates will grab all the boards. And remember, it’s basketball, not “rebound-ball”.

One stat worth pointing out about last season was how the Raptors performed with and without Bargnani in the lineup — they were 13-18 when he played and 10-25 when he didn’t. Of course, a bunch of those losses came at the end of the season when they were blatantly tanking… but still!

Joseph: I’m not too concerned with how the Raptors played in the 18 games after he returned from his second calf strain (they went 7-11) because Bargnani had reverted to the old, frustrating Bargs by then.

As small of a sample as the 13 games were (the first 11 of the season and then his two games after the first return), that’s the sample that makes the Bargnani debate all the more interesting. Andrea averaged 23.5 points on over 47.6 per cent shooting, grabbed 6.4 rebounds, had a PER over 20 and the Raptors were a respectable 6-7, with wins in New York, Phoenix and Utah.

Again, if he’s healthy, I think we’ll get a Bargnani that’s closer to that than the Bargs that leaves us pulling our hair out. I guess the question to ask is would that be enough for fans and for the organization (mainly Dwane Casey)?

If Andrea has a career year of about 20 points, six rebounds and a PER around 20, what does that make him? Would he be worth keeping around, or would he be a perfect candidate to sell high on?

Scott: It will depend on how the season goes and whether or not Colangelo remains as GM of the team through this season and beyond. I don’t believe Colangelo is likely to actively seek to trade Bargnani anytime soon — although I’m sure he’d consider offers. Regardless, like a lot of Raptors fans, I’m actually looking forward to seeing how he plays with Jonas Valanciunas this season. With Bargnani spreading the floor and Valanciunas working the pick-and-roll with Kyle Lowry, I expect the Raptors’ offence to improve significantly from last season’s 25th overall ranking in points scored per 100 possessions.

The most encouraging sign of Bargnani’s development as an offensive weapon has been the drastic increase in his aggressiveness — his six free throw attempts per 36 minutes last season were double his three attempts per 36 in 2009-10. When you’re a career 82 percent shooter from the line like he is, it’s always a good idea to try to make as many trips to the stripe as possible. Now, if he can just reverse the slide in his three-point shooting accuracy — he’s dropped from 40.9 percent in 2008-09 to 37.2 percent to 34.5 percent to a career-low 29.6 percent last season. If he can get his long-range accuracy back above 35 percent while maintaining his aggressiveness in drawing fouls, he could really be a dangerous force on that end of the court.

Joseph: Great points. The Raptors need Bargnani to be a legit three-point threat again, but without him giving up any of the progress he’s made going to the basket.

At his best, Bargnani can be the second best offensive option on a very good team, and probably would be best suited as the third or fourth best player on a team overall. The problem with the Raptors as presently constructed is that he’s their No. 1 offensive weapon and is probably now the team’s second best player after Lowry. For the Raptors to really make a jump into the NBA’s upper tiers, they’ll need to either eventually acquire another player better than Bargnani and Lowry, hope that one of their young prospects develops into that player, trade Bargnani for a young player with that potential or stand pat and hope Bargnani figures out how to be that player by year 10 of his career…

So which of those four scenarios do you think is the smartest one, and which do you think is the most likely to occur?

Scott: Tough question, bro. Obviously, acquiring a true superstar is the optimal outcome, but how likely is that to happen? Valanciunas is the wildcard in this scenario, I believe. We have absolutely no idea what his ceiling is, but the two of them could prove to be a pretty potent frontcourt combo if Jonas turns into a top-five center down the road.

People like to throw around the term “make-or-break season” with Bargnani, and I think this could be the fourth consecutive season in which some people have applied that phrase to him. I’m not going to fall back on that cliche, but I will say that I think we’re finally going to establish his ultimate talent level as he turns 27 going into the season. Not for nothing, but Dirk Nowitzki had the highest PER season of his career when he was 27 years old in 2005-06. I’m just sayin’, is all.

Joseph: We’re probably well past the point of using the “make or break” cliche with Bargnani, but if his body can’t take the all out grind again or if he stays healthy and still has another disappointing season, I really do believe that will be the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of his tumultuous time in Toronto.