Andrea Bargnani is off to a rough start this season. He fails both the eye test and the numbers examination. Qualities that we saw him improve – in that now distant 13-game stretch from last season – are seemingly forgotten and a lot of the same issues are popping up…
Establishing contact when boxing-out – I’m sure dozens of coaches have explained to Andrea that the most effective way to gather rebounds is to box-out his check. Yet whenever a missed shot goes up, Bargnani fails to establish contact with his opponent. This results in the opposition carving out significant territory for the rebound. All sorts of numbers support what we’re seeing on the floor with Andrea, but let’s just use this one – there is not one starting centre or power forward in the NBA this season, with a worse total rebound rate (% of rebounds grabbed by a player during their time on court) than Bargnani’s 8.6%.
Some sort of help defence – It’s important that we start by making the distinction between Bargnani’s 1-on-1 defence and his help defence. He is actually a very good 1-on-1 defender, ranking in the 95th percentile of isolation defenders according to last year’s Synergy stats. That should mean he has the time and ability to give some help, yet the sight of Bargs gazing blankly into space as opposing guards wheel through the lane for uncontested layups has become far too common. The most alarming and incomprehensible statistics regarding his help defence are his block totals, which have actually decreased significantly in recent years from 1.4 in 2009 to 0.5 last year. Clearly, Andrea doesn’t see help defence as a part of his job description and that needs to change.
Stepping out too far on screen and roll defence – Time after time, Bargnani continues to extend his hedges way too far, often ending up at mid-court. He stays with the ball handler and completely loses track of the roll man. This hurts the team defence in a number of ways. The obvious problem is Bargnani ends up isolated with a quicker wing player, while the switch leaves one of his smaller teammates to fight with a PF or C. If Bargnani’s teammate makes it through the screen, the roll man is completely left alone and the remaining Raptors have to scramble to rotate. According to Synergy stats, the roll-man “guarded” by Bargnani has taken 11 shots this season and 7 ended up finding the mesh. I’d be willing to bet that said roll-man has a bunch of assists as well, since the first rotation is always the easiest. Andrea needs to make a quick hedge of one or two steps and then instantly return to his man. This is not a question of him changing his attitude – it’s a simple adjustment in routine that must be made.
Setting stickier screens on offence – This is one that my buddy Joe Casciaro harps on regularly. Guards seem to slide off Bargnani screens as if he’s greased with oil. There are a few technical points that could improve his screens, but again we come back to the difference between seeking out contact and avoiding it. Players such as Kevin Garnett do everything within their power to establish as much body contact as possible and slow down the player being screened. Poor screening makes it very easy to trap the ball-handler, as there is no time to create separation between the ball-handler and the roll-man. As a mobile big man who can shoot, Bargnani should be very effective in pick-and-roll situations. Yet he has only gotten the ball 15 times this season as the “roll man”. The coaching staff isn’t looking for him in pick-and-rolls, because his ineffective screens lead to plays breaking down. Bargnani either doesn’t grasp the concept of the screen or he simply chooses not to apply them properly.
Finish through contact, not around it – In the first 6 games of this season, Bargnani had just one and-1 finish. That means he was averaging just under 0.2 and-1 finishes per game, which ranked 18th among NBA centres and 23rd among power forwards. Even more damning, is when we turn that into a percentage based on every foul Bargnani has drawn. He has the second worst percentage of successful and-1′s when compared to every centre and power forward in the league who has converted at least one. From watching Bargnani’s development over these seven years, it’s clear that he doesn’t want contact at the rim. He seeks to avoid it and that lowers his free throw attempts significantly. He could easily add 2-3 ppg by driving at people, as opposed to around them.
There is a pervasive theme throughout this post and it’s quite concerning. Four of Andrea Bargnani’s five biggest flaws are the result of him not playing a physical brand of basketball. Is it fair to characterize him as “soft” and write him off? No. It’s too early to jump to any brash conclusions about a 27-year old 1st overall pick, considering he has improved since entering the league – remember, he couldn’t post up 6-foot guards in his first few years. Extracting that physical nature from Bargnani is like pulling teeth, but since you rarely find a 7-footer with the ability to score 20 ppg in the NBA, it’s likely a worthwhile venture.