If you read my thoughts on the game after the Raptors coughed up another winnable game last night in Cleveland, you’ll know that I was flabbergasted by the sight of Andrea Bargnani for the last 10 minutes of the game. Bargnani had done absolutely nothing in his first few minutes of action in the first half and had sat for the entire third quarter, yet there he was in crunch time, rewarded with minutes he didn’t drop a bead of sweat to earn.
Bargnani lost his starting job while he was out of the lineup with an elbow injury, and rightfully so, as Ed Davis and Amir Johnson gave more to the Raptors in that two month stretch than Bargnani has in over a year. The obvious answer was to bring Andrea in off of the bench and try to turn him into a scoring spark in the second unit. For a couple of games, it actually worked, as Bargnani averaged 13.5 points on 60 per cent shooting in two contests against the Celtics and Pacers. Sure, he didn’t really rebound or do much else, but it seemed like a promising venture since Bargs could focus on the one thing that actually seems to interest him – scoring.
Unfortunately, since then, Bargnani has produced some of the most uninspiring basketball we’ve ever seen (and remember, we’ve watched the Raptors for the last 18 seasons), averaging 3.3 points, 1.6 rebounds and a turnover in about 18 minutes per game over his last seven games, all while shooting 30 per cent from the field and failing to reach the free throw line at all in his last 160 minutes of floor time. Just stop, read those numbers over again and let them sink in. And for the naive among us who believe poor Andrea is just being negatively affected by those “cruel” home fans, Bargs is averaging 3.7 points on 41 per cent shooting to go with 1.7 rebounds in his last three road games.
To make matters worse, despite that consistently pitiful display of basketball (other than the Wizards game, where Bargnani looked to be trying, but was just incapable), Bargnani has still logged at least 11:50 of playing time in all seven on those games, logging over 21 minutes in three of those seven games. Now based on the first 300 words of this post, you probably assume that I’m going to advocate for cutting back Andrea’s minutes, but you’re only half right.
Not only should Bargnani’s minutes be limited, he shouldn’t play – period – on Friday against the Pacers. Dwane Casey has gone public numerous times to tell us that he doesn’t concern himself with player salaries when making decisions about who will and won’t play and that the guys who earn minutes will see the floor. Well if Andrea Bargnani has “earned” minutes over these last seven games, then sign me up for an open tryout, because apparently it takes very little to no effort to earn a spot in the Raptors’ rotation.
With the way Bargnani is playing right now, you literally cannot come up with one good reason to put him on the floor.
He’s still a three-point threat that can spread the floor, you say? Nope, sorry, Bargnani is a pathetic 1-of-15 from behind the arc since returning to the lineup, has shot 28.4 per cent from deep this season and has shot just 29 per cent from long range over his last two seasons. In fact, as I’ve mentioned a ton this season, Bargnani hasn’t actually been a legitimate three-point threat in some time, as other than a few stretches here and there, he’s shot 31.8 per cent from deep over his last three seasons and hasn’t shot 35 per cent or better from three-point territory since the 2009-10 season. Heck, even in the infamous 13-game stretch to start last season that saw Bargnani play at an All-Star level, he still only shot 34 per cent from deep. The only reason his career percentage from behind the arc is a respectable 35.9 is because he shot the three at a 37.6 per cent clip over his first four seasons in the NBA. Even watching him in pre-game warmups, it’s clear to see that his shot is missing the lift required to be an effective three-point threat in the NBA.
Well he is an excellent one-on-one post defender, his supporters will remind me. My response? Yes, he is, but when you continue to show that you either have no concept of help-defence or just don’t care enough to play effective help-defence and when you rank 123rd in defensive rebounding (with a 12.0 defensive rebound rate) out of 124 listed big men (ahead of only Ekpe Udoh), you will always remain a defensive liability, no matter how well you can guard another big man one-on-one.
What we’re left with right now, despite Bargnani’s talent (which shouldn’t factor into the playing time debate since he isn’t actually showing off that talent), is a seven-foot three-point decoy that doesn’t actually shoot the three well, isn’t doing much else offensively, is a defensive liability and doesn’t rebound. If the coaching staff and organization actually believe a six-game hole is surmountable over the final 24 games (the Raps would probably have to go 17-7 to sneak into eighth), then does that sound like the type of player who can contribute to a winning formula over the next month and a half?
Bargnani isn’t good enough right now to consistently give a team fighting for its playoff life effective minutes, and if/when the Raptors are finally eliminated from post-season contention, since Bargnani doesn’t figure to be part of the future anymore, he’s not worth wasting minutes on when younger, developing rookies like Jonas Valanciunas and even Quincy Acy could use those minutes.
Simply put, whether you’re still looking for the Raptors to make an improbable run this season or just looking down the line to the future of the franchise, it doesn’t make much sense for Andrea Bargnani to be logging minutes right now, let alone 18 minutes a night, regardless of how weak Toronto’s bench already is.
If Friday’s game against the Pacers ends with some garbage time because of a blowout one way or the other, or if David West is going off and you absolutely feel Bargnani’s post defence can be useful after giving Quincy Acy a chance, then fine, throw Andrea into the fire and see what he can give you in a short spurt. But otherwise, saddle him with the dreaded and very much deserved DNP-CD.
Make him earn minutes and a spot in the rotation the old fashioned way, by busting his tail in practice and showing you something in those aforementioned garbage time minutes. If he’s not going to even come close to using some of his given talent, then treat him the way guys with a lot less talent are treated as they’re forced to scrap and claw for each shred of playing time and respect.