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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meditations on Bargnani

Excuse the lack of updates. We'll get back to it.

Andrea Bargnani has become a sore subject for Raptors fans in the past year. And things turned quickly. After his rookie season - one in which Bargnani regularly drew comparisons to Nowitzki and Europe's finest exports - the Raptors faithful thought we had a one-two punch between AB and Chris Bosh that was sure to compete, and potentially dominate, the Eastern Conference for a good decade. (Foolishly I thought Bargnani had a chance to usurp Bosh as the team's number one offensive option, or at least become the go-to guy in the game's final moments. His first couple games of his sophomore season featured offensive performances that outshone Bosh's - this didn't help my radical and idealistic viewpoint w/r/t Bargnani's future worth.)

But then all of that talk dissipated in a season of inconsistency which came to exemplify all the reasons why "sophomore slump" is an appropriate and cliched term to throw out there in reference to out-of-the-gates blazing talent in sports, music, whatever. Most sports columnists and commentators chalked it up as a lack of confidence. This is an understatement of sorts. Bargnani looked like a corpse for large portions of 07-08 campaign. The vacant eyes, the gaping mouth - he had the look of a village idiot. Only he was 7-feet tall and could ball at a reasonable level. Perhaps Bargnani is just a sensitive guy. More recently we've seen Vince Young's fragile interiority reach a sort of breaking point in a promising young career. I don't expect suicide concerns or dispatching the Police to look for AB in Sarnia, but he could be another one in a series of athletes who - though physically blessed and holding the required physicality to excel in their respective sports - is missing something in the head to push him into consistent productivity.

So what's going to happen with Bargnani? Some fans want him canned. This is a bit rash. His stock couldn't be that good right now. There's no chance the Raptors could grab David Lee from the Knicks for him (purely as an example, disregarding fiscal terms of said deal), though, in reality, Bargnani's ceiling is much higher than a guy like Lee. The difference is that you know what you're getting from Lee: hustle, about 10/10 per night in minimal minutes, and he gets his numbers without having to run any plays his way. He's a garbage man. And I reliable one at that.

But let's put away any thoughts of a trade. He still averaged double figures (barely) in 07-08. And when he played well, much like his first season, he can elicit excitement like few players in Raptors history. When Bargnani knocks down a series of three-pointers and shows some genuine passion for the game, there's no way you don't go berserk. He possesses a game-changing ability no other player on the Raptors does. Sure, we've got Bosh, and this talk may seem blasphemous in some Raptors circles, but Bosh is a whole different thing. He plays hard every night, he gets his stats by using his brain (something mentioned by Lebron on CBC's The Hour), not his physicality, and he's a great first option. But he's not a game-changer. Do I feel comfortable with Bosh having the ball in his hands as the clock runs out? His mid-range game is probably a little under-rated, but he's not a shooter (even a scorer) by any means. His offensive repertoire is equal parts hard work and intellect. He picks his spots, stays aggressive, takes the ball to the hole with intensity, and has great shot selection from 15 feet out. But Bargnani is the type of player who could throw up a twenty-five footer to win a game. I've seen enough passion in the kid to know that the vacant look in his eyes is a symptom of his disillusionment with his respective game. You can't blame him too much. Or at least I hope that's what it is. General complacency would be a whole thing altogether.

Colangelo should be lauded for keeping him around. He could've swung a deal before Bargnani's trade worth plummeted. But as it stands he still has that huge ceiling we caught glimpses of in a largely positive rookie season. Season three, however, is the last opportunity for him to take the next leap in his career. If not, I expect to see him back in Europe and end up an even greater disappointment that Darko. At least that dude is still kicking around.

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