It's Il Mago's Time to Shine
Old 08-16-2009, 03:54 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default It's Il Mago's Time to Shine

Moreau: Bargnani's Time Now

By: Mike Moreau

Adjust font size:One of the most unfair criticisms in sports is that of a player "living up" to his draft position. This is especially true of each year's overall #1 pick. Wherever a player is drafted, all he can do is work to develop his talent, maximize his potential, and do everything he can to help his team win.

That's how Andrea Bargnani should be judged this season. The fact that he was the #1 overall pick in the NBA three years ago means nothing, and being critiqued on living up to those expectations should be forgotten. This year is about helping his team win and becoming that cornerstone on a much more talented Raptors team. And that's exactly what Toronto fans can expect to see.

Bargnani has essentially been a 7-0, 250 lb. jump shooter for much of his first three years. Last season he got off to a miserable start, averaging only 8.6 points on 34% shooting, and posting 16 games in single digits for the first three months of the season. The rumblings of "bust" could be heard cascading down from north of the border.

However, Bargnani turned things around and played the best basketball of his career in the next three months, averaging 19.8 points in January, 17.9 points in February, and 20.3 points in March on sizzling 51% shooting. He was dominant at times, showing off his versatility and demonstrating flashes of what I think will be more the rule than the exception this season.

With the arrival of free agent Hedo Turkoglu and first round draft pick DeMar DeRozan, Bargnani will have to be more than just a perimeter floater. While his strength is catching and shooting and quick attacks set up by his jump shot, his struggles have been in the post area. He's been unable to hold inside position, getting bumped off his moves, and hasn't had a good counter move when he gets jammed inside. And the longer he has held the ball, the more trouble he's gotten into.

View Mike Moreau Archive All this means that with better perimeter scorers around him and a weak post game, Bargnani has to become better in the mid-range. This will start with his pick-and-pop game, and his primary focus should be on becoming a much better screener. His screens have been soft and he hasn't held them long enough, which means the ball handler isn't as free and Bargnani hasn't had as much open space when he catches the return pass.

Turkoglu is used to rock solid screens from Dwight Howard, and Bargnani can be expected to be the primary screener for Turk this year. The better the screen the more opportunities for both and this can become one of the most deadly pick-and-pop combinations in the NBA - especially if Bargnani can vary his roll angles for jump shots and catches in the lane. He has the skill and the mobility to score in space and on the move, and this will keep him out of power post ups where he struggles. But, it all starts with a big, strong, wide, stationary screen.

Bargnani can also be expected to provide more offensive rebounding this year. With him working more from mid-range areas, he won't have the long run from the perimeter or be 20 feet from the play. He's shown he can run the floor and just making that extra effort on a more consistent basis will lead to more opportunities on the glass. This will also give him more chances to score around the basket as he can flash to open areas as defenses rotate to the other shooters.

When he does find himself in the post Bargnani will find most of his success facing and attacking, much like the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki. Although not as versatile and mobile as Dirk, Bargnani can be very effective with his jab step jumper, a hard one dribble drive, or the "Jack Sikma" face-up move. That repertoire should keep him out of the wrestling matches and body blows that give him trouble. And with those new teammates around him, he should see primarily single coverage inside. We could see Bargnani soon becoming that one-on-one matchup nightmare the Raptors envisioned.

The NBA game takes time to learn, and for big men who are not physically dominant that development can take longer as they adapt their skills and find their path. Although Bargnani's progress has been somewhat rocky and not fast enough for some fans, the trend is now heading steadily upward. He is right on the verge of being that very consistent, productive player that All-Star forward Chris Bosh needs beside him, and that the Raptors need to be a challenger in the East.

For Toronto fans, hopefully their October surprise will be an Andrea Bargnani who is ready to be that guy.
All the pieces are in place. It's time for the former first pick of the draft to shine!
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