Andrea Bargnani’s recession the last two years has been steep and sudden. Though the 2006 #1 draft pick never lived up to his billing, he still had some solid seasons as an offensive weapon for some Toronto Raptors teams that never really caught anyone’s attention. Two years ago, however, in the lockout-shortened season, Bargnani’s overall numbers dropped to below-par levels; in 2012-13, his shooting percentages reached career- or near-career lows (39.9% FG, 30.9% 3FG), worsened by woeful rebounding (3.7 rebounds per game) and defense (107.3 defensive rating), and limited impact because of missed games. In fact, over the past two seasons, Bargnani’s only managed 66 games on the floor — the same amount as the lockout season of 2011-12. His time in Toronto was spiraling downwards at a pretty alarming rate, heading, likely, towards the amnesty provision. That is, until the New York Knicks swooped in to trade for him.
What We Know
Like many other plays who will don the orange and blue this season, Bargnani’s skill set is focused almost wholly on the offensive end. And when he’s healthy and playing well, he can be quite effective on that half of the court. At his best, he’s a seven-foot floor-spreader, capable of hitting the three-pointer or taking it off the dribble for pull-up jumpers or shots around the basket. He can be effective a post player, too, and as proponents of the trade like to remind people, Bargnani is an excellent mid-range shooter, particularly in the pick-and-pop. According to Synergy Sports, in 2013-13 as a pick-and-roll roll man, Bargnani averaged one point per possession (a good mark) and shot 45% in such occasions. Likewise, last season he shot 40% from 8-16 feet and 42% from 16-24 feet. If Bargnani can stay healthy (a serious concern given some recent elbow injuries), he still has some of the qualities that made him a diverse offensive talent early in his career.
What We’ll Need
Unfortunately, given Bargnani’s play last season, the answer to this seems to be “everything.” We know he’s capable of being a good scorer, but he hasn’t done so effectively in the past two seasons. Furthermore, when he’s not scoring, Bargnani isn’t doing much else. His career rebounding numbers average out to 5.7 per game with a total rebounding percentage of 9.4% — inexcusable numbers for someone with his size. He’s never been a good defender, and when he did show flashes of effort (like in his first under Raptors coach Dwane Casey), they came and went. It’s unfair and unreasonable to ask Bargnani to totally change his game in his first season with New York, but given the role he’ll likely play with the Knicks, they’ll need him be both a consistent and efficient scorer and a much better rebounder. The Knicks figure to be a poor rebounding team this year, and simply put, a seven-foot power forward has to do better than 3-4 rebounds per game.
What We Can Expect
Given the recent news on Amar’e Stoudemire’s covert knee operation this summer, Bargnani figures to play a pretty large role for the Knicks, especially at power forward. Whether he’ll start or not remains to be seen, but it’s not unlikely that the Italian Stallion could be seeing 25 or more minutes per night. As mentioned, Bargnani isn’t transforming into a different player altogether over the course of one offseason in which he hardly played basketball because of illness. This means, we’ll see a healthy dose of jumpers from mid-range to the three-point line, and the occasional wobbly drive to the hoop. And that’s OK — as long as he’s doing it efficiently. And that may be the biggest question mark of them all.
Perhaps the main reason some Knicks fans were upset about the Andrea Bargnani trade was that he on the course to being released for free; the Raptors were going to pay him to leave without getting anything in return. Between two disappointing seasons and a bevy of injuries, Bargnani wasn’t even a player most people felt could get any assets in return. That’s the glass-half-empty way of looking at it. Conversely, after seven years playing for a team that experienced only very marginal success, a place that was beginning to close its door on Bargnani, it’s understandable that his play could have suffered. While stats don’t offer much light to soak up in hopes that Bargnani can turn it around in New York, there is also the intangible hope that a new team, a fresh start, yada yada, can make him a valuable player to the Knicks. Should he return to his borderline All-Star self, circa 2008-2010, the Knicks are the winners of the deal.
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