Things aren’t going so swimmingly for the New York Knicks lately. They’re just 3-6, they haven’t won a home game since the season-opener, and players are now calling each other out and questioning their effort. It’s been a far cry from the red hot, 7-0 start the Knicks got to last season. Amazingly, not much of this has had to do with Andrea Bargnani.
Bargnani certainly isn’t blameless, but in the pecking order of scapegoats, he’s surprisingly pretty low. After a rocky start to the season, Bargnani’s play has picked up considerably. Here are his first four games vs. his last five:
Bargnani has certainly had his faults — he’s an overall horrible team defender, poor at communicating with his teammates, calling out switches, and generally defending any kind of motion from an opposing team. Similarly, despite an increase in blocks per game, Bargnani isn’t much of a rim defender, as opponents have noticed when they casually glide to the hoop for open layups. On offense, he’s really only a scorer, so he doesn’t necessarily promote good ball movement, but that’s OK when his shot has been falling at such a high percentage like it has been recently.
However, the increase in Bargnani’s play has been significant. In Tyson Chandler’s absence, he’s actually filled in admirably at center, providing the Knicks with much-needed scoring punch and passable man-to-man defense. This past Thursday’s loss to the Houston Rockets was one of the most encouraging performances of any Knick this season as Bargnani put up 24 points on 9-12 shooting while limiting Dwight Howard to just 7 points and several turnovers.
In the last five games, Bargnani has also had a much better overall effect on the Knicks’ lineups. During that five-game time span, he’s collected a -5.4 net rating (every Knicks is in the negatives for this span — only four Knicks have better net ratings than Bargnani) as opposed to his -22.9 net rating in the first four games.
When Chandler returns, it seems the Knicks can actually figure out a meaningful way to configure their front-court rotation. If Mike Woodson is smart and willing, returning Anthony to power forward alongside Chandler at center, and moving Bargnani to the bench as the primary backup would give the Knicks a well balanced rotation. The Knicks’ bench has been in need for scoring, and if Bargnani keeps this pace up, he could easily fill that role. In addition, the Knicks could surround him with better defenders like Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin.
As mentioned, there hasn’t been a whole lot to like about this Knicks season, but Bargnani has been a silver lining in the recent doldrums. Fans should be somewhat relieved that the team’s problems aren’t compounded by the summer fears of how Bargnani would hurt this team — it’s been the opposite.
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