In 2006, the Toronto Raptors had a chance to change the fortune of the franchise. While the Raptors made a huge step forward in their progression the season after, it was later on in the tenure of one man named Andrea Bargnani that proved to be a main reason in the great fall and plummet of the Raptors’ value in the league.
With the number one pick, the Toronto Raptors took a European 7-footer, who was famously compared to Dirk Nowitzki because of his ability to stretch the floor at his size. What was even more intriguing was the fact that Bargnani was the first player from Europe chosen with the 1st overall pick, which made for what should have been an incredible story.
Bargnani, who is now scrubbing lint off suits on the New York Knicks, was a player of many skill-sets. Solid ball-handler, shooter, and scorer for his size; fantastic abilities, one would think. He wasn’t a contributor right away in his rookie season, but when eventually given the consistent minutes, he gave solid production; 11.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, on 43% from the field, 37% from the perimeter, and 25 minutes of playing time. He was an offensive big man, established right away in his first season.
What he also established, was his rebounding and defence, or lack thereof. Andrea Bargnani was an awful rebounder, and still is to this very day. Defensively, he wasn’t bad one-on-one, but it was his off-ball defence (help-side, defensive rotations, pick-&-roll) that made every Raptors fan cringe and cry for mercy. Bargnani was constantly out-boxed, out-rebounded, out-hustled, and defensively was getting crammed on, yelled at, or was giving up easy buckets. The word that described Bargnani followed suit in his rookie season, and to this day is still with him – he’s soft.
The following 2007-2008 season didn’t help his cause in the early mentions of being a draft disappointment in which he posted career lows in points (10.2), field goal percentage (39%), and tied in career lows in blocks (0.5), and rebounds (3.7). Bargnani’s minutes fell as well, with a career low of 23.9 minutes a game. At this point, it was becoming more apparent that Bargnani might not turn out to be the player the Raps hoped, who continued his poor play after an awful 2008 playoffs. His production had been nearly cut in half in all categories in comparison to the post-season before hand.
Minutes had eventually started to grow, with roles constantly changing, moving from back-up centre, to power forward in times of injury, and at one point, Bargnani starting at small forward along with Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal. After Bosh left in 2010, Il Mago particularly came alive. He was scoring at will, now being set as the main man as Bosh partied in South Beach.
He averaged 19.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.95 blocks, 45% from the field, and 36% from the perimeter from the 2008-2009 season to 2011-2012 season. In case you forgot, this is what Bargs was capable of.
It was almost like Bargnani finally grew into the player the Raptors’ front office had envisioned; a match-up terror offensively, and a big body who would actually use the size defensively (which in times, he was solid against his individual match-up). It was almost apparent that he would become an all-star calibre player, after the small sample size he put up in Dwane Casey’s first season as the Raptors head coach. Demanding the defence, Bargnani brought the effort, on the glass was demonstrating more effort than we’ve seen in past seasons, and offensively was as efficient as ever. These were the glory days for Bargnani. However, it was 31 games before the calf injury hit.
Bargnani then came back; and fans had high expectations for the same effort and play from the previous season. Unfortunately, the support base and the team saw different – completely different.
Il Mago was the slowest any Raptors’ fan had seen in his career. He was late on every single rotation, missing wide open shots, trashing point blank finishes, committing awful turnovers, being out hustled, to a point where he was an absolutely liability everywhere on the floor.
Bargnani’s numbers were the lowest since his second year in the league, averaging 12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 31% from three, 40% from the field, and 28.7 minutes on 35 games played. To state it shortly, he was awful, which jump-started his disastrous fall as a NBA-calibre player.
Masai Ujiri was than hired by the Raptors as the new general manager, and one of his first tasks as manager on duty, was dealing with the situation of Bargnani. Ujiri likely pulled off one of the greatest robberies in Raptors’ history, relieving the New York Knicks of now Utah Jazz sharp-shooter, Steve Novak, Marcus Camby who was then released, and Quentin Richarson who also followed suit. The most intriguing and amazing part of the deal, however, was acquiring a 2016 first-round pick (protected with Denver’s pick), and a used 2014 second-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick. 2016, the year the Raptors have that first round pick, is expected to be within lottery, not considering any possible deals that may better/worsen that current roster – New York so far has proven to be awful (and Denver does not look great either).
New York then had its early impressions of Bargnani, many of them met with boos, hate comments, and even comments like this:
Bargnani has been a player that has not only hurt the Raptors in the past, but currently still haunts Phil Jackson and the Knicks. What’s sad, however, was his destiny and expectation for greatness, which was very attainable with the skill-set he possessed. Again, he had all the skills offensively, along with the size and sneaky athleticism, but, his mind was never in the right place, his effort was questionable every night, and his health was no better than that of a 85-year old grandfather.
A 7-footer with awesome offensive skills and size that could make a difference on both ends of the court ended up as a laughing stock for the league, a ‘woulda-coulda-shoulda’ situation, and may be considered the greatest asset in a trade robbery in Raptors’ franchise history.
You could be sad that he never lived up to the potential, and probably never will, or happy that he is no longer hurting the Raptors. Whatever side you’re on, the Raptors have proven better without him, and that sometimes letting go, will finally allow you to move on. Which in this case, the Raptors have done, and in a big way.