To say Andrea Bargnani hasn’t been the most popular player on the Toronto Raptors over the years would be a massive understatement. After his return from an elbow injury last season, the big Italian was actually booed loudly in his first few home games as he came on the court. A first overall draft pick whose first head coach made it obvious he wasn’t his choice and someone never quite lived up to some very high expectations. The Raptors organization only made things worse by mercilessly overselling him to the fans as a franchise level player after All-Star Chris Bosh departed for Miami in the summer of 2010.
Bargnani arrived in the NBA as a stretch-five. A true seven-footer with a solid base who could hit the outside shot and had some skills driving to the basket against opposing big men that left the traditional comfort of the painted area. After four years in the league, he signed the typical five-year extension averaging $10 million per season offered to many promising young players that don’t have franchise-player type potential. Neither Bargnani nor his agent nor the Raptors organization were under any delusions that Bargnani was going to be an NBA superstar.
From day one Bargnani’s role in the Raptors offense was to stretch the floor and make outside jump shots and although he has taken a lot of criticism for it over the years, his other role was to guard the opposition’s best big man in the paint. In most seasons, the Raptors simply didn’t have anyone else with the size to guard the bigger power forwards and centers some NBA teams still employ. His career 36.1 percent career shooting average is indicative of his ability to hit shots from range. The 17 to 21 points per game he scored in the three previous seasons to this one are a good indication of what the Knicks should expect if Bargnani plays 30 to 35 minutes per game next season in a similar role to what he had in Toronto.
The downside of Bargnani’s play has come at the defensive end of the floor. The big man has a career defensive rating of 111 points given up per 100 possessions and there is no way to disguise his lack of defensive help awareness and slow reaction time to changing situations. On the positive side, his defense was markedly improved playing under the defensive schemes of new Head Coach Dwane Casey, so it is possible Bargnani will continue to play better defense for Knicks Head Coach Mike Woodson who also has a defensive mindset.
Last year Bargnani couldn’t find his jump shot early in the season and then was lost for most of the year to two separate elbow injuries. These injuries, like the calf injuries that impacted his prior two seasons are not likely to reoccur, but they had a huge impact on the team and how Bargnani was perceived by the fans and the organization. At the start of last season it quickly became apparent Bargnani wasn’t ready to play. The calf injury probably delayed Bargnani’s ability to train that summer, but the team was dependent on his offense if they were to get off to a decent start and it wasn’t long before he was being shopped around the league. His subsequent injuries delayed any possible trades and Bargnani only got back to training at the beginning June, just in time to be shipped to New York.
The Knicks are not giving up a lot to acquire a former number one overall draft pick that should be motivated and ready to play long before training camp starts. Players who will probably be bought out, three-point specialist Steve Novak, a first round draft pick three seasons out and a pair of second round draft picks is not a steep price for a franchise that is built to win now and is in desperate need of additional talent after the blockbuster Nets-Celtics trade.
Novak is a spot up shooting combo forward who doesn’t rebound and has even fewer defense tools to work with than Bargnani. A second unit player the Knicks used 19-20 minutes per game to spread the floor and get them three-pointers. While Novak is limited in what he can do, he does it extremely well. Novak is a career 43.3 percent three-point bomber and Casey will find a use for him in Toronto.
In this deal, New York is effectively acquiring the first overall pick of the 2006 NBA draft for the 32nd pick of the same draft. A 27-year-old starting big man for a 30-year-old second unit combo forward and some draft picks. It is hard not to view this trade as a huge win for New York on the face. Even in a poor shooting year, Bargnani had a season high 34 points in Detroit last November and hit five three-pointers in Golden state, the eleventh time Bargnani has nailed five threes in a game over his career. If Bargnani gets back to his 2010-2011 form when he scored a career high 41 points in New York, this trade could be seen as the move that got the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals next season.
Stephen Brotherston has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Center since 2009. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.