First things first: it was not a mistake to draft Andrea Bargnani number one overall in 2006. In a weak draft where twelve first-round picks aren't even in the NBA anymore, to come away with a seven-footer that is capable of dropping twenty-point games with ease, they did alright. Is Bargnani the best player from his draft? No, he is not. However, in a lottery loaded with busts like Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Patrick O'Bryant, Saer Sene and Hilton Armstrong, to come away with not only a productive player but a legit 20 ppg scorer is commendable.
Now, all that said, it's time to trade Andrea Bargnani.
This year was a huge 'prove it' year for the sweet-shooting Italian, and while he proved that increased touches will deliver an increased scoring average, he failed in several other areas that practically necessitate his relocation.
The biggest failure this year was, and has been for a while, his inability to develop areas of his game that don't have to do with his scoring. This year he averaged a career-low in rebound rate and rebounding per 36 minutes, and his 5.2 rpg ranked him 29th amongst centers this season, behind Channing Frye, Kwame Brown and the 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes. His defense was no better, either, as the Raptors let up 5.2 points more per 100 possessions when he's on the court, opposing teams shoot 2.6% better in FG% when he's on the floor and this year was his worst for shot blocking in his entire career.
Take a second to consider all of that. What is basically being illustrated is that not only did Bargnani not improve his pathetic rebounding and defense, but in some areas he actually REGRESSED from already embarrassingly low standards. Ever since training camp, head coach Jay Triano has been lamenting Bargnani's inability to improve as a help defender and his tendency to let his field goal percentage affect his defensive effort, but he - like Sam Mitchell before him - seems powerless to alter Bargnani's mindset. He's probably got more in common with J.R. Smith than Dirk Nowitzki at this point in his career and that is especially disappointing considering his circumstances this year.
This year Bargnani was supposed to emerge as one of the future cornerstones of this franchise, unburdened from having to play in Chris Bosh's shadow. He was supposed to gain a newfound respect for the less glamourous areas of the job because the Raptors were going to feature him more and they hoped such visibility would coax some self-respect out of him. Instead, it only served to jack-up his field goal attempts at the expense of his rebounding and shot blocking stats. Perhaps if he were a lights-out shooter the team would feel compelled to work around his shortcomings, but the fact is he's one of the least efficient 20 ppg in the NBA this season, with only Russell Westbrook having a FG% below Bargnani amongst that group, but at least Westbrook gets to the line 7.7 times per game (Bargnani only gets there 5.3).
There is also the fact that his offense is coming increasingly from isolation situations, meaning that he's finding his shot less and less within the flow of the team's offense. Only 63.7% of his shots were assisted this season, compared to 75%+ in each of his first four years. His insistence on going one-on-one has led to a dramatic increase in shots from the 16-23 foot range (the dreaded 'long two'), which is basically the laziest shot he could take. So not only does the team's offense need to basically stop to allow him his forays with the ball, but he 'rewards' the team by taking bad shots. To compound matters, Bargnani is also the second-worst 20 ppg scorer in the league this year at using the threat of his scoring to set-up his teammates. His assist percentage ranks behind every 20 ppg this year save one, Dwight Howard, and Howard can be excused since he's a 60% shooter and is typically at the end of most passing cycles.
All of this, though, is just cold data. There will be those who say his 21.4 ppg trumps all and that his versatility as a scorer is too valuable to give away. Whatever. There is a more important side to this story that goes deeper than his numbers; fans don't like him.
To sit at games this season is to hear a barrage of insults hurled at Bargnani's indifferent play. To read the excellent blog community discuss it, they can't wait for the day when Bargnani is in a different uniform. It's not surprising really, considering who Raptor fans have attached themselves to in the team's past.
Now, a General Manager should never blindly follow the whims of his fan base when it comes to trading and acquiring players, but there is something to be said for the team's highest-paid player and most visible personality in their offense being someone that the fans actually want to see. Or, put more bluntly, it should be someone the fans actually want to PAY to see. Raptor fans have a history of dedicating their allegiances to workers, to guys like Jerome Williams, Alvin Williams and Reggie Evans. They adore guys that leave it all out on the floor, who sacrifice their bodies to do the dirty work like Amir Johnson and Jorge Garbajosa. Sure, they're happy to get behind supremely talented players like Vince Carter, but as soon as they stop working to the best of their abilities, Toronto fans voice their displeasure. Bargnani has become something of the poster child for a player refusing to work to the best of their abilities, so why should fans keep paying to sand him and his indifferent play continue to be the most visible part of every Raptors game?
Bryan Colangelo and co. have gone away from the Bargnani model in recent years. They team has worked over the last two seasons to acquire young, athletic and energetic players to fill out their roster, and the fans seem encouraged by their presence. Having DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, James Johnson and Jerryd Bayless on the roster seems to have re-ignited the fan base and made them cautiously optimistic about the future, at least those that pop-up in my Twitter timeline. Management seems focused on building a team out of players who want to muck it up in the paint, who want to play through injuries, who want to put in the work to improve their game. If management is truly committed to going in this direction, and they should be because it's actually enjoyable to watch, then they must commit fully by divesting themselves of Andrea Bargnani. A seven-foot, 20 ppg former number-one overall pick will always have a market for his services - always - and it's now time for Toronto to avail themselves of that market before the next training camp convenes.
TSN.ca basketball writer Tim Chisholm looks back at the Raptors' 2010-11 season with a four-part series on the team. Next up on Sunday: The Draft.