I want to begin this piece with an assumption: I’m an Andrea Bargnani fan.
Since his Treviso days he’s always been one of my favorite players.
It is for this reason that I’ve never tolerated people’s habit to over-hyped him through all this years.
2015/16 marks ‘il Mago’ tenth NBA season, and I need to ask myself whether believing in Andrea Bargnani today is like believing in Santa Claus.
On June 28, 2006, Andrea Bargnani made history, turning into the first European Player (and second International, after Yao Ming) to be selected as the first overall pick in a NBA Draft.
After having had only the 8.8% of chances to obtain the first pick, the Toronto Raptors decided to bet on who, at the time, was considered an “Italian Dirk Nowitzki”, dreaming to create a unique tandem with their franchise player, Chris Bosh.
It is quite safe to assume that Bargnani’s ‘rookie contract’ seasons are probably his best one in the NBA so far, and they will likely continuing to be.
At those time, after a very good fourth season (17.2 ppg with career high 6.2 rpg and 47% FG), lots of people were rumoring whether Bargnani would have performed better as a ‘Franchise Player’ instead of being a ‘2nd option’.
But has Bargnani really been a better player, for the Toronto Raptors, without the ‘bulky’ presence of Chris Bosh?
Between the 433 NBA games played by Andrea Bargnani with the only canadian team in the National Basketball Association, 170 of those have been without Chris Bosh on the court, less than the 40%.
In those games some main stats are slightly better, like points per game (13.8 to 17.4), personal fouls (2.9 to 2.1) and free throws (81.9% to 83.1%, shooting 1.5 more free throws per game without Bosh on the court).
What should worry the ‘Bargnani is better without Bosh’ representatives are his shooting percentage (44.8% with Bosh, 42.4 without him), particularly his 3-point range shooting (38.9% to 31.4% with almost the same number of attempts, 3.8 vs 3.6), and some of his ‘advanced stats’: if Bargnani’s overall defensive rating is almost the same with or without Bosh (111.3 vs. 112.2), his offensive rating shows a significant drop when he is not playing with the former Georgia Tech alumn (104 vs. 99.9).
Raptors’ Bargnani, surely the best one seen in the NBA so far, was definitely a better player alongside someone like Bosh, able to use his offensive assets in the best possible way for the team, and capable to hide partially some of his gaps, like his allergy to rebounds (in the four season with Bosh, Bargnani had a TRB% of 9.8; without him, a 8.7).
After 7 years in Canada and with 2 years remaining on his first long contract, il Mago was finally traded to the New York Knicks, in exchange for Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson and, above all, three draft picks, one of which being the Knicks 2016 1st round unprotected pick, particularly valuable if New York would not qualify for the next Playoffs.
Bargnani arrived to the Knicks after having played only a combined 66 games in the previous two season and he was one of the last operations made by GM Glen Grunwald before being fired by Knicks’ owner James Dolan.
Andrea’s start in New York was slow (8.8 ppg in his first 4 games as a Knicks’ player), but his Knicks’ career high (25 points vs Charlotte) meant the start of a 13 game streak with at least 10 points scored, averaging 17.4 points and 6.3 rebounds during that stretch.
This effort was a losing one: Knicks started the season with a 3-13 record, improving only to 15-27 on game 42, the last one played by Bargnani in his first season as a Knicks.
Knicks’ record that season without Bargnani was a decent 22-18, but they were unable to clinch the last playoff spot, falling behind the Atlanta Hawks for only one game.
Bargnani’s 42nd (and last for his first season) game as a Knicks was a 20-point losing effort at MSG against the Philadelphia 76ers, and the end was as incredible as anyone could possibly have ever imagined.
2013-14 represented Bargnani’s tied career high for Total Rebound percentage with a miser 10.4.
To put that in context, that season the following players had a better TRB%.
Kawhi Leonard (12.1%)
Lance Stephenson (11.4%)
Luigi Datome (10.6%)
And many (many) others.
In fact, Bargnani was the last player listed as Center for TRB% with at least 30 games played.
And we’re talking about his career high TRB%.
After his three ‘Franchise Player’ season in Toronto, lots of AB fan welcomed the opportunity to play with a star like Carmelo Anthony, capable of relieving Bargnani from main offensive duties, and an NBA Champion center in Tyson Chandler, possibly able to mask Bargnani’s rebounding deficits.
Well, with both Bargnani and Anthony on the court that season the Knicks shot the basketball many more times than their opponents (7.1 more FGA) but also worse (-3.8% in eFG).
With both Bargnani and Chandler on the court that season, New York had a 3.5 worst TRB% than their opponents, being outscored at the same time by 18.3 points.
Second Knicks season for Bargnani started on New Years Eve, with a 9 point game in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and it went on a worse way than the first one.
Despite a slight improvement in shooting percentages, last season for Bargnani meant the continuation of an unstoppable decline, which now seems to represent the largest part of his NBA career.
His decline is also acknowledged by the rest of the NBA.
On his first season in New York he averaged an eFG% of 46.8% on open shots (closest defender between 4 and 6 feet) and a 53.9% on wide open shots (more than 6 feet).
Both type of shots represented, respectively, the 28% and the 29% of Bargnani’s total FG.
The following year (last season), Bargnani had a 45.8% eFG on open shots (29.4%) and a 51.9% (22.2%) on wide open shots.
After looking at his good performances on EuroBasket 2015, I was really looking for Bargnani’s 10th NBA season, the first one with the Brooklyn Nets, in a role in some ways easier and devoid of most expectations that have accompanied him for his first nine NBA seasons.
This season, the first with the Brooklyn Nets, Bargnani is averaging a slightly better 48.5% eFG% on open shots (which counts as a 33% of his total attempts), but an horrible 42.2% on wide open shots (31% of his FG).
Putting that in context, if Stephen Curry is incomparable with an unreal 74.4% eFG%, even someone like Spencer Hawes, who’s playing an awful NBA season for the Charlotte Hornets, has a better eFG% on wide open shots (48.1%) than Bargnani’s percentage.
What is more shocking is looking how this ‘open shots’ counts in his overall FG attempts: they are constantly the majority of Bargnani’s attempts, shots left open by the defenses, whom bet (and win) on his inability to convert them at a decent percentage.
Andrea Bargnani has always been appreciated for his offensive skills.
His rebounding (he’s averaging 6.5 rebounds per 100 possession, a career-low) and defensive (between players with a career def rtg higher than 110, he’s second in NBA history for personal foul per game with 2.5) gaps have always been a problem, but in his best days he was able to hide them with his unique offensive skills.
How to deal with the fact that even his offensive skills are deteriorating and he’s on his way to join the shameful elite of NBA worst players?
His contract with the Nets has a player option for the next year at the veterans minimum, and it’s still unclear if Bargnani will exercise that option and prolong his NBA career.
But, at this point, would it still make sense to prolong this agony?