It’s a kind of Mago

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.

Chris Bosh, often used as Bargnani’s Main Scapegoat

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.

Brandon Bass, Andrea Bargnani
There were few moment to celebrate for Bargnani in his Knicks time

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.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets

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?

Trust the Process

Last Friday, for the umpteenth night, the Philadelphia 76ers made NBA History.

On the wrong side.

The heartbreaking loss to the Houston Rockets represented Sixers’ 27th consecutive loss, if we count also 2014/15 last 10 games. A NBA record.

Philadelphia has beaten… itself: previous losing NBA record was detained by both Sixers (2013/14) and Cleveland Cavaliers (2010/11, the life-after-LeBron season).

2013/14 was also the first season with Sam Hinkie, actual Sixers President and GM, fully in charge.

It seems unlikely that Hinkie’s role in an eventual movie would be played by a Brad Pitt

Since taking control of the franchise in the summer of 2013, Hinkie has completely gutted the roster, cleared the cap, poised the team for financial flexibility and stockpiled picks, while trading away a (one-time) All-Star in Jrue Holiday, a reigning Rookie of the Year in Michael Carter-Williams, and numerous role players with clunky contracts like Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young.

Hinkie was appointed by the Sixers after the disastrous management of the Andrew Bynum situation by previous GM Tony DiLeo, a sort of Franchise Factotum in the last 20 years.

The only type of image available of Andrew Bynum as a Sixers player.

Bynum has never played a single NBA minute in Sixers uniform, and his trade (part of the Dwight Howard to Lakers move) meant also losing a more-than-decent center in Nikola Vucevic and franchise-leader Andre Iguodala, the recent NBA Finals MVP.

It’s interesting to recall how this, in hindsight, horrible trade, was perceived at the time.

This is a win for the Sixers on almost all accounts. To think they now have the best center in the Eastern Conference, while making sure that center doesn’t end up in the same division (Brooklyn) is huge. Bynum is not signed beyond this year, but the Sixers will have the upper hand in doing that, because they’ll be able to offer him one more year and more money than any other team. It’s important to note that it benefits Bynum to re-sign after the year when he can sign for five years, rather than extend during they year when he can only sign for three. Even if Bynum leaves, you get his salary cap room a year before you would have had it anyway, assuming Iguodala doesn’t opt out.

Bynum’s move for Sixers ownership represented the straw that broke the camel.

After that season, Hinkie came to revolutionize both Franchise and perspective.

At Year 3 of Hinkie’s Plan is it worth to ask ourselves: Is really the Process “trust-able”?

Season 1 of the ‘Philly Process’ begun in fashion, with an astonishing win against the defending NBA Champions Miami Heat, thanks to an unreal (and unrepeated) debut by Michael Carter-Williams, whom began his Rookie of the Year campaign by flirting with a Triple-Double.

Sixers began the season 3-0 and 5-4, also notching a 4 games winning streak during the season.

On January 29, 2014, Philadelphia’s record was a decent 15-31.

Win number 16 came exactly two month later, ending a 26 losing game streak.

Sixers later ended that season with a 19-63 record, second only to the Milwaukee Bucks for the worst NBA record of that season.

Philly’s high rhythm (first in the league for PACE) was joined by the worst NBA offense (last in Off Rtg and also second in FGA). Defense was also bad (26th for Off Rtg, 30th for Turnovers but 1st for Forced Turnover), and the upcoming NBA Draft was seen as an elixir.

A reaction for the ages

Sixers double top-10 picks were later converted into Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, two players whom, at this day, have never played a single minute with the Sixers.

Saric’s arrival to the NBA is expected for next season, while Embiid’s situation is dominated by a constant uncertainty about his injury status. He could play later this season or (probably) in the next one, but some rumors suggests a Greg Oden Scenario.

Philly’s good 2013-14 start wasn’t matched last year, with the Sixers starting 0-17, one game away from the worst start in NBA History as of today (2009/10, New Jersey Nets).

Despite that, Sixers ended the season with a 18-64, only one win behind their previous record.

2014-15 season wasn’t all garbage: Brown’s work was highlighted by substantial defensive improvements (13th for Def Rtg playing at a slower PACE -6th in the League- added by relevant improvement in terms of FG% allowed, both 2P and 3P).

Philadelphia’s real problem was represented by a poor offense system. Worst by far in terms of Off Rtg (95.5, with the 29th -Knicks- scoring a 99.9), also last for FG% and FT%: besides Furkan Aldemir no Sixers player averaged, through all the season, more than 50% in terms of shooting percentage.

Not your ordinary teenager

Here comes the current season, which should be the last “tanking” one for many reasons.

The addition of Jahlil Okafor, despite his off-court issues, represents the first real sparkling light in the Sixers process after Nerlens Noel’s defensive impact (at this moment Noel has a Def Rtg of 100.8, against a team one of 106.2). His post game doesn’t seem like a Rookie one, even more if you think that he’s defenses main target when someone face the Sixers.

The constant use of Advanced Stats in analyzing Sixers’ performances isn’t casual: it’s a dominant part of Hinkie’s process. It’s not so surprising that the Philadelphia 76ers are the top team, in professional sports, for their use of analytics.

It will be a tough rookie season for Okafor, despite his good stats: leading a team in which 58 different players (FIFTYEIGHT) were part of Philly’s roster since Sam Hinkie’s appointment.

Will 2015-16 be the last ‘Philadelphia SeventyTankers’ season?

The rewriting of the worst NBA Records could be an indication of that, but future is still bright for Philly, whom would probably detain 4 first round Draft picks next June, two of these being likely top-10.

Their extensive assets’ availability can represent a further advantage into cutting the ‘Process Steps’.

A team with Okafor, Noel, Saric, eventually Embiid, four good first round picks would only need a couple of veterans to be just in contention for a Playoff spot, even in an improved Eastern Conference.

Dario Saric
He’s coming

Are this Sixers the worst NBA Team Ever?

It could be surely arguable, but it’s also important to point out how, in none of the first two Hinkie’s seasons, the Sixers have never notched the worst NBA record.

Although this could be a ‘8-74’ year, NBA’s history is packed by even worse teams for records and ratings. Moreover, it’s the very concept of ‘worst’ worth to be discussed.

It’s worse a team like the Sixers or like the current Brooklyn Nets, whom might have a better record so far (3-12) but surely have a less-bright future, with heavy contracts and few draft picks?

If you ‘Trust the Process’, you should know the answer.