Mar 16, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani (7) drives to the basket against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the first half at the FedEx Forum. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Toronto Raptors Player Profile: Andrea Bargnani

Name:  Andrea Bargnani

Mar 16, 2012; Memphis, TN, Toronto Raptors centre Andrea Bargnani (7) Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Position: Centre/Power Forward

Age:  26

Height:  7’0″

Weight:  256 lbs.

College:  n/a [Benetton Treviso, Italy]

Season with Raptors: 6

2011-2012 Stats: 31 GP, 33 MPG, 19.5 PPG, 2.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 43.2 FG%, 29.6 3P%, 87.3 FT%, 18.04 PER

Analysis: I’ve chosen to kick off this series of Raptor player profiles with Andrea because he is the most important player on the team. If he has the kind of season he is capable of, the other Raps will benefit enormously.

If there were an All-Frustrating Team, Bargnani would be a unanimous selection by Toronto fans. His skills are manifest: he can drain 3s like a shooting guard, cut to the hoop at speed to receive a dish for an easy bucket, make no-look passes to open teammates, and even grab rebounds when the mood strikes….then he’ll disappear for an entire quarter. Consequently, his ascension to the top ranks of the NBA has been painfully slow, particularly so when we consider he was the #1 pick in the 2006 draft (more on that later).  Last season, he opened the year like a man possessed (24+ PPG), and talk of Bargnani the All-Star was rife.  Then, in Game 14, down he went with an calf strain.  By the time he returned, the Raps’ season was effectively over, as no one on the roster could step up to fill the scoring vacuum. Raps’ fans await training camp with bated breath; if AB’s calf issue is chronic, this season is over before it begins.

Andrea’s personality is not an easy one to plumb. He shuns the spotlight, both on and off the court. He clearly took his early Euro-league basketball training (the team is everything, ergo the individual is nothing) to heart, and eschews any of the chest-thumping machismo of the typical NBA gunner. I think being chosen #1 was a shock to Andrea, and caused him to try too hard in his early years as a Rap, which were characterized by much “bust” talk in the press. In fact, he’s fortunate that he ended up in Toronto, as I suspect he’s too sensitive to have survived in many other NBA cities where his “European-ness” would have been chided without mercy. He’s doubly fortunate to have Dwane Casey as his coach, because Dwane went out of his way in the off-season to tell Andrea how good he really is, and how important he is to the future of the club. Those words clearly resonated with the Italian big man, whose body language, and results at both ends of the court, had never been more positive than under Casey’s tutelage. AB has indicated a desire to take out Canadian citizenship, which is strong proof that he knows he’s in a good place, and doesn’t harbor any secret desire to decamp.

AB is a veteran who must lead, and not merely by example, for the Raps to win.

Key stat to watch-3P%: Last season was AB’s first with a number below 34.5, and one assumes that it was just an off-year, compounded by nagging injury and defensive pressure on the Raps’ most dangerous shooter. If the offense features better balance this season, AB should get more uncontested looks. We can’t live with him below 20 PPG, and improving his 3-ball shooting will surely cure that ill.

He stays on the floor if: His defense is as stout as it was last season. Admittedly that isn’t saying much, particularly when compared to his career-long defensive lethargy. Dwayne Casey got through to this guy more than any Raps coach ever has. What was terribly galling about AB was watching his defensive play actually worsen since his rookie season. At least early in his career he was trying, but his zeal seemed to diminish after being repeatedly benched for cheap fouls. If last season was a true sign of what he’s capable of, we fans are in for the season we’ve been waiting for.

Brian Boake is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada. 

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