The NBA hasn’t been easy for Bargnani so far. The no. 1 pick, a smooth 7 footer with a face up game – the protoypical European prospect. But for Every Dirk there’s a Darko, a Vesely. Actually plenty of them. But in all fairness there have been enough flashes of potential in Toronto.
But the concerns have been pretty real too. Can’t defend. Injury prone. Soft. But maybe we’re too critical. A good player definitely. A number one pick and first option maybe not. Then again in a draft where the likes of Adam Morrisson & Shelden Williams were top 5 picks, its hard to blame Toronto for rolling the dice on Bargnani. What they can be blamed for is the contract they gave him. But then again, an NBA player’s career trajectory has a lot to do with where they get drafted. The team culture. The fanbase. How they fit in the lineup. And sometimes the best way out of a mid-career rut is hitting the reset button. Hedo became on All-Star in Orlando. Tyson Chandler finally came into his own in Dallas. Chauncey Billups even became Finals MVP in Detroit after bouncing around four other teams first.
So maybe New York was such an opportunity for Bargnani, but big market fan bases can be harsh, and not everyone can handle the pressure (see Howard, Dwight). And it was rocky from the get go.
There were the pre-season struggles. The raining of boos as if MSG had shifted to Canada. And then an already struggling team was dealt a pretty harsh blow. With Tyson Chandler going down for 4 – 6 weeks, the Knicks we’re suddenly left with the shallowest front court in the League. Specially with Kenyon & Amare pretty much staging their own version of The Walking Dead on court (seriously – Stoudemire looks like he retired two season’s ago, and the rare glimpses we do get on occasion in some games seem to just be a repeating afterimage, a glitch in the Matrix .)
So as the lack of options dictated the course of events, circumstance forced Bargs to deal with a very real physical reality – that HE IS SEVEN FEET TALL! And surprisingly it seems its something he is starting to accept, maybe even embrace. He was no longer a Steve Novak replacement with a dribble. He was New York’s starting center. The next Ewing he is not, but he showed surprising signs of life. He was scoring agressively (25 points) & blocking shots (5!).
He was hustling.
He was guarding dwight one-on-one???
As one of the Bobcats commentators said
Who is this and what has he done with Andrea Bargnani?
He seems engaged. He seems active. Attacking. He seems to be one the way to becoming the player the Knicks could have really used in the Playoffs last season. A big who could pull rim protecting big men like Hibbert out of the paint (The Knicks were so desperate for this they even tried putting Chris Copeland in at center with moderate success).
Don’t get me wrong, this is not the move that puts them over the top. They still have A LOT of issues, none bigger than their 20 million dollar man with uninsurable knees. The porous D. The lack of consistent ball movement. The Point Guard position (Felton is not the answer here). Everything J. R. Smith.
But in watching Bargnani embrace this new role, its interesting to speculate if this small sample size actually represents a turning point in his career. Is this the beginning of a better Bargnani? One that plays not only true to his diverse skill set, but also to his size. Or at least one that tries.
After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that we called Dirk ‘soft’ too.