Posted Mar 22 2010 10:00AM
The fifth month of the fourth season, and still no conclusion. Except that Andrea Bargnani is lazy.
That comes from someone extremely close to him. The part about being inconsistent and passive, about one moment lending encouragement to the Raptors' postseason hopes and the next becoming a face of the fade -- and, yes, the part about wearing the status as No. 1 pick like an anvil necklace -- that's from everyone else.
The Raptors are mud wrestling with the Bulls to see who plays less bad and makes the Eastern Conference playoffs. Franchise cornerstone Chris Bosh, weighing whether to leave as a free agent, will probably take the collective pulse of the roster into consideration. All of this is happening while Bargnani is eight months into an extension reportedly worth $50 million over five years. This might be a good time for Bargnani to develop some career stability. Or some 2009-10 stability.
This was to have been the season of finally grasping his potential. It isn't. He is shooting better than ever, scoring more than ever, rebounding in a way that gives coaches more encouragement than ever that he can be a presence on the boards. And yet Bargnani is going backward when the Raptors need him most. Maddening -- that's the other thing he is more than ever.
Coach Jay Triano just told Toronto reporters that the Raps need Bargnani to focus more. Uh-oh. When a sprained ankle cost Bosh six games in late February and early March, Bargnani was more active and appeared more confident. It made the season feel like a breakout. Not a starring season, but at least one on a definite upswing. That's something after three seasons of never averaging more than 15.4 points or 5.3 rebounds or topping 45 percent as a skilled 7-footer with a major investment behind him. The 24-year-old Italian was at 18.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 46.5 percent in January and 19 points, 5.8 rebounds and 49.3 percent in February.
"I just think he's added to his game a little bit all the time," Triano said in praising the improvements. "He's always had the ability to shoot from the perimeter. He's worked on being able to put it on the floor and pull up. At times he can take it right to the basket. When teams have switched on to him, he's been able to punish smaller guys by taking the ball inside because he's worked on his post moves a little bit."
Then, March. The first 10 games have been 13.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 45.9 percent.
Uh-oh is right.
His scoring numbers (16.9 ppg, 47.4 field-goal percentage) are easily on pace for new career bests and his mark of six rebounds a game is a decent bump from the 5.3 rpg of 2008-09. But if the numbers continue to retreat, if he can't play off Bosh better the final 3 1/2 weeks, if the Raptors make an early postseason exit or don't even make the playoffs, it could become a very ugly summer in Canada.
The rebounding is what jumps out (or doesn't). Bargnani is a jump shooter, but he's also a 7-footer who gets a lot of inside time on defense. The numbers are a bad display.
"When he becomes a very, very good rebounder, he's going to be a complete player." Triano said.
But can he become that good?
That's being very, very sure about someone who has managed consecutive double-figure games just twice this season.
"Because we've seen him do it," Triano said. "It's just a matter of being something that becomes consistent. He's played a lot of his career with Chris Bosh, who goes and gets it, and he's become satisfied with the fact that Chris is going to go get it a lot of times or he [Bargnani] is going to lose that battle sometimes.
"It's something that we have to continually work on him, and he's added pieces to his game so he seems to be a guy that wants to get better so we think that he'll continue to work and that'll become part of his game."
Which hits the problem with a smack. It's not the rebounding. It's the little matter of working at it.
Bargnani is asked how he gets beat on the boards.
"Being lazy maybe," he says. "That's the only reason it can be. I've got the body, I've got everything to take 10 rebounds a game. It's just sometimes I get lazy."
He needs to fix that, obviously. He needs to play with more focus.
"Yeah," Bargnani agrees. "More focus. You said it. More focus and don't get lazy."
The rest of the Raptors season, and maybe longer, depends on it.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.
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