Raptors' Bargnani playing with authority | Basketball | CBC Sports

NBARaptors' Bargnani playing with authority

Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 | 09:39 PM

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Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani's scoring average and rebounding have improved so far from last season. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images) Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani's scoring average and rebounding have improved so far from last season. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Raptors head coach Dwane Casey used the names 'Dirk Nowitzki' and 'Andrea Bargnani' in the same sentence. Casey said after Monday's win in New York that Bargnani, like Nowitzki before him, has learned how to adjust to defensive switches.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey used the names 'Dirk Nowitzki' and 'Andrea Bargnani' in the same sentence.

First off, before we get to that, we may as well preface things by saying this is quite possibly the high-water mark of the Raptors' season.

A 2-3 record going into a winnable game against the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre gives way to a brutal seven-game-in-nine-night stretch -- and that's before road trips to Atlanta, Boston and L.A. to play the Clippers.

Now as far as Bargnani goes, I trust we all know not to start patting each other's backs just yet. It certainly appears that he is playing with more authority this season -- in five games so far he's almost doubled his career average of visits to the free-throw line. And by virtue of a combined 58 points on 54 per cent shooting in two games against the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic, his scoring average is up. Even his rebounds are up (ever so slightly).

Which brings us back to Casey. Via Doug Smith at the Toronto Star, the Raptors coach said after Monday's win in New York that Bargnani, like Nowitzki before him, has learned how to adjust to defensive switches.

"That's the same thing Dirk went through and I was talking to him about that, we're using some of the same sets we used for Dirk against switches."

We all know that any such comparison between these two players is completely ludicrous -- and Casey knows that -- but let's take any step upwards in Bargnani's game as a plus. It's just sort of funny because last week I saw someone who I'd assume to be a basketball neophyte ask on Twitter if Bargnani could ever develop into the "next Dirk."

In terms of giving the team credit where credit's due, it starts and ends with Casey. There's been endless talk out of Raptorland since the truncated training camp about a "culture change," and at the very least the results are evident at practices, where players are expected to show up an hour beforehand. Of course Rome wasn't built in a day, as Rome native Bargnani could possibly attest.

Signs of a bad team

Monday's win over the Knicks in the partially renovated Mecca of Basketball should be big from a confidence standpoint, but the warning signs of a bad team are still highly visible.

The fact that the Raptors never relinquished the lead despite letting another double-digit advantage slip is incredibly lucky; offensively, they pulled a disappearing act in the second half. It also must be kept in mind the Knicks appeared to be in total disarray for most of the game, presenting the Gotham tabloids with their first crisis pitch of the season. But as Will Leitch noted on New York magazine's website, the Knicks' starting five for a chunk of the game was Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, Mike Bibby, Steve Novak and Jerome Jordan.

With Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis and Jared Jeffries all out, Carmelo Anthony and Toney Douglas combined for 50 shot attempts, and that's the good news for them. As a team, the Knicks shot 10-of-35 from three in the game.

The result: The beginning of the calls for Mike D'Antoni's head.

The Knicks coach said after the Toronto game that the team forgot the play to run when they were down three points with 18 seconds left, leading Melo to jack up a missed three-pointer with too much time on the clock. That's not going to inspire much confidence in a team noted for offence, favoured by many to win the Atlantic Division.

And the addition of Tyson Chandler, while certainly key, is not enough to make the rest of the Knicks play defence.

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