*puts on bulletproof vest and protective cup, curls into the fetal position*
Before you pummel me, basketball fans, at least hear me out. Andrea Bargnani is a professional basketball player. He now plays for the New York Knicks. We can at least agree on these facts, right? Right?
Seriously, it's hard to remember a more divisive player ever to don the orange and blue...and the Knicks have had a lot of divisive players. Some of us were pro-trade, and some of were anti-trade, some of us would like to see Bargs in the starting lineup, and some of us are vehemently opposed. But regardless of where you fall in the Bargnani debate, we're all Knicks fans here, and we'd all like the best for Bargs whenever he takes the floor.
I've already written at length on how Bargnani can help the Knicks from inside the arc, but this is Three Week, dag-nabbit! Let's see those three-point numbers.
Woof. I'm pretty sure any Knicks fan would gladly take Bargnani's career three-point shooting average of 36.1% for this season, but he hasn't even approached that in recent years. There are some mitigating circumstances to consider here -- Chris Bosh left after the 2009-10 season, and he was injured for the past two years. Nobody really knows how much these and other factors affected Bargnani's shooting percentages. But before the Knicks worry about those low numbers, they must first address the most pressing issue with Bargnani's long range shooting: quite simply, the guy has perhaps the worst shot selection in today's NBA.
When most basketball fans think of Bargnani's position, they call to mind the prototypical "stretch 4" -- a player tall enough to play at power forward, but with a very different skill set than the traditional frontcourt banger. The stretch 4 helps the offense by hanging out on the perimeter, using a silky jumper to drain open threes while drawing defenders away from the paint. Most importantly, they shoot them threes!
Athletically, Bargnani profiles as a stretch 4. He doesn't rebound -- like, at all -- and he's not going to bang down low with the likes of David West, but the guy can shoot. And that is crucial in today's game. We're in a brave new world, people. When it comes to shooting jumpers modern offenses understand that a three-point shot is far, far superior to a long-distance two. If a shooter has range out to 24 feet, then he is better off taking the chance at the three than at a 20-footer. In fact, many of the best defenses, like Chicago's, defend on the principle of taking away the paint and the three-point line and funneling opposing shooters into that 20-foot region. Tom Thibodeau doesn't mind it if you shoot a long two...and if you're shooting the shot Tom Thibodeau wants to the shoot, then you've failed, my friend.
It seems simple, doesn't it: threes are good, long-twos are bad. So why has Bargnani spent his last three seasons shooting jumpers as if the three-point line didn't exist?
|16 ft. to 3-pt||310||.429||.429|
|16 ft. to 3-pt||146||.404||.404|
|16 ft. to 3-pt||125||.424||.424|
For a guy like Bargnani, those numbers are ass-backward. Virtually nobody in today's NBA with Bargnani's shooting range shoots more long twos than threes. That kind of shot selection more closely resembles traditional power forwards like Chris Bosh, who hit nearly 50 percent of his shots from 16 feet out to the three-point line. Shooting numbers like the ones Bargnani has been putting up the past few years show us the value of effective field goal percentage (eFG%). Since a three-point field goal is worth 50-percent more than a two-point field goal, it actually makes more sense for a 30-percent shooter to shoot threes than it would for a 40-percent shooter to shoot twos. If you're a low-40-percent mid-range jump-shooter, than you really should try to stop shooting from that range. But it would seem as if Bargnani couldn't help himself.
Check out Bargnani's shot chart from last year -- scattered and random, with too many shots coming from mid-range and virtually none coming from the corner three. Today's shooters make their living on the corner three.
Contrast that with the shot chart of our old friend Danilo Gallinari. You can see by the groupings that Gallo is a model of modern efficiency -- either he shoots the three or he takes the ball to the rim. That's what the Knicks need from Bargnani.
The good news is that Bargnani didn't always shoot jumpers like he was playing ball during the Eisenhower administration. Check out his numbers from 2008-2010:
|16 ft. to 3-pt||249||.431||.431|
|16 ft. to 3-pt||325||.399||.399|
That's more like it. Bargnani was still probably shooting too many long-twos, but at least he was shooting more threes. The ratio of threes-to-long-twos is important whether Bargnani is shooting his threes at 40 percent or 30 percent.
So what happened? Why did Bargnani's shot selection change so drastically for the worse? It seems likely that the loss of Chris Bosh had something to do with it, but Toronto sports writers were complaining about Bargnani's shot selection even before the Raptors playing their first game without Bosh.
Earlier in Bargnani's career, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell threatened to bench him if he didn't go 10 straight games without shooting a three. Mitchell was eventually overruled by management, and to this day he believes that Bargnani was too coddled in his development, leading to bad habits. Whatever the coach's intentions, it seems like some wires got crossed up along the way -- Bargnani stopped shooting as many threes, but also failed to consistently drive to the basket.
We'll find out soon enough whether Bargnani was mishandled in Toronto or truly lacks a even basic understanding of modern NBA shot selection. He's done well thus far to at least explain one mystery -- why he never shoots from the corner -- but we won't really know anything for sure until he gets into some game action. The Knicks cannot afford to have the Bargnani of old chucking long-range two-point jumpers; if he continues to pick shots the way he did in Toronto, then he shouldn't play, period. Here's hoping that Mike Woodson has already pulled him aside and explain how they do business down in MSG. You're a Knick now, Bargs: time to embrace the three.
Up next: How the other Knicks newcomers could contribute from behind the arc.