Andrea Bargnani will play for the Knicks next season. -ducks-
Please, before you throw any more bricks, at least hear me out. Judging from this summer's P&T comments sections, it would appear that Bargnani and Tyson Chandler have become the two most polarizing players on the New York Knicks. I suppose it makes sense, since the two men are polar opposites, both as players and as beard-growers (Bargnani never lets his stubble grow past the "swarthy Mediterranean" setting, whereas Chandler allows his beard to reach Lincoln-esque lengths).
While I have been a vocal critic of the Bargnani trade, my utter lack of a time machine has forced me to accept the man and look for ways he might help the Knicks in 2013-14. Yes, I am standing up right here and now and declaring that I, a Knicks fan, am rooting for New York Knick Andrea Bargnani to succeed while playing for the New York Knicks!
The book on Bargnani seems to be that he was a quality player (on offense) a few years ago, but that his play fell off the past few years due to a wide range of factors (injuries, the loss of front-court partner Chris Bosh, repeatedly blowing off practice to nosh on bear claws at the local Tim Hortons).
Since his 2012-13 season was an unmitigated disaster, let us focus on the four previous seasons - from 2008 to 2012. Check out is numbers and see if you can spot his most effective season with the Raptors:
Now the point-fetishists among us will surely choose 2010-11, year of the 20-PLUS POINTS PER GAME, as Bargnani's finest campaign. Those of you more partial to shooting percentages might choose either his 2008-09 or his 2009-10 season. But which season do the advanced stats rate as Bargnani's best? Let me warn you: it's about to get weird up in here:
-spits out brandy- GASP! You mean to tell me, my dear numbers, that Bargnani's best season came in what was clearly his worst shooting season? Surely you jest, statistics!
Well the numbers don't lie, people. Despite shooting less than 30% from beyond the arc, Bargnani was a transcendent presence for the Raptor's offense in 2011-12. Overall, Toronto had the second-worst offensive efficiency rating that season, but when Bargnani took the court the Raptors offense jumped from a ghastly 99.4 points-per-100-possessions to a league-average 104.3 points-per-100-possessions. That +4.9 offensive rating on/off number was by far the best of Bargnani's career:
- 2011-12: +4.9
- 2010-11: +3.1
- 2009-10: +2.1
- 2008-09: +0.1
Call it the Bargnani paradox: a reputed shooter performing at his highest level of offensive efficiency while shooting at his lowest level of efficiency. How did he pull it off? First, you should check his assists rate: in 2011-12 he assisted on 11.6% of his teammates' field goals while he was on the floor, a rate nearly three percent higher than his next-best season. Second, he excelled at getting points from the free-throw line - 4.9 made free throws per game.
Both of these qualities could prove extremely valuable to the Knicks next season. Last season's Knicks team didn't get many free throw opportunities as a group - they finished 21st in the NBA in free throws per field goal attempt. The 6.0 free throw attempts Bargnani averaged per 36 minutes in 2011-2012 would have ranked third on last year's Knicks squad, behind only Carmelo Anthony (7.4) and Amar'e Stoudemire (6.9). Among Knick forwards, Bargnani's 11.3 AST% would have ranked second behind Melo (14.1%).
This version of Bargnani could provide real offensive value to the Knicks second unit that suffered at times from severe bouts of "sit around and watch JR"-itis last season. Running things through a foul-drawing, pass-happy Bargnani could keep the offense from getting bogged down along the perimeter, while simultaneously opening up J.R. Smith as a spot-up shooter (where he still excels).
Maybe this is all a pipe dream; maybe Bargnani will not bounce back at all. But it helps to remember that guy was a viable offensive weapon a mere two seasons ago, even without his three-point stroke. Andrea Bargnani can help the Knicks' offense with more than just shooting; and if he somehow bring his shooting numbers in line with his early-career averages, well then that's just a bonus.