It seems the plan in Toronto is to keep Andrea Bargnani around, in hopes that the additions of head coach Dwayne Casey and center Jonas Valanciunas will be able to pull off a feat that has never been done: incorporate him into an above-average defense. This plan worries me.
Before I start questioning what the Raptors are doing, I should point out that Sebastian Pruiti has posted an excellent piece on why the Bargnani-Valanciunas combo should work, along with a breakdown of Bargs’ defense that goes beyond the typical “HE SUX!1!” you might read on a popular Raptors message board. This is must-read stuff. This did not, however, make me entirely comfortable with the idea of the former #1 pick (man, how much less criticism would he receive if he was picked lower?) sticking around for the long haul.
Maybe Bargnani and Valanciunas will be an excellent duo. In theory, it’s definitely possible — Bargs improves his awareness and tries a bit harder under Casey, Valanciunas covers up the weaknesses that are still there. Their skillsets fit together rather neatly, as Pruiti pointed out. I wonder if that isn’t putting too much on young Jonas, though. The guy is going to come into the league at age 20 with high expectations and, while he adjusts, it’d help to have a frontcourt partner who can help take the pressure off of him rather than having it the other way around.
Bargs catches a lot of heat because of his style of play. People in Toronto rightly or wrongly criticize his heart and his toughness partially because of his tendency to stick to the perimeter and partially because he has been an atrocious help defender and rebounder for the entirety of his career. For me, though, this is not just a style thing, even if I admit that I’m partial to bigs who play like bigs. It’s great that Bargs does things on the offensive end that are incredibly difficult to guard. He requires defensive attention, and on a team that doesn’t have a ton of quality offensive players anymore, this is valuable. It’s just that he’s so historically bad at defense that I don’t think it balances out. Yeah, he can play good one-on-one D, but with the scarcity of quality post players in today’s NBA, I wonder how much this skill matters.
I fear that adding Casey and Valanciunas might merely prolong an experiment that should not be salvaged. Hope that’s not the case. Either way, though, this will be his last chance. If there is a 2011-2012 season, Bargnani will not be asked to play the 5. When Jonas comes over in 2012-2013, I cannot imagine the franchise accepting another season of easy baskets in the paint. Until now, the built-in excuses of “he needs a defensive-minded coach” and “he’s playing out of position” were there to protect him. Not anymore.