Last year, Andrea Bargnani clunked his way to what seemed to be the rock bottom of his NBA career.
The former No. 1 overall pick was a weak link on a historically inept New York Knicks squad, perpetuating the “bust” label that gradually followed him during his time with the Toronto Raptors and Knicks. Bargnani’s rebounding and defense were as bad or worse than they’ve ever been, and the Bockers were much better off when he was on the bench.
Bargnani’s days of being an overpaid offensive weapon are now behind him, as the Brooklyn Nets scooped him up for a modest two year, $2.9 million deal this summer.
He’s coming off a strong stint for the Italian national team at EuroBasket 2015, and his new NBA home could provide a fresh start. Can he enjoy somewhat of a renaissance in Brooklyn and prove to be a positive asset for the club?
Still a dangerous scorer
After Bargnani’s EuroBasket exploits, we didn’t learn anything earth-shattering about his approach entering 2015-16. Most of his brightest moments for Italy were on the offensive end, and he was inconsistent as a defender and rebounder.
Bargnani averaged 17.7 points during contests where he saw 20-plus minutes. He shot the ball extremely efficiently, converting 51 percent from the field including 48 percent from beyond the international arc.
Although we didn’t glean anything dramatically new about Bargs at EuroBasket, he reminded us how potent he can be when he’s placed in favorable spots.
He consistently drilled mid-range jumpers from the elbow and short corner, and also smoothly sank flip shots and runners. Bargnani’s confident, high release on 15-footers and three-pointers is an area of his game that’s still sweet.
Watch how he comes back to the ball after setting this screen, catching the rock and turning to score. There’s a reason he shot 45 percent from 10-16 feet during 2014-15:
Bargnani will undoubtedly be a useful pick-and-pop bucket-getter for Lionel Hollins. He can also roll and score with touch when he gets momentum toward the cup, and he could also develop chemistry with fellow reserve Shane Larkin, who has great pick-and-roll command.
The Nets should also set pin-downs for Bargnani and give him sporadic post-ups when he’s playing the 5 in relief of Brook Lopez. When Bargnani gets the ball in space with single coverage, he’s still quite dangerous.
How does he fit defensively?
While it’s safe to assume he’ll eventually mesh well with the rest of the Nets offensively, his defense is a much bigger question mark. How will he jell with this new-look rotation?
Bargnani showed some glimpses of sharp defense and even collected a couple of multi-block games at EuroBasket. But his tournament also featured late rotations, inconsistent positioning and soft rebounding.
He lit up the scoreboard as a shooter during Italy’s final two games, but Bargnani was also torched himself. Jonas Valanciunas posted most of his 26 points and 15 boards for Lithuania while Bargnani guarded him, and Jan Veseley of the Czech Republic then notched 26 and 12 of his own.
“It’s also got to be just a little concerning for the Nets, who had to know what a bad defender he is,” said Net Income of NetsDaily.com.
There’s almost no way Brooklyn can pair Bargnani with Lopez in any lineup. I don’t foresee enough foot speed in that duo to chase frontcourt slashers and shooters.
However, there are a couple of different big men Hollins could use alongside Bargnani.
One is Willie Reed, who’s yet to play an NBA game but has made a living off defensive explosiveness and energy. Reed’s ability to cover ground quickly could help mask some (not all) of Bargnani’s inevitable missteps, and he’d also take on the more challenging 4 or 5 on the floor.
Thomas Robinson is the other main option, someone the Nets can put at power forward while Bargnani plays center. Robinson does a great job sticking with attackers and challenging shots, and opponents shot just 54 percent against him within six feet of the rim last season. In addition, the Portland Trail Blazers held foes to 98 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor.
Will the Nets ultimately get a revamped Andrea Bargnani who’s healthy, respectable on defense and lethal on offense? There’s no guarantee. His calf still bothered him during EuroBasket, and he could end up struggling in Brooklyn just as much as he did in Manhattan.
But there’s a distinct opportunity for him to have a bounce-back season in 2015-16. Bargnani could excel in Hollins’s pick-and-roll sets, and the Nets might be able to hide his defensive weaknesses better than the Raptors or Knicks did. We’ll find out in a matter of weeks.