This performance comes to culminate the excellent run that Andrea is enjoying in the top European competition, where hes averaging 16.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in the last 6 games, contrasting with his more erratic showings in the domestic scene, both in the Italian League and Cup.
Motivation is an important factor for Bargnani, and this game had plenty of reasons for it. The Euroleagues Top-16 stage gathers the best sixteen teams divided into four groups of four teams each. Only the best two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals after the six games played. After losing the opening stages game, both teams desperately needed the victory.
And the Mago ( Magician, as hes nicknamed in Italy) delivered.
Being featured in the starting five (a status only recently gained), Andrea rewarded his coach with an exceptional showing. He displayed his entire offensive array of weapons; starting with his shot, which was very effective, with excellent range and showing remarkable quickness preparing and releasing it. He put the ball on the floor, aggressively attacking the basket and consistently beating his matchups with his superior quickness and nice ball-handling skills. He finished effectively around the basket, showing good footwork in some interesting moves, and using his length to dunk the ball in traffic with ease. He ran the court like a guard. He even had a couple of good passes, something which is not usual for a guy who is not particularly team-oriented on the offensive end.
But it wasnt just a matter of scoring points, and scoring them in multiple ways; he was also showing great promise on the defensive end, generally being very aggressive in this area.
The game could be seen in many countries around Europe, and Bargnani certainly impressed the DraftExpress international staff even more than with all the intriguing things he had already shown in the past.
Lets take the words of our Italian Scout Carlo Sandrinelli to summarize some aspects of his performance:
For Bargnani, it's all a matter of getting in a rhythm and avoiding foolish fouls, at least in the beginning of the game. Today, his first half was phenomenal; in the second, a couple of "so-so" calls took him out of the game for some time, eventually leading him to foul out.
When he finds his offensive game, his attitude on defense gets way better, and this was the case against Panathinaikos. When switching on screens to guards Jaka Lakovic, Vasilis Spanoulis or Dimitrios Diamantidis, he always gave them a hard time to beat him, and often forced them to miss their shots. He showed good timing blocking shots and a nice fighting spirit on the glass. He has potential on the defensive end, and he can be quite effective when focused.
All in all, it was probably his best overall showing of the season.
20 points (6/9 from the field), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals and 1 block (a few more went uncredited) in 30 minutes, plus the victory for Benetton Treviso are certainly good credentials.
Some flaws were there too. His average movement without the ball for example or some isolated mistakes reading the game (his basketball IQ, while not low at all, perhaps is not on par with some of his other fantastic skills). Hes a guy that looks to be just on the verge of exploding as a player, but still in need of a certain degree of maturity.
A Potential Number One Pick
Bargnani (just like Tiago Splitter) is more evidence that staying in Europe and working on the game (as long as the player is in a good enough situation to keep improving) usually pays off development-wise, rather than leaving the nest before being ready to cash in and make the jump to the NBA, going to an extremely demanding league where a very different style of basketball is played and theres little time to put emphasis on teaching.
This year, in a draft devoid of a sure-fire superstar talent, Andrea Bargnani might have as good of a chance as anyone to land the #1 spot in June. Hes the first real top international prospect that emerges after the fever for unproven European bigs disappeared.
His rivals for the top spot are well known: post-up wonder LaMarcus Aldridge, the uberathletic and smooth Rudy Gay, and the super-skilled Caucasian messiah Adam Morrison. All with their virtues and flaws, none of them is guaranteed of superstardom.
Usually NBA franchises look for big men high in the draft to build around. Here is where players in the range of seven feet, such as Aldridge and Bargnani, enjoy an advantage. Size is particularly appreciated when you can use it in the low post, just what the Longhorn brings to the table with his huge arsenal of moves. Although we shouldnt forget Andreas own potential in the low post: hes a very coordinated guy with excellent footspeed who shows nice footwork in many other situations, and who already produces down low from time to time.
Nevertheless, skills are as important as size is, and no draft prospect shows better ability, instincts and consistency putting the ball in the basket than Adam Morrison. A voracious scorer with an impressive shooting touch, he looks unstoppable on the court... at the college level. Here arise the concerns; will he be able to translate his game to the NBA?
Although size is not a problem for Morrison (nor for Gay, both showing excellent length for the wing), the other three #1 pick candidates seem better suited to suffer less on both ends of the court with the level change, given their superior athleticism. Perhaps this is a reason why they arent as consistent in their offensive effort at the current stage: they usually enjoy a clear physical/athletic advantage over their rivals that makes scoring relatively easy and therefore, perhaps not as much a matter of work and even obsession as it appears to be for Morrison, a guy who has worked his way into college stardom after being almost ignored in high school, forging a winning and fighting character that surely will help him in the future. However, his lack of upside and concerns about his defensive ability in the NBA hurt his stock.
When we put together skills and the potential to display them in the NBA, Andrea Bargnani might emerge as the most serious offensive threat. Perimeter shooting, slashing, ability to finish near the basket, potential to play in the low post, all from a guy whose combination of size and quickness produce a constant mismatch on the court.
Speaking of potential, we cant forget Rudy Gay. His outstanding athleticism and beautiful jumper are just tailor-made to shine in the NBA. Providing he develops other departments of the game (his ball-handling particularly) and takes more responsibilities on court, the sky is the limit for him. Hes perhaps the guy with the most upside in this crop.
Much of the final decision would rest in how much potential these guys will be able to materialize in the remainder of the season, especially in the decisive games: Conference and NCAA Tournaments for the three college players, Euroleague and Italian playoffs for Bargnani. The calendar looks favorable for Andrea, as he will likely enjoy at least a couple of extra months to establish himself as a force in Europe, taking advantage of his recent starting status in Treviso. On the other hand, his chances of working out for NBA teams will be smaller, which might scare some.
The Mago has only taken his first steps at top competition. More will come, and better. Stay tuned.