NBA Scouting Reports, Atlantic Division (Part Three)February 3, 2009
Outlook: Former #1 overall pick who has finally begun to break out in his third NBA season. Shows tantalizing talent and an incredibly high skill-level for a 7-footer. Has great size, a nice frame, long arms and solid mobility for his position. Not an athletic freak, but very coordinated. Fluid, yet not overly explosive, particularly around the rim. Amazing perimeter shooter who can create his own shot with ease, but still has a ways to go in terms of learning how to play winning basketball. A mediocre rebounder and defender who is not all that efficient offensively. Still has considerable upside to continue to develop. The first European player ever drafted first overall. Took a long time to develop a comfort level playing in the NBA, and wasn’t helped by the fact that he does not compliment Chris Bosh. Shot-selection, feel for the game, toughness, conditioning and passing ability still need to improve in order to reach his full potential.
Offense: An amazing offensive talent who can score from anywhere on the court. Primarily a jump-shooter at this point in his career, gets nearly half of his offensive possessions on spot-up opportunities. Possesses a terrific jumper with a quick and high release point and excellent mechanics. Sets his feet and shoulders instinctively and drains shots with the greatest of ease. Terrific both from mid-range and beyond the arc, with his feet set or even off the dribble. Dangerous pick and pop threat and capable of coming off screens. Likes to utilize shot-fakes from the 3-point line and take one dribble before pulling up for a clean look. Tends to settle for contested fade-aways a little too often, which makes it difficult for him to be a very efficient offensive player. Doesn’t have much of a back to the basket game, looks far more comfortable facing up. Has nice footwork and pivot-moves angling his way around the basket, but really shies away from contact, making it difficult for him to finish in traffic. Doesn’t like to grind in the post and has been accused of being a little bit soft. Has a great first step and is a terrific ball-handler for his size. Still learning how to fully utilize this part of his game, as he’s a fairly poor finisher around the rim. Tends to get too cute, looking for the spectacular finish rather than the effective one. Left hand not as strong as his right, both creating shots and finishing around the basket. Gets to the line at a decent rate and shoots an outstanding percentage once there. An average passer who displays just a decent feel for the game. Will make a great pass once in a while, but for the most part is pretty content looking for his own offense. Gets almost no offense rebounds, one of the worst in the NBA amongst big men in that regard.
Defense: Largely mediocre on this end of the floor. Will put in a decent effort, but has a hard time being effective. Lacks the strength to deny centers position on the block—gets pushed around, and is fairly foul prone. Not agile enough to defend perimeter oriented power forwards or be effective switching on the pick and roll. Lateral quickness is average at best, making him very susceptible to being beat from the perimeter. Awareness, experience level need to improve substantially. Gets out of his stance quickly at times and tends to lose his focus. One of the worst defensive rebounding big men in the NBA. Gets very few steals or blocks either considering his length.
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Finding the ‘It’ Factor: Andrea BargnaniMarch 1, 2007
Being able to observe a young player grow into the type of talent that is capable of taking over a game through willing these kinds of moments is a rare treat for any basketball fan. Like watching Neo discover his control of the Matrix, fans in Toronto have been privy to another such becoming in the form of their first pick overall, Andrea Bargnani.
It is no coincidence that the Italian’s nickname ‘Il Mago’ translates into the ‘The Magician’ in English. Observing the stages that a unique talent like Il Mago has traversed, and must still traverse, to be able to realize the potential for greatness that he has within him is a window into something rare. But this secret isn’t going to remain under wraps for very long. Just this week ESPN did a story on Bargnani in which the source of his potential may have been slightly demystified. Like learning how to do the card trick that baffled you a few moments before, as details begin to emerge about the young Italian, the real-world pieces begin to fit together.
When NBA prospects enter the draft, they are often subjected to psychological testing, the kind that measure the personality factors that are considered most relevant for success on the basketball court. When Bryan Colangelo, Raptors GM, learned of Bargnani’s results on the test, the result was dramatic, he nearly dropped the phone.
“They said his upside and potential were off the charts,” and went on to continue, “they said, ‘Out of all the athletes we’ve profiled, we’ve never seen anything like this.’”
Those are significant words, but the same test said that Bosh didn’t have ‘it’ only three years earlier, and he seems to be doing just fine. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. By expanding on what it is exactly that Bargnani possesses that gives him his magic, we’re going to have to deconstruct the very meaning of what it means to say a player has ‘it’. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a literary exercise, although it will require us to look at the role of statistics in evaluating NBA prospects.
I recently read an excellent article by a writer on this site.
If you haven’t read it, check it out. The article applies a wonderfully revealing analysis to the 2006 rookies. Bargnani’s status as a ‘real’ number one pick is placed into question as an outcome of the statistical process applied to his production. Indeed, this has been a central question surrounding the young rookie since the moment David Stern announced him as the first pick in the draft. Is he a disappointment in the context of other number ones?
Too often scouting reports allow the reader to become ensnared in the details. The inventory of a player’s strengths and weaknesses on the court are categorized systematically, and ultimately the forest is lost for the trees. The ability of the reader to place the player in a talent context is beyond the natural limitations of this common scouting format. If a comparison is made, there is no meaningful way to substantiate the comparison because no inventory of skills can tell you about a player’s ability to improve, learn, listen to guidance, etc...
Have you ever read a scouting report that compare this-or-that NBA prospect to a future Hall of Famer? Regardless of whatever degree of similarity there may exist between two players’ skill sets, the comparison usually becomes confused when it comes to the actual potential or value of the prospect involved. Stats can never tell the whole story, and the underlying theme of this report is going to center around exactly what it is that stats fail to reveal when evaluating any basketball prospect, and why this failure is relevant when speaking of Bargnani, specifically.
So what is the source of Il Mago’s magic? What could possibly allow us to look past his modest statistical production and talk about him as true number one? The answer comes to us in the riddle of supervenience
Bargnani is an excellent example of why the concept of supervenience is central to the process of scouting players. More importantly, what separates an excellent prospect from a truly blue chip player is often found in this mysterious concept, as we will see in the contrast between Bargnani and his fellow front court dynamo Chris Bosh
Supervenience is what separates most number one picks from the rest of the pack. Here’s the basic idea: Take one part Gestalt psychology, one part artistic interpretation, add a hint of the concept of Zen unity, and you’ve got supervenience. Doesn’t sound like a basketball concept, does it? Perhaps the meaning of the term is already to be found in our common basketball language, and we just haven’t identified it?
We already use this concept in basketball but we call it by another name. The corollary of supervenience in basketball language is commonly referred to as the ‘it’ factor. Don’t let how commonly the concept is used fool you, it’s very misunderstood and well-guarded against the prying eyes of statisticians.
Have you ever wondered what it is in Kobe Bryant
that makes him so deadly at the end of games? It’s something more than just his skill-set that strikes fear in the hearts of opposing coaches. Coaches know that Kobe lives for those moments, and through sheer force of will, they know he can effect a game’s outcome through qualities that go beyond just his basketball ability.
All great athletes understand supervenience intuitively. It’s the ability to raise your consciousness above the game itself, and view the game as a whole organism of moving pieces and sets. It’s the ability to see and influence the events on the floor from a particular mood space. Players often refer to this mood space as the ‘zone’, but in sports psychology it might be better explained in terms of being in a zone of optimal physiological arousal.
The science of being in the ‘zone’ is something of a mystery to those that study elite athletes, even if the physiological state associated with it is not. You can wire up a Buddhist monk and describe the brainwave activity when the monk enters into a Zen-like state of meditation, but if you want to capture the power of that state, you can’t do it by looking at an EEG readout. Indeed, this Zen quality was one of the ways used to describe the concept we’re after, as it applies to Bargnani. The subjective feeling of being in a Zen state is one of unity and connection with ones surroundings. The basketball correlate is that state of awareness that a player can enter wherein that same sense of unified connection is achieved with the flow of the game as though it were a whole organism, the rules of the game making up its physical properties.
The study of the idea of ‘the zone’ is increasingly being placed under the microscope as the field of sport moves into a new relationship with science. Our understanding of the physical processes of athletic competition is becoming renewed through innovation in technology. The very nature of scouting is being changed. The danger is that, as we move towards quantifying everything possible, we increasingly distance ourselves from what drives competition- the human competitive spirit.
We need to look for the spaces in between the box scores if we’re going to unravel what is lost when a statistical perspective is given primacy over what truly determines a player’s value. To do so, we need only look to a favorite past time of draft fans everywhere, the combine results. Each year, just as players are psychologically tested, they’re also tested for their athletic responses. You could almost call it a type of basketball physical, where the athletic health of the player is placed under intense scrutiny.
Why do we care about combine results? What do these results say about the player’s ability to succeed at the next level? We believe that by parsing apart the various athletic tests, we can better gauge who has the requisite athletic gifts to be able to compete in the NBA. There are countless counter-examples of players that defied these parameters, and most of them defied these measures as a result of the same qualities that make our current case study, Bargnani, a special player. They succeed not in spite of their athletic characteristics, but rather the cause of their success is ‘above and beyond’ those characteristics.
Players with the ‘it’ quality often have an innate ability to both enter and maintain the psychological state known as ‘the zone’. You can see it in their eyes. They become focused and appear as though they’re possessed. This cognitive state of supreme concentration has a very direct impact on a person’s perception of time. Players that are in this state will often refer to their subjective impression of “time slowing down”.
The advantages of being able to enter this type of consciousness in the waning seconds of a game are obvious. If we could go back in time and do an fMRI on Michael Jordan
as he receives the ball from an out-of-bounds play in the last second of an NBA playoff game, how would his brain activation pattern differ from that of the average athlete? Would there be any difference at all, and if so, could we call this snapshot of the brain’s electrochemical state in the instant he shoots the ball the ‘it’ factor?
Supervenience is a term that is borrowed directly from the philosopher Donald Davidson to describe this peculiar relationship between the mind and the brain. To better understand it, let’s take a look somewhere completely unrelated to basketball.
Imagine you’re looking at the Mona Lisa. What quality is it that makes the painting beautiful? Is it a property of the paints used? Is it the finesse of the brushstrokes? Or is it something else? Beauty is a supervenient property. Beauty can’t be reduced to its components, but rather it is something emergent from the whole that cannot be isolated. Hence the reference to Gestalt psychology as part of the clue to it’s meaning. This suggests that the ‘it’ factor could be connected to what defines us as uniquely human, or perhaps it’s just the ‘ghost in the machine’.
In the case of Bargnani, the ‘it’ factor is a supervenient property that cannot be reduced to his buttery jumper or his physique. It’s a quality that all great players have, and yet it can’t be described except in terms of vague psychological notions like ‘determination’ and ‘killer instinct’. Whether we’re talking about the painting of his ancestral countryman or his own basketball ability, the unifying theme is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, whether we’re talking about art, or differentiating the top prospects from the ones that have ‘it’. It’s also the major reason why stats should never be the primary means with which to evaluate prospects.
Spotting the ‘it’ factor in players is what differentiates the good GM’s from the great ones. It’s one of those fun and enigmatic things where, if you can’t see it, no one can teach you how to see it. Sort of like those bloody MagicPicture things that look like a simple coloured pattern on the surface but contain a hidden image if you’re able to focus your eyes in a particular way. I can stare at those things for hours and fail to see the underlying image, while someone else can look at it and spot the image right away.
The challenge of the draft is in trying to spot the sculpture locked underneath the granite before anyone else. An important conclusion to take from this example is that the ‘it’ factor is observer-dependent. In basketball terms, this means that without the recognition from others, the potential locked away in a player who possesses this quality will remain unnoticed or untapped.
Maybe the best key to decoding the mystery of supervenience can be found in those magical moments on the basketball court that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Moments of preternatural anticipation, the kind that often find expression in the form of a beautiful pass or a critical basket when a team is on the ropes. It’s impossible to quantify the innate awareness of timing and motion, the ability to understand angles and geometry on a moving hardwood chess board that the great ones have. Certainly Magic Johnson
got his name because he saw the game with a natural gift for the awareness we’re talking about. So does that mean it’s an awareness level? We might be getting warmer, but we’re still not quite there yet.
If Bargnani defies the statistical interpretations of his rookie season, as it compares to past number ones, it will have more to do with what he’s shown in terms of consciousness, rather than the speed of the release of his already money-in-the-bank jumper. The relative level of a player’s consciousness on the basketball court is seen often in how developed their sense of their role is. Players that are able to achieve that sought-after state of being purely responsive to the game around them, and are simply able to identify and wait for the opposition to make a mistake are in an ideal state of consciousness for the game of basketball. They are in complete harmony with their role and have the unique ability to “play within themselves” that comes from their unconscious awareness of Zen basketball synchronicity.
, quite possibly the most conscious player in the league, controls the game in exactly this manner. He’ll use his dribble to probe and all the while he has his head up. He’s not attacking so much as he’s waiting. He’s waiting for the mistake that will present itself and lead to an easy opportunity for his self or a teammate, and who it ends up being never enters his mind. He’s waiting because he knows that he has the capacity to be able to wait out his opposition. He’s in greater physiological control of his mood on the floor, his level of concentration, and his awareness of what is happening around him. It is not his vertical jump or his wingspan that gives him his advantage, but confidence in his mind. Players that improve throughout their careers understand this. Bargnani has the potential to become this type of player. Is ‘it’ a type of confidence, then? The belief that you can control the game, individually?
There is no connection between playing within your role and your ability to dominate. Steve Nash
plays within his role and is dominant. Gilbert Arenas
plays outside of his role, or without a clear role, and still dominates. The difference is that Nash’s teams win. This example shows us that confidence might not be the defining feature that we’re looking for, even if it might still be a pre-requisite.
What separates their relative impact, if not for their statistical contributions to their teams? The answer is that everything in basketball happens within a team context. Just as once upon a time philosophy forgot Being, many of the NBA stars of today have forgot the primacy of team basketball. The question is: Why?
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NBA Rookie Progress Report: Andrea BargnaniDecember 4, 2006
Andrea Bargnani had Raptors fans scared. If not scared, then at least a little nervous. For a player drafted number one and with all the accompanying expectations, he was struggling. Lost on defense, unsure of his role offensively, and generally looking like a fish out of water. “Il Mago”, as he’s known in his native country, began to cause some analysts to question whether the young Italian was performing a disappearing act, the kind that would even make David Copperfield jealous.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and all of a sudden the player with a reputation for doing magic tricks on the court is beginning to re-appear as a key contributor off the bench for the struggling Raptors. As part of a series of articles examining the progress of high profile rookies, DraftExpress is putting Bargnani under the spotlight to chart his development throughout the season.
The goal is to extend the prospect evaluation process into the NBA season. There is an added dimension of continuity made possible only through observing how the top prospects are performing once they actually make it to the big stage. Invariably, some prospects that were projected to do well struggle, and others that flew under the radar rise to the occasion. Too often we forget about the draft process as soon as the rookies hit the floor, and move on to the next crop of players coming down the pipeline.
The patterns underlying who excels, and who doesn’t, end up forming the template for the coming draft. They lurk in the unconscious of even the most impartial NBA GM’s, conditioning their evaluations of the new group of draftees indirectly. The NBA is essentially a copycat league. Like the stock market, if a certain type of player exceeds expectations as a rookie, then you can expect that players entering the draft the following year are going to see their stock affected accordingly.
We’ve seen international bigs take a hit recently with Darko disappointing people in the context of the comparative success of his fellow draft mates. Will Bargnani confirm this shift in perception, and make it harder on European 7-footers in the near future? Or will he re-ignite the quest to draft the next Dirk or Pau?
What follows will be an accounting of Bargnani’s progress after the first dozen games of the season. When framing Bargnani’s game, it’s best to start with his offense. He is a player whose most significant gifts lie on the offensive side of the ball. Therefore, this is where we’ll begin.
Part I: Offense
At this point, Bargnani’s primary weapon offensively is his three point shot. He has the ability to get the shot off quickly, and shows close to unlimited range. Unlike his Raptor rookie counterpart Jorge Garbajosa, who has struggled to adjust to the deeper three point line of the NBA, Bargnani has shown that he can extend his range without exceeding his comfort zone shooting the basketball. He’s shooting just under 30% through the first twelve games. Granted, it’s not a stellar percentage, but as his minutes and comfort level increase, expect his accuracy to go up.
His mechanics are smooth, and although he’d been criticized before the draft for shooting the ball a little flat, his shooting ability has been as good as advertised. He has, on a couple of occasions, shot the ball off of a jab step or after losing control in the early phase of his shooting stroke and still been able to re-establish his motion to get the ball up and hit the shot. This demonstrates the great plyometric strength in his shooting mechanics. There are not many shooters of any size that can retain accuracy if their shot mechanics is disrupted that far from the basket. He gets his legs into his shot and there is no wasted motion. His release is quick, and he needs very little time to set up his shot whether it’s off the dribble or just facing up.
His foul shooting has come around nicely since the beginning of the season. He has a smooth release and should be a tremendous free throw shooter during his career. He should have ample opportunity to get to the line with his ability to put the ball on the floor and generate mismatches against opposing bigs. When he eventually gets to the point where he learns how to initiate fouls it’s not hard to imagine him challenging the leaders in made free throws per game.
Most of Bargnani’s three point attempts come off of screen and roll scenarios where Bargnani sets a pick for the Raptors point guard and rolls to the three point line to spot up. At Benetton Treviso, Bargnani struggled to set good picks, and this is an area of his game that has not improved yet as a Raptor. He often sets soft picks and has got himself into foul trouble setting moving screens. It’s clear that he’s thinking about setting himself up for the shot, and he cheats with his screens as a result by releasing too early. He doesn’t plant his screens and often fails to make contact with the defender. Bargnani is gaining confidence in all aspects of his game, and his screening seems to be gradually headed in the right direction as his overall adjustment process starts to move into another phase.
The most unique weapon Bargnani has at his disposal is not his shooting ability. It’s his ability to put the ball on the floor as a 7-footer combined with his shooting ability. This has been an element of Bargnani’s offensive game that has gone through significant adjustment in adapting from the different style of play coming from the Euroleague to the NBA.
In Europe, Bargnani was confident putting the ball on the floor because of the emphasis on spacing and team basketball, and the less athletic and physical individual defenders. He had more space to be able to maneuver. In the NBA, Bargs has had to adjust to collapsing defenses and the athleticism and speed of NBA players. As a result, he’s been hesitant to go to his dribble. However, he’s visibly putting things together quickly now, and the underlying skills are already there. When he has drove he’s been successful, and there’s no reason to believe that this facet of his arsenal won’t come around in time.
That being said, he has looked out of control at points off the bounce. When he gets into the paint with his dribble, he’s in the habit of using a scoop shot when he anticipates contact to contain his momentum so he doesn’t pick up charges. He’s trying to make himself more vertical and responsive to the last line defense, but he uses an exaggerated finger roll to both come to a stop and get a shot off. It often appears out-of-control and is generally regarded as a bad habit in basketball, although it fits with his penchant for using his flexibility and reach to finish creatively around the basket. He still struggles to control his dribble at times, but his comfort level is increasing with each passing game.
is big. He’s a legit 7’1” and he has a frame that is going to allow him to increase his strength significantly as he matures. His lower body is already pretty developed, thus giving him good strength out of his base, and his upper body looks as though it will catch up before long. It’s not hard to imagine him reaching an ideal playing weight of 265lbs. This means that Bargnani will eventually have legit center size and strength.
It is of little benefit to be a 7-footer if you play exclusively on the perimeter. Bargnani understands this, and is working to develop a low-post game. He runs the floor and establishes early post position and creates a wide target for the post entry pass. At this point, his post game appears more instinctive rather than relying on any scripted post moves per se. He can use his dribble to attack the middle off the low block and he can face up and shoot over players along the baseline. He’s shown a baby hook that he uses going into the middle. His post moves are fluid and natural, if still relatively undeveloped. He posts up aggressively and is not shy of drawing or initiating contact. He’s still more comfortable facing up, but he has encouraged the Raptors coaching staff with what he has shown in practice. He’s shown excellent potential as a post passer. Bargnani’s post game is a touchstone that we are going to pay careful attention to as a barometer of his development throughout the season.
His strength is underrated and he is not soft. The common conception of European big men always trying to avoid contact does not apply to Bargnani. He is scrappy and has had to work on dialing back his physicality on both sides of the ball, as he’s run into early foul trouble trying to adjust to the different level of physical play that North American officials are willing to let go. He is a tough player with an obviously competitive attitude that manifests itself in his willingness to be physical with opposing big men.
In terms of weaknesses offensively, Bargs has to find ways to self-generate opportunities when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. He can become passive and drift on the perimeter when he isn’t one of the primary options. He could improve by going to the offensive glass, and moving off the ball with cuts and backdoors to try to free himself.
His rebounding ability is clearly the weakest aspect of his game on either side of the ball, and he does not get on the offensive glass like a player of his size should. He can get caught watching things happen too often, and although he makes an effort to get down the floor and establish early post position, sometimes he is late joining the play out of transition and hangs out at the three point line waiting for kickouts when he should be going to the rim to make a play on the ball. His shot selection can be questionable, although it’s not out of selfishness or a lack of offensive awareness, as it is with many players. When he is out of rhythm or not playing relaxed, his dominant response is to shoot the ball.
When he’s comfortable and playing in rhythm is when you’ll see Bargnani’s underrated passing ability start to emerge. As he’s become more comfortable with his role on the Raptors, fans have been surprised to see him thread some unexpected and difficult passes to teammates. He has shown great patience and decision making in giving up the ball at appropriate moments, evidence of his high basketball IQ offensively. Bargnani has excellent court awareness. Passing ability is often reflective of a player’s natural feel for the game and disposition, and in Bargnani’s case, this is certainly true.
The fruits of developing in the European system are most evident in his maturity and willingness to stay within the team concept. He will pass up a good shot for a better one. He is still learning the Raptors offense and sometimes gets caught out of position. He has the persona of a player that is wise beyond his years, making some of the rookie adjustment issues less concerning when viewed from within this context. Every indication suggests that he is a very coachable player. Although his English is still a work in progress, he’s communicating more on the court, and coach Mitchell has noted that he’s asking more questions in practice. He is extremely confident.
Most rookies come into the league still needing to develop their overall skills. Tyrus Thomas
is a good example of a player whose skill development is a work in progress, but whose style of game is well-suited for the NBA. Bargnani is the opposite; his skills are already there, but he is still working to adapt his game to the NBA style of play. His adjustment is more cognitive than anything else. He is progressing well learning English and adjusting to a new culture, but the factors involved in his adjustment to the league are much different than those affecting the average rookie.
Bargnani’s mid-range game is what could make him unique in the history of 7-footers with perimeter skills. His ability to put the ball on the floor and his comfort in pulling up off the dribble for a mid-range shot are not characteristics typically associated with even the more adept of perimeter-oriented big men. Generally, you tend to see 7-footers who play on the perimeter shooting from three, or posting up, and not much in between. Even Dirk, to whom Bargnani is often compared, does most of his mid-range damage from posting out at the top of the key.
Bargnani has a unique fluidity in moving from his dribble into his shot that was alluded to earlier in the comments on his shooting mechanics. It is almost guard-like. There is little wasted motion and there is no ‘seam’ in his rhythm, shifting from his dribble into his shot. He’ll fake the three-point shot and use his dribble to get to the top of the key to take an 18 foot jumper. Again, this is something that Bargnani showed at Benetton that he hasn’t been able to fully demonstrate yet at the NBA level, but we will be paying close attention to see if his mid-range game begins to emerge as the season wears on. Unfortunately, this fluidity is utterly lacking when it comes to Bargs’ ability to rebound the basketball.
Part II: Defense
Defensively, Bargnani is a work in progress. There are a number of positive things that he has shown. He is a good on-the-ball shot blocker. Most shot blockers come from the weakside off of a defensive rotation as part of their team’s help defense. Bargnani is able to block the shot of the player he is guarding straight-up. It’s a rare ability that makes him a potentially solid man-to-man defender. If he’s guarding a smaller player on the perimeter and they go by him off the dribble, he’s able to ‘track’ the player and recover to block their shot using his length and mobility, provided he doesn’t become upright when he initially closes. If he’s guarding a big straight-up in the post, he can stay on his feet while they go through their post move and challenge the shot attempt. Again, he has a tendency to allow his defensive posture to become overly upright, and that’s when he gets caught having to foul due to a loss of quickness and mobility.
His mobility is impressive for a player his size. This is especially evident when he’s drawn away from the basket. Most players that are 7 feet tall naturally become uncomfortable when they’re drawn out, but Bargnani is in his element. This is a facet of his game that is a hold-over from his development as a forward in Europe. He is excellent at showing on screens and recovering back to protect the basket. His potential as a pick-and-roll defender is excellent. He is comfortable if he is caught in a mismatch against a smaller player off of a switch. His impressive wingspan and overall length make him a rangy big man on the perimeter. He is smart enough to give smaller players space, and then close on a potential shot to challenge with his length.
In the post, he struggles to avoid fouling. The upside to that problem is that he is not shy. His defensive disposition is intense and focused, which manifests itself through his physicality with whomever he’s guarding. This singular focus can detract from his overall defensive awareness. He is still learning how to apply pressure on offensive players that are posting without getting whistled for pushing. He is clearly used to being able to use his hands more, coming from the Euroleague, but has been able to cut down on his grabbing fouls over the last five or so games. He has difficulty seeing both the ball and his man, and can get caught trying to battle his man for position, individually, thereby missing what’s happening with the ball. As a result, he can get backdoored, and teams like Utah have exploited the high/low when he was the anchor defender underneath, exploiting his poor spatial awareness when he’s keyed in on his individual match-up.
Team defensive awareness is Bargnani’s biggest defensive weakness at this point, outside of his rebounding ability. He fails to rotate under the basket and he doesn’t have an intuitive sense of when to drop down to give help or crash the boards. He often leaves his teammates out to dry when they steer the offensive player into his help position. His singular focus on containing and battling his man detracts from his broader attentional awareness of what is happening on the floor around him. The hope is that once he becomes accustomed to playing against NBA caliber big men, he’ll begin to become aware of what is happening in the broader sense through the process of accommodation. It’s almost like watching someone have to learn how to ride a bike again.
He is still learning how to challenge shots without fouling. There has been a marked improvement in his ability to avoid fouls over the course of the first dozen games, although he often does so at the expense of his the overall team defense, so the net effect is not as positive as it might initially seem. He gets caught out of position, but lets the guy go instead of picking up the foul- so it’s an improvement, but the core problem of being out of position in the first place remains. It’s this type of slanted advancement that is characteristic of all rookies.
It takes him a long time to recover his bearings after a shot, rebound or a change of position of the ball. It’s this adjustment to the speed of the NBA game that a lot of European players struggle to adapt to, initially. He has periods where it seems as though the game is happening around him. At times he struggles to find his place amongst players that are making things happen with their athleticism and speed. This is something that is to be expected with a player coming from such a different style of league. However, he has shown that he is a quick learner and all signs suggest he will be able to adapt. As he becomes stronger physically and generally more aware, there is great reason to be optimistic for his potential as an NBA defender.
His rebounding is by far the most concerning aspect of his game. He is a poor rebounder. To what degree he can improve is a subject for future debate, and will be a major focal point of future progress reports. He rarely ever gets off the floor for a rebound. He shows excellent hands on the offensive side of the ball, but when rebounding he shows poor ability to control the ball when it is in his space. He often attempts to tap the ball to a teammate when he should be grabbing it with both hands.
He boxes out pretty well, but he often applies the box too early, and holds the box-out too long, and often he is boxing his man 15 feet from the basket when he should be releasing to make a play for the ball. The upside to his efforts to box his man is that he often makes it possible for a teammate to come in and pick up the board, but the whole process is much more deliberate and mechanical for him than you would like to see. He can get his back turned to the play trying to battle underneath for potential position for a board. This negatively impacts on his defensive awareness and responsiveness.
The concern for his future development as a rebounder is that he displays poor instincts for intuiting where the ball will go. He hypothetically has the tools to be a good rebounder, with his mobility and size- but rebounding is often less quantifiable in terms of physical qualities, and more a function of intangible qualities like having a nose for the ball, and a lot of drive to go after it. It’s hard to see either of those qualities being strengths for Bargnani. He seems to display his pedigree as a past small forward, as he doesn’t always crash from the perimeter, and sometimes leaks out early to try to get a jump start on a possible transition opportunity the other way.
The quality of fluidity that was used to describe his offensive ability with the ball is the very quality that is lacking in his rebounding instincts. He needs to be able to combine elements, such as finding a body while tracking a shot in the air, and at the same time anticipating the trajectory of the board and releasing the contact at the appropriate point, all without having to deliberately and consciously parse the actions into ‘steps’. The hope is that this will come through repetition and increased strength over time. The Raptors are giving consideration to bringing in a big man coach for exactly this type of work.
Bargnani is unique in that he developed largely as a small forward, and as a result, some of these rudimentary post skills are unrefined, while he has retained some remarkable abilities on the perimeter for a player his size. While most North American big men extend their game outward towards the perimeter as they develop, Bargnani is doing the opposite. As a result, certain elements of a post game are emerging before others. For example, his potential as a post defender is ahead of his development as a rebounder.
The direction of this outside-in development process for a big man is foreign to most North American fans, and as a result, his potential to gain typical North American big man skills is placed into question. However, when looking purely at the underlying abilities- the aggression, the willingness to be physical, the athletic tools and the overall high level of awareness- one has to feel optimistic that, with the right coaching, a hybrid skill-base can be developed.
There is a lot to be encouraged about if you are a Raptors fan. Bargnani is for real, and the degree of improvement that he has shown over the first dozen games has been impressive. If he can continue to improve at his current pace, the next evaluation in this series should be glowing. Stay tuned for future progress reports on Andrea Bargnani
’s development throughout the course of the NBA season.
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An American Perspective on Europe: The Big Men (Part One)June 25, 2006
The most intriguing European player to enter the draft since Pau Gasol in 2001, Andrea Bargnani’s credentials speak for themselves coming off playing a leading role in helping his team win the Italian League Championship just last week. The comparisons to virtually every other European player that’s entered the draft since Gasol in 2001 end here for that reason precisely, as he’s been through the fire repeatedly after playing a grueling NBA-type season with two or even three games a week in the most competitive and demanding environments a player his age can face outside the NBA.
For that reason alone Bargnani is an attractive prospect, being proven again and again to be one of the top talents in the world in his age group and having seen and experienced far more than any NCAA player in this draft. Watching him play, it’s impossible to deny what GMs see in him as far as his talent and mismatch potential goes. His combination of size and offensive skill is without parallel in this draft, and it’s not difficult at all to see where the Nowitzki comparisons come from.
Bargnani is a potential nightmare as far as defensive matchups go. Put an average 6-10 NBA power forward on him and he’ll pull him right away from the basket and attempt to blow by him with his excellent first step and ball-handling skills. Sag off him and knock down a 3-pointer right in your face. Bigger forwards will have their hands full once he reaches his full potential, as his footwork and ability to read angles and slither his way to the basket for a creative finish is both surprising and quite effective coming from a player his size.
What makes him even more difficult to defend is the fact that he can pull up fluidly from mid-range and knock down difficult shots even when off balance or fading away. His understanding of how to throw the ball in the basket is extraordinary at his age, as his smooth, slithery movement and the confidence he has in his offensive skill goes well with the cool and calm demeanor he brings to the floor.
The pick and pop should be a play his coach begins running from day one for him, as he understands how to move off the ball and has the size and shooting mechanics to get his shot off basically whenever he pleases. The fact that he averaged 44% from behind the arc on just under 4 attempts per game in the Italian league playoffs is no fluke. Get him a good point guard, run some offense for him, and he’ll knock down his shot with no hesitation more often than not if he can get his feet set.
Beyond his terrific offensive skill, there are other things to like about Bargnani’s potential. Defensively, he can deny angles to the basket due to his quick feet and excellent length. He’s quite an agile player, not explosive, but moves his feet well enough to get the job done.
All indications are that he’s a hardworker who is very much dedicated to achieving his goal of becoming an NBA star, which is the type of work ethic you’d expect from a player who was almost a complete unknown even in his home country three years ago. As mentioned, his court demeanor is excellent, as he’s a mature player who understands the game, executes well, plays under control and is relatively mistake free despite his age. People often mistake his calmness for a lack of intensity, but you must understand that chest-beating and trash talking isn’t the European way.
On the negative side, there are concerns about most of the other parts of his game beyond his offense. While he’s a smooth and fluid athlete, he most certainly is not an explosive one. He plays under the rim for the most part, and has fairly small hands, which combined make him a below average rebounder, particularly in traffic. He gets pushed around too often and doesn’t fight back as much as you’d perhaps like to see. It’s not rare to see bulky American big men back him down in the paint and score on him, without intense resistance coming from Bargnani’s direction. He is able to contain players on drives to the hoop, but not prevent when strength becomes a factor in static situations. In team defense situations, he is just average in terms of the awareness he shows. In both team and man to man defense, he can be quite foul prone, as he gets baited into using his hands and body excessively and therefore commits unnecessary fouls by players that are more experienced than him.
On the other end of the floor, he’s not really as much a focal part of Benetton’s offense as you would expect, and you have to sometimes wonder why. People will say that its his youth and that’s the way things are in Europe—which is true to a certain extent—but it’s tough to fathom that if his (quite forward thinking) coach thought giving him a bigger share of the team’s offense would give them a better chance of winning, he would refuse to because of tradition.
Too often we’d see Bargnani going through long stretches where he just disappears within the flow of the game, not trying to make his presence felt, and certainly not helping his team out that much in other aspects. When his shot is not falling, there are legitimate concerns about how much he will be able to contribute elsewhere. Becoming a better passer, rebounder, defender and post-scorer are all things that Bargnani needs to work on.
All in all, Bargnani’s success will mostly depend on the situation he lands in, and how well he can adapt himself to the American style of play. If he falls on a team with a great coach who understands his strengths and will know how to utilize him, he will blossom. If he doesn’t, people will once again decry the European hype machine, which is a shame considering just how talented he really is. People forget that Nowitzki landed in Dallas to play for one of the best offensive minds in basketball in Don Nelson, which set the stage for what is sure to be a hall of fame career. Where Bargnani lands will be of utmost importance; and his team will have to design a fair share of their offense around him to really let him maximize his full potential.
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Euroleague Regular Season's Top-5 PerformersFebruary 18, 2006
Bargnani had a very solid second half of the Euroleague regular season, in line with the latter games of the first, showing that he can be a consistent offensive force not only in the Italian League, but even at the highest level in Europe.
His overall stats are affected by his slow start, but there's still something to take away from them; as his shooting percentages are very good, he's among the leaders of the competition in both 2 and 3-point shooting, and his accuracy in treys is especially impressive (being ranked 6th with a great 47%).
However, his stats in the second half show all of his improvements: in the last 6 games he scored in double-figures 5 times, averaging 14.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.17 bpg in 24.6 minutes per game (increasing compared to the first half in all categories), although always coming from the bench. His contribution was also consistent even when his shot wasn't falling. There are still some concerns about his rebounding, though, as his averages are not in line with his potential. This is due to his lack of strength and bulk, but also affected by the fact that due to team injuries he's played many minutes on the court with big men Marcus Goree and Uros Slokar, hanging out on the perimeter even more than usual.
We've analyzed his game other times, the last one in the Marquee Matchup report about his duel against Splitter. He usually doesn't force any situation on offense, as he waits patiently for a good shot or a chance to drive to the basket to come to him. Right now, he doesn't see many one on situations, but this is probably due to Benetton's offensive system, which gives these situations mainly to other players, such as Drew Nicholas, Ramunas Siskauskas and Marcus Goree. When he does, though, he often succeeds by taking advantage of his combination of size, athleticism and skills. On defense, he's not a liability, as he shows intensity and good footspeed, but sometimes seems to lose a bit of focus and generally doesn't look very comfortable in a complicated defensive system such as Benetton's.
Bargnani's role on the team should continue to increase as the season goes on, and his contributions should keep increasing as well. He definitely seems on his way to becoming a top 5 pick in June.
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Marquee Matchup: Tiago Splitter vs. Andrea BargnaniJanuary 28, 2006
For Bargnani this game meant another showcase to display his very intriguing game, particularly his offensive power. He has scored in double digits in five of the last six Euroleague games, and it’s easy to see why.
This time, his shots weren’t falling as easily (he currently enjoys a superb 46.1% in three-pointers this season in the Euroleague), so he looked for slashing situations, waiting patiently for them to come to him. That means no one-on-one situations with in the midst of a half-court set (which he can do anyway), but rather taking advantage of openings in the defense caused by rotations to easily take his man off the dribble with his remarkable first step, nice ball-handling skills and very good footwork.
Splitter eventually suffered from it, as he’s a very active team-oriented defender who is always willing to give a hand to a teammate on long defensive rotations, so a player like Bargnani, given the shooting menace he represents, forces Tiago to recover his position quickly without the balance needed to stop Andrea’s penetration attempts.
Defense is a department where Splitter is way ahead. It’s not that Bargnani is a liability for his squad, but the Italian lacks a bit of activity, particularly when it comes to team defense. Even if not as clear-cut, rebounding is a similar story, as Andrea is not consistent enough in his effort. What’s odd is that he currently gets 2.7 rebounds in about 18 minutes per game in the Euroleague, while his averages dramatically rise to 5.1 rebounds in 19 minutes in the Italian League.
Of course, when it comes to scoring potential there’s really no comparison. But Andrea can still be faulted at times with not being fully integrated into his team’s game flow. He seems to operate a bit on his own, resulting in big individual offensive outbursts on occasion, but usually not making his teammates better in the process.
Certainly both guys enjoy almost as much promise as you will find in big men in this draft, particularly Bargnani. But it’s not only about potential as it has been with European draft prospects in the past; they also already have some serious game.
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Euroleague Stock Watch Part 2 (Stock Up)December 23, 2005
Bargnani, ranked as the #1 prospect in the Euroleague in our preseason introduction has been getting a lot of hype in the past few months, and so far this season has been living up to it and then some.
He's improving in many facets of his game, but if there's one word that sums it all up, it would be confidence. His contribution to Benetton's cause is increasing week by week, and he's firmly establishing himself as one of the most important parts of a strong team (currently tied for second in group A). When he's on the court, he's not afraid of taking shots or slashing to the hoop when he has to, but still doesn't force the issue and lets the game flow to him.
His stats are impressive regardless, especially in the Italian league, where even though he comes off the bench and plays just 20 minutes per game, he's the second best scorer on his team and 4th overall in the league in points-per-minute. He shoots with fantastic percentages, both from inside and out, gets a decent amount of rebounds and is the #1 shot-blocker in the league.
In the Euroleague his stats are not as good, but they're affected by a slow start in his first games, while in the past few weeks he's starting to show what he can do even against strong competition.
Going beyond the numbers, he has many qualities that are exactly what NBA scouts crave. As you can read in his scouting report, despite being a 7-footer he's very quick and coordinated, his first step is superb for a big man, and he’s generally a very good athlete for his size with a nice vertical leap.
In addition to these intriguing physical attributes, his game is already well refined, as he can shoot from anywhere on the floor--featuring a very high and quick release--and can put the ball on the floor and beat most big men off the dribble thanks to his very nice ball-handling skills, finishing with improving strength in traffic or shooting with great touch from mid-range. Defensively, he plays hard and uses his good foot-speed to guard smaller players, and goes up for blocks with good timing.
The main issue about him is how his game translates to the NBA. He's quick, but probably not enough to be a small forward, and he still misses the strength and a solid back-to-the-basket game to play in the paint, although this might not be a huge concern since he seems to have the frame to bulk up in the future. Right now, he still suffers a bit on the glass, but bulking could help solve some of his problems here. He has not had that many problems guarding both smaller players and big men so far this season, although in the NBA it would be harder for him because of the superior athleticism that most players display. His court vision and passing skills seem not to be in line with his basketball IQ, as they are just average.
The fact is, in the past years many of the young European players that came to the US were big guys with good perimeter skills, but not strong enough to play under the basket, and that resulted in failure for them, and for the teams that drafted them. What might put Bargnani in better shape is the fact that he waited to declare and stayed in Treviso until he got significant playing time, giving himself the needed time to grow as a player and as a man, without the pressure that comes along with being a lottery pick. Benetton is a strong team in Europe, but it's pretty famous for developing young talent. His game, although not fully developed yet, is already light years ahead of Tskitishvili at the time the Georgian was drafted by the Nuggets, and as the season goes on, it can only improve. Right now it looks like Bargnani will almost surely declare and should be a lock for the high lottery pick in June.
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The Reebok Eurocamp in TrevisoJune 17, 2005
Bargnani was only seen at the exhibition game between the RBK All Stars and the Italian U20 NT. Andrea would have been a lottery pick this year, and scouts guarantee that he's set to become a high pick in the 2006 draft. You can learn much more about his game from his scouting report. Bargnani played in the exhibition game far from the basket, showing his ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket, but was limited by foul trouble. He finished the season really strong in the Italian League playoffs, something which we'll discuss in more depth in the next few weeks on DraftExpress.
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Andrea Bargnani NBA Draft Scouting ReportApril 24, 2005
Bargnani is a prototypical player in terms of the physical attributes and raw skills that scouts salivate over in their search for the next young European (star?) big man.
First his physical attributes. He's tall (easily a 7 footer), and a very fluid athlete that runs the court very well, has a very nice first step and is a decent leaper. He'll never be a power player in the paint, but his frame suggests that his bulk will be adequate for the power forward position in the future.
Second are his skills. What distinguishes him from most American prospects his age is his complete outside game. He can handle the ball pretty well, and has a great stroke from anywhere on the court, complete with a quick and high release point. He can catch and shoot or put the ball on the floor to beat any big man off the dribble, going aggressively to the rim to finish, or stop and pull up for a sweet jump shot. What sets him apart from other 7 footers is his coordination and quickness to put the ball on the floor to drive to the basket.
He's going to be a match-up nightmare in his prime once he gets stronger, probably being the player most resembling a young Dirk Nowitzki that you've seen in a while.
This season he didn't have too many opportunities to demonstrate his skills, but showed great flashes when given a chance while playing against the best competition you will find outside of the NBA.
NBA people surely remember him because of the very solid performance he had in a preseason game against the Toronto Raptors, showing he can beat players off the dribble numerous times, even a very quick power forward like Chris Bosh.
Bargnani always plays in the flow of the offense, being too young at this point to afford any kind of selfishness on a veteran team with a defensive minded coach like Ettore Messina. He sometimes forced a few situations this year, but those were usually on broken plays, showing personality and creativity while trying to solve tough situations rather than selfishness to take more shots.
Andrea is very active on defense, being more effective than what someone would expect against European small forwards thanks to his quick feet. He tries to do his best against big men too, the kind of players he will likely be matched against in his future career. While it's not easy to imagine him guarding small forwards full time in the NBA, his versatility won't expose his team defensively in cases of rotations and switches on pick and rolls.
His main asset is also his biggest problem: while his versatility makes him a potentially very unique prospect in a positive way in the long run, it's also difficult to immediately project him at one specific position in the NBA. At some point he will have to decide between the small forward and power forward positions, but he will have his weaknesses playing at both, especially defensively.
Because he's probably still not done growing (rumored to have grown as much as two inches over the last year), his body still isn't mature at this point and he is right now lacking in bulk.
That means that in the NBA he will most likely play as a small forward on offense, but he will probably have trouble finishing at the rim after beating his man off the dribble because of his lack of strength and only average use of his off hand. He has no post game at this point and lacks the lower body strength to play near the basket.
On defense there's no way he can guard NBA small forwards, as he discovered during the 2004 Hoop Summit when he was unable to slow down the much quicker Josh Smith. His lack of bulk will make him a huge liability early on defensively and on the glass, where he's very active, but lacks the positioning and physical ability to box out. This will likely all come with time, considering how much he has improved his rebounding during the season, but how long will the team who drafts him want to wait?
Plays for Benetton Treviso, a very important team in Europe with great expectations. His team is currently leading the Italian league and recently came close to making the Euroleague Final Four.
Andrea has a marginal role on this team, but he was able to find some quality minutes on the court and he's now more used to play under pressure. Considering how high the expectations are from this team, making rookie mistakes is rarely accepted, and Bargnani has been forced to adapt quickly to this.
Looking at the way he rebounded from playing poorly in a few games, after which his own fans were questioning if he was ready to play at this level, should tell you a lot about his mental toughness.
Also to his credit is the fact that he never lost the faith of his coach during the year, and has always been praised for his work ethic and ability to accept limited playing time.
Bargnani and his agents have been wavering back and forth all year long regarding whether to enter his name into the draft. The pressure from Benetton Treviso and the Italian media to keep him in Italy for at least another year has been immense, and they will likely go back and forward quite a bit until the deadline to enter rolls around.
If he enters, he is almost a sure-fire lottery pick, maybe even top five, and while that is a very hard thing to turn down, Bargnani and his people appear to be more concerned with the team he gets drafted by and the situation he will fall in. No Italian player has ever been taken in the first round of the NBA draft, with Stefano Rusconi being the highest Italian player ever drafted at #52 in the 2nd round of the 1990 draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Do not be surprised to find his name on the early entry list for international players, but whether or not he stays in is something that will only be decided in time and after intense deliberation between all parties involved. A team that would be willing to draft him and let him play one more year overseas would be ideal, but that type of agreement would be hard to come by. His buyout is reportedly reasonable enough for it not to be an issue.
Bargnani is potentially a great player, but joining the NBA now very likely means a few years without significant playing time. He has a long way to go before finding a position and being a complete forward instead of a tweener, and until then he'll face harsh criticism and pressure that could kill his confidence and development. The higher he's going to be picked, the worse it will end up being.
The recent struggles of another Benetton top pick, Nikoloz Tskitishvili (#5 in 2002, in front of current allstar Amare Stoudemire), aren't going to make scouts more confident. Most of the comments you read about Andrea, both positive and negative, would have easily been applied to Skita 3 years ago. While Tskitishvili's career is far from done, it's not even a question anymore whether Denver's top pick was completely wasted, and people often lose their jobs for decisions like that.
The biggest question mark about a player like Andrea, and in important factor in deciding how likely he is to accomplish his vast potential, is his character. While there have been only positive comments about him during the past year by his coach, teammates and the organization, nobody can foresee how a young player will react to the rigors and the pressure of a season spent on a NBA bench, that will probably be the difference between a successful career or years of frustration.
Bargnani is a very talented player; otherwise he wouldn't be considered a likely lottery pick. But make no mistake: he's a project, a project that won't pan out that early. He's in a very risky position, as he needs to find the right team and the right coach, a coach who is committed to his development.
While his talent is enough to earn quality minutes on a top European team, it's hard to imagine him on the court in the NBA right now if it's not in garbage time situations.
Most people in Italy believe that the best route for him to reach his immense potential is to wait to become an impact player in Europe first and then cross the ocean. But keep in mind that a lottery selection will make him at least fifty times his current salary, and it's hard for anyone to pass on such a chance.
To understand why we say the guy is far from contributing in the NBA, just look at his game-by-game stats this year in the links section. It doesn't say much about his talent, but it shows that Andrea is guy that has still a lot to prove and a long way to go.
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