Andrea Bargnani isn't a bust yet

Greg Oden recently stated he thought he would be an All-Star some day and didn’t consider himself a bust at all.

While most would laugh at this statement, it makes me wonder just how ridiculous it really is. When he’s on the floor (and I know that’s rare), Oden is a really good player. He gets into foul trouble but he changes the game defensively in a way not many centers can do right now.

The problem is he does miss a lot of games. In fact, he misses most of his games. It’s only been three years, and old jokes aside, he’s only 22 years old. In his rookie season he had a PER of 18.1. Last season, he played 21 games before cracking his knee in half, but in those 21 games he had a PER of 23.1. He’s hardly a bust in terms of ability. It’s just the injury issues and the success of Kevin Durant that give off the perception (and possibly, reality) that he is a bust.

So what makes a #1 pick in the draft an official bust?

In the last 10 drafts, Oden, Andrea Bargnani and Kwame Brown are probably the only players considered a bust. While Oden’s injury issues and Kwame’s issues with being able to play NBA basketball at a high level are the reasons for their bust label, trying to determine why Bargnani is a bust might be as simple as figuring out if he’s even been playing the correct position.

The reason I bring this up is because of the reputation Bargs has garnered in his short career. Is he simply a case of Kwame Brown, in which he’s just not good enough? Or is he more like an Andrew Bogut-type of first pick that was playing out of position early on and needed the right fit to start to blossom?

Over at the new SI blog The Point Forward, TrueHoop friend Zach Lowe gives this assertion of Bargnani’s shortcomings:

The Raptors were easily the league’s worst defensive team in 2009-10, and they were at their very worst with Bargnani on the court. They gave up a smidgen more than nine more points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor versus with him on the bench, according to Basketball Value. That is an astounding number, and it was easily the worst among Toronto regulars.

Things were almost as bad in 2008-09, when Toronto’s defense allowed about 7.5 more points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the court — one of the worst marks in the league for a starter and, again, by far the worst mark among Raptors regulars. The Raptors have allowed more points with Bargnani on the floor in each of his four seasons in the league.

In Bargnani’s defense, they have scored more efficiently — though just slightly so — in three of those four seasons, and the team’s defensive failures go far beyond his shortcomings. There may not be a worse defender at the point guard position than Jose Calderon, and coach Jay Triano struggled all of last season to bring some coherence and urgency to Toronto’s defense.

I don’t disagree with anything Zach said here, and you should really read the entire piece because it’s a great breakdown of what Andrea has been in the NBA. However, I can’t help but shake this feeling that putting Bargnani at the power forward slot and getting a defensive-minded center to play next to him is the way to get his career going.

In my mind he’s always been a power forward forced to play center because Chris Bosh was his teammate, and he just happens to be seven feet tall. His label as a center was manufactured because they had nowhere else to put him. It’s very similar to when Andrew Bogut was drafted to the Bucks. During his rookie year, Bogut was forced to play power forward because the Bucks already had Jamaal Magloire.

Bogut was simply too slow to be an effective power forward and his game suffered immensely. According to 82games.com, when he played power forward he put up a PER rating of 15.2 and the guys he was defending posted a 17.6. When he played center as a rookie, he posted a PER of 18.7 and his opponents put up a 15.5. After the rookie season, he was inserted into the center position and he’s improved every season since. Now Bogut is one of the best defensive centers in the league, and the anchor of the Milwaukee team that made the playoffs last season because he’s able to play his natural position on the floor.

The same type of change could benefit Bargnani. His post defense is good. According to Synergy Sports, he was 80th in the league in points per possession given up in the post. In guarding the “roll man” on pick-and-roll plays, he ranked 13th in points per possession given up. Bargnani can play defense in certain areas of the game; he’s just bad when guys face up against him and he doesn’t help very well.

That’s why a change to the power forward slot and bringing in a defensive stopper inside would help him and his career so much. Playing defense is a lot easier when you know you have help at the basket. Giving Bargnani the confidence that someone has his back could work wonders for the way he tries to stop players from scoring.

We know the offense is there, and he’s capable of putting up nice scoring numbers. If the Raptors can figure out a way to improve his defense in the team concept, then maybe we won’t consider him to be such a bust right now.