The evolution of Andrea Bargnani, and D

On Hardwood Paroxysm, James Herbert has a fascinating conversation with new Raptors coach Dwane Casey. Toronto had the 30th best defense in the NBA last year but is now 16th. No team has improved more, even though the Raptors made few personnel changes and had a short training camp. It's a tribute to the power of coaching, from a coach who has been passed over for job after job.

It’s hard to believe this is mostly the same group that missed rotation after rotation last year on its way to 60 losses, but Casey has orchestrated a turnaround without adding a major piece like the one he received at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season as an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks.

“In Dallas, we could say, ‘Hey Tyson [Chandler], deliver this message,’ and he’s a great communicator defensively. He’s talking, he’s telling guys where to go. He helped us as coaches hold guys accountable, where to go, what to do defensively. He was the shining star, the anchor,” Casey said. “With us, we don’t have Tyson Chandler, we’ve got our guys… Andrea [Bargnani] is beginning to be that anchor for us, talking, communicating. We want more of that from him but we don’t have that guy right now, so we’ve got to do it more in a team conceptual way more so than relying on an individual to deliver that message.”

You might be shocked that Bargnani, renowned in years past as much for his aversion to help defense as for his sweet shooting, is being discussed as a potential defensive anchor. If so, you’re not alone.

“I found out defensively we have better talent than I thought,” Casey said. “Andrea’s done an excellent job defensively, impacting pick-and-rolls, playing the post, doing the things we need him to do defensively to make an impact on the game, so that’s been a huge surprise – how talented he is, not only on the offensive end, but on the defensive end.”

Notable is that the Bulls also recently made a huge defensive improvement with a new coach who had been passed over for years, Tom Thibodeau. One of the other teams that improved a lot on defense this year is the Knicks, with that very same Tyson Chandler.

It's almost like there's a small club of people -- Casey, Chandler and Thibodeau certainly among them -- who really know what works when the other team has the ball. Employing those guys seems to be smart.