Ranking the NBA’s 30 Go-To Guys (#29: Andrea Bargnani)

Andrea Bargnani

Last year, in the weeks leading up to the NBA season, I ranked the League’s go-to guys. Using the rationale that even the most balanced team has one identifiable if-all-else-fails leader that they look to in crunch time (see Team USA and Kevin Durant), I picked one player per squad for a final list of 30. Again, ONE PLAYER PER TEAM.

Being a go-to guy isn’t always about who takes the last-second shot. It’s the guy who regularly gets the basketball when things are getting tense in the fourth quarter; the guy expected to calm things down when teammates are getting antsy; the guy called upon to snuff out an opponent’s rally or spark a rally of his own; the guy who’s not just supposed to make shots, but make the right decisions. Bottom line: Who do you want the offense to run through when everything is on the line?

ANDREA BARGNANI, Toronto Raptors

The say the most popular man on any (American) football team is the backup quarterback. That’s because when a team is losing, the starting QB inevitably takes a big share of the blame, while the backup gets a swell of support from frustrated fans who want to see him take over. His pros are hyped up, his cons either ignored or downplayed. (After all, he was named the backup for a reason.) As the logic goes, “Why not give him a shot? It can’t get any worse, right?”

In that sense, Andrea Bargnani is the Doug Flutie of the NBA. Very few No. 1 overall picks are drafted under the guise of not having to be a franchise centerpiece — a luxury to which Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Dwight Howard are unfamiliar — but that was the case for Bargnani in the first four years of his career. As long as Chris Bosh was in Toronto, Bargnani didn’t have to be a superstar. Although he’d been regularly compared to Dirk Nowitzki since he was a teenager coming up in Italy, for the Raptors, he only had to be Mehmet Okur. But as the team continued to exist somewhere between mild success and Lottery failure — and it became more apparent that Bosh wasn’t sticking around long-term — some wanted to see what it would be like with Bargnani in charge.

Last season offered a 12-game sample. In the time that Bosh missed with injuries, Bargnani didn’t definitively prove or disprove anybody’s theory on how good (or mediocre) he can be. In a seven-game stretch beginning in late-February, Bargnani averaged 15.2 points, one bucket less than his overall regular season average. In the final five games of the year — which Bosh missed while the Raptors were trying to win a playoff berth — Bargnani averaged 21.4 points and his team wound up in the Lottery. Toronto’s record in games with Bargnani as The Man was 5-7; the wins coming over the Knicks (twice), Nets, Wizards and Pistons, the losses coming to Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Oklahoma City, Cleveland and Portland.

The highlight of Bargnani’s test drive was a 33-point effort against Detroit in the second-to-last game of the season, a must-win for the Raptors at the time. In that game, Bargnani showed the outside shooting stroke that originally birthed those Dirk comparisons (5-for-7 beyond the arc) and grabbed seven rebounds, but only had one assist. It was a microcosm of what Bargnani should be this year. He will score, he will shoot, he will rebound when he has to, but he won’t be much of a playmaker as far as getting others involved. Bargnani can pass and the Raptors have some athletic offensive players surrounding him, but passing is not his role, especially now that the Raptors need to replace the 24 ppg that Bosh provided.

Perimeter-based seven-footers always leave something to be desired, especially when they’re deemed the go-to guy on a team. As much success as Dirk has had in the League, between his MVP and NBA Finals appearance and deep playoff runs, he still has a lot of critics who get on him for not using his size to score more inside and get easy buckets instead of taking fadeaways from 18 feet.

According to 82games.com’s “clutch time” statistical analysis — compiling numbers from the 4th quarter and overtime, less than five minutes on the clock, neither team ahead by more than five points — Bargnani is about where a second-option on a Lottery team would be. He averaged 24.7 points per 48 minutes of “clutch time” last season, higher than established No. 1′s like Danny Granger, Tim Duncan, Deron Williams and Paul Pierce, but below Corey Maggette, Will Bynum and Andrei Kirilenko. He shot 49 percent from the field, 30 percent from three, and 86 percent at the free-throw line in clutch situations. Over 70 percent of Bargnani’s clutch time baskets were assisted, likely the result of Bosh being double-teamed in the post or getting open spots around the arc via Toronto’s playmakers. Now that he’s The Man, Bargnani will have to learn to produce solo buckets. By comparison, 54 percent of Dirk’s clutch time baskets involved an assist.

So far, the 2006 draft class hasn’t been strong on franchise players. Brandon Roy is the only one who’s been The Man since Day 1, while Rudy Gay is just cementing his role as Memphis’ go-to guy. Going into Year 5, Bargnani’s time is now. As the “backup” in Toronto he was living the relatively stress-free life of a developing talent with potential, but now the spotlight is on. Now he’s taking the snaps and calling the plays. And even the most optimistic Raptors fan has to realize he’s not going to be Tom Brady right away.

*** *** ***

30. Michael Beasley (Timberwolves)

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  • Mike “Yahoo! Exclusive” Mihalow

    You should really add “per team” to the headline. I’m not arguing with your stance, but I just cringe at the sight of today’s (and yesterday’s) headline entries. I know it’ll improve in a week or so.

  • Michorizo

    You can only have one go to player per team…

  • JAY

    Fellow posters…. just think of this ‘exercise’ as Dime’s unofficial pre-preseason team-rankings.

    30. Minnesota – Beasley
    29. Toronto – Bargnani
    28. Nets?? – Harris?

    2. Miami – Wade
    1. LA – Kobe

  • Alexander Berg

    @Jay

    Cleveland is probably next with Mo Willims or Jameson as the go-to-guy. And I would say that Lopez is Nets’ go-to-guy.

  • kingralf

    I think they´ll show 2. Lakers – Kobe and at first place 1. Miami. Just to have 200 comments on these last two articels with people screaming at each other how dumb their counterpart is for criticising/defending dimes decision.

  • JAY

    @Alexander…
    Sure, if you think so. The point of my last post was the first sentence. See the question marks?

    I don’t remember Lopez ever hitting a game winning shot. Harris hit one with his wrist from half court a couple seasons ago. That’s why I suggested Harris. Lopez is the future, no doubt. Harris, I would say, is the guy who will go to work late in games.

  • JAY

    LOL @ kingralf
    I don’t think anybody can rightfully list any other player ahead of Kobe right now. If Dime does it, we know it’s just to stir the pot…. or they’re smoking pot. One or the other.

  • K Dizzle

    So far, so good. Austin’s rankings usually get good after #25 for go-to-guys. I wouldn’t be surprised if Derozan just took over late at points this season or even Barbosa.

    And for the record, this season should be the year that Terrance Williams becomes the go-to-guy for Jersey.

  • PN

    Dear Dime,

    Not hating here because I know ads make money and thats what keeps this going, but I can no longer check Dime during the day due to ads and error messages. Just some constructive criticism…thanks,

    reader since 2003

  • the cynic

    brutal start to the list, and i can’t even argue

  • http://Slamonline.com Caboose

    I’d put anyone on the pistons (stuckey? bynum? rip?) behind the nets and cavs

  • WAMP WAMP

    if bargnani was a black man he’d be all the rage.

  • bdk23o stun

    bargs really wasnt that bad of a selection when you think about gay and roy are the only other players with solid nba game and with rudy doesnt produce significantly higher numbers neither is he a significantly better player then bargs and in regards to roy i think we all knew he would nice but not this good…

    Look for jordan crawford to pull a brandon jennings and come outta no where and kill it in his rookie year i seen dude play and he is noooo joke! How this young man slipped so far down the draft boggles the mind hes easily top 10 talented player in this years draft and i can see him becoming a “pre-burner charge” arenes type of player seriouisly every team besides atlanta will feel so stupid come this time next year.

  • ay yo..

    ^ I kinda agree with that. Not too many people were giving Dirk love, when he started hitting that 20ppg mark.

    If Bargs could improve on his shot selection, drive more & rebound, he’d be an all-star.