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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Good and Bad of Bargnani’s Preseason

The Andrea Bargnani trade was at the center of the Knicks’ offseason hoopla, dividing the fan base into two armies at war. Basically, like any other Knicks transaction outside the Chris Smith signing. With the 2013-14 NBA season upon us, it’s no longer worth our time to debate the ins and outs of the deal itself. Bargs is here and Mike Woodson and crew have turned to figuring out how to best implement him as the season grinds on. The team’s seven exhibition games might not be the best wellspring for basketball analysis, but — save for last night’s not so sterling regular season debut — it’s all we’ve got at this point. So let’s see what Bargnani has shown he can offer this basketball club.

The Good:

1.) Despite the putrid percentages — 38% from the field and 20% from downtown — Bargnani was weirdly efficient on the offensive end, finishing with 79 points on 63 attempts. Not outstanding by any means, but worth noting in accordance with his unimpressive shooting. The reason for this disparity was his ability to draw fouls; Bargnani’s free throw attempts equaled just about half of his field goal attempts — 31 to 63 — and he stroked it from the charity stripe to the tune of 90%. The Knicks’ efficient offense was their bread and butter last season, but most of that was due to their nightly three-point barrages. Per-48 minutes (and pace adjusted), the Knicks ranked 18th in the NBA last season in free throw attempts, the most efficient basketball shot there is. Even in a 7th or 8th man role Bargnani can boost this ranking and with it the Knicks’ ORTG, even if his troubling shooting percentages transition over to the regular season.

But here’s the kicker: his shooting will almost certainly improve. Bargnani’s 38% clip from the field was a mark he met just once in his career and his 20% shooting from long range was a depth Bargs has yet to slip to for an entire season. Both of these percentages can also be seen as a product of his newness to the Knicks’ offensive system, as well as his conditioning struggles (we’ll get to that in a second).

2.) The biggest gripe with Bargnani for most, myself included, is his underwhelming defensive presence. Bargs is commonly understood as a defensive liability, but he’ll have to do a not-absolutely-dreadful job in order to justify his spot in the rotation. From what we’ve seen so far, Bargnani’s biggest issue isn’t knowing where to be (except on the pick-and-roll at times), but getting there.

Bargnani’s conditioning is at a low point — he’ll be the first to admit it — because of his recent bout with pneumonia that left him bedridden for a month. Logic has it that, once he gets back to game shape, Bargs won’t be as big of a defensive deficiency as many fear. When he manages to get to his spot in time, Bargs seldom tries to do too much — hands straight up, jump vertically. Is he our best option as a second line of defense? No. But once the bounce in his step inevitably returns, even if it’s not to this extent, it’s safe to say Bargnani shouldn’t be a total turnstile.

Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal hopped on TheKnicksWall’s podcast (which you should definitely listen to, link here) and shared similar views: “[Bargnani’s] not a terrible defender, the way a lot of people make him out to be.” On the podcast Herring also noted the team’s Defensive Rating with Bargnani on the floor with Tyson Chandler being at around 103 in 75 minutes of action, “a little bit better than the middle of the pack.”

The Bad:

1.) In theory, Bargnani should force defenses to collapse, thus playing right into the Knicks’ schemes in opening up looks from downtown. However, Bargnani does one thing in particular that hampers this idea. Worse, I’m not sure it can be remedied: Bargnani has a difficult time seeing the open man once he decides to look for his shot. This is a real thing, and it’s alarming.

Some of those attempts were legit good tries; one led to free throws, and another to a bucket. However, an open corner three is the better shot in most of these situations, and Bargnani hasn’t shown the ability (or interest?) in passing out of a drive. Perhaps it’s a lack of peripheral vision or ability to make quick decisions, but either way it’s probably not a repairable problem unless Bargs begins to recognize it as such.

2.) Speaking of offensive spacing, Bargnani doesn’t actually offer much of that. This is troubling because, well, it was his biggest selling point as soon as the trade went down. “He can pull bigs like Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert out of the paint!” Etc. Problem is, he hasn’t really done that thus far. Disregard his disappointing three-point percentage — that isn’t the issue. The problem is Bargnani’s positioning on the floor. Without the ball in his hands, Bargnani roams around the mid-range and one-step-inside-the-arc areas.

Where's Andrea?

These are the worst spots for catch-and-shoot jumpers, for the simple reason that they’re the least efficient shots in basketball, period. A couple steps backwards and Bargnani would be dialing up a much better shot, and — more importantly — really be pulling bigs out of the paint. Smart NBA defenses nowadays go out of their way to force long twos, and Bargnani not learning to stay behind the three-point line would be doing more harm to the Knicks than the actual defense. Bargnani attempted more mid-range shots than threes throughout the preseason, which should be a red flag to the coaching staff. The upside is that this is a matter of Bargnani buying in to the offense. You’ll see Bargs start off possessions trying to glue himself to the deep ball but wander off later on, so one could guess the coaching staff has stressed this necessary — and critical — adjustment.

3.) His rebounding has been pretty bad — less than five boards per-36 minutes during the pre-season. No surprise here, really. Iman Shumpert grabbed more total boards in less total minutes. Moving on.

4.) Bargnani’s potential rotation spot is a lose-lose. This is probably the most disheartening conclusion I’ve drawn up watching him during the preseason. The only way the Knicks can pass of playing Bargnani 20+ minutes is if they are spent alongside Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin.

Last night notwithstanding for the moment, consider this: Through six preseason games, the Knicks gave up an excruciating 124.6 points per 100 possessions, according to STATS (hat tip to Chris Herring) with Bargnani on the floor without Chandler. That number speaks for itself and is inescapable unless Bargs is playing with a rim protector.

As a starter, Bargnani would spend the majority — if not all — of his minutes with Tyson Chandler, thus resolving the problem. However most would agree this probably isn’t the best direction to go, why with Melo-at-the-four being the Knicks’ backbone. Bargnani is best suited for the bench, but the only way he doesn’t cost the Knicks a tidal wave of easy scores is if he plays alongside Kenyon Martin. Only Martin will likely sit out a good chunk of games, due to a strategy that would involving swapping his minutes with Stoudemire’s every other game:

In Bargnani the Knicks certainly have a talent. But utilizing him correctly and getting him to what’s best for the team will likely remain issues for months — if not longer. There isn’t a lot to work with as far as detailing where he fits in best, but if Mike Woodson can find Bargnani’s niche on this team come postseason time, maybe the guessing and experimentation will have been worth it.

27 comments on “The Good and Bad of Bargnani’s Preseason

  1. Frank

    Nice article David!
    I think it’s a little early yet to make any judgments. I get the feeling that Bargnani is not comfortable (at all) in the offense right now, and maybe it will just take some time and some tough coaching from Woody.

    I noticed the same thing about how he just wanders in from behind the 3 point line into the 20 foot range all the time. Really just feels like he doesn’t know where to be, or even if he does, he just loses focus.

    Gotta go back and watch his minutes again, but the whole team just seemed out of sync when he was in there – like no one knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing. I don’t think Melo/Bargnani 4-5 combination is going to work except in very selected circumstances.

  2. Frank

    Mike – any chance we could get the “recent comments” as a persistent sidebar on all pages? i always liked being able to get directly to the most recent comments even if i was in an older thread.

  3. Owen

    I don’t think it’s too early to make judgments. We have a substantial track record of performance to assess. Bargnani’s ceiling is, at best, being an average NBA basketball player. And we are going to pay him 11 million per and a draft pick for it. Furthermore, there is plenty of reason to doubt whether he will get there on the Knicks.

    I think if you look at his historicals it’s clear that Bargnani might score with above average efficiency. He has notched a couple years where his ts% was +2-3 relative to the average center. Overall though, his career has seen him be just about average in that respect, albeit with a different mix of shots than your typical pf/c. That’s the good.

    The bad? It’s a lock that he will be one of the worst frontcourt rebounders and defenders in the league.

    There is a classic piece of alchemy at the heart of the Bargnani deal. That if we can play him next to other scorers and let him be a little more selective his efficiency will bounce in a big way. That he is a few good running mates away from realizing unfulfilled potential. It’s the kind of thinking this franchise has done for the past 13 years. And, well, I am pretty tired of it.

    But hey, they didn’t trade for Nick Young. That would have been worse? Right?

  4. Owen

    Also, wanted to ask about this.

    “Bargnani was weirdly efficient on the offensive end, finishing with 79 points on 63 attempts.”

    Are you including free throws/2 as attempts? Or are you talking points per shot here? I can’t find the preseason numbers but I am thinking when you count the ft attempts Bargnani was something less than weirdly efficient in the preseason.

  5. KnickfaninNJ

    Nice article. I think tonight will be interesting for evaluating Bargnani. If he comes off of the bench, presumably he will play alongside Stoudemire rather than Martin and he also might get more minutes because Woody hinted he will go big against Chicago.

  6. Nick C.

    Well thought out article. Will the seemingly weekly Bargnani articles continue through the season? :-)

  7. David Vertsberger Post author

    Owen, those were field goal attempts. Free throws were the reason he had more points than shots. Sorry if it wasn’t clear. And Nick C, I’m actually pitching Mike a “Weekly Bargs Report” column. (I’m not)

  8. Owen

    Owen, those were field goal attempts. Free throws were the reason he had more points than shots. Sorry if it wasn’t clear.

    Alright, well, generally one would include free throws in any accounting of efficiency.

    But yeah. Bargnani stinks….

  9. lavor postell

    On another note the Knicks are apparently the most overrated team in the league according to genius statistician and analyst Kevin pelton. I struggle to see how a team that gets dumped on by the national media and wasnt picked by one espn analyst to win their division despite coming off of a 54 win, division winning season in which they were ravaged by injuries is overrated.

    The consensus seems to be our peak is a 5 seed and a second round exit. I mean I understand trolling Knicks fans but this is just silly for somebody who is supposed to be some kind of objective stats guru.

  10. flossy

    Dear basketball Jesus, please let Amar’e Stoudemire stay healthy enough to make Andrea Bargnani an afterthought. That is all.

  11. Z-man

    Dare I say, excellent article, David.

    All of your points about Bargnani make sense, and he has been pretty dreadful so far. I hope that Woody and teammates like Tyson, KMart and MWP really try hard to develop him on D to the point where he is more of an asset. Playing some minutes with Tyson in his ear on the court is necessary for that development. Right now, he has stunk up both ends of the court, no doubt. But giving up on him prematurely doesn’t make sense. Its a gamble, and the odds are, a losing one. But I think that with what we invested in him, there has to be more than a token pre-season committment to make it work.

    In fairness, I see so much tentativeness and lack of confidence that its hard to tell whether he can evolve into a winning player or not. Obviously his history works against him, but I do like some things that we have seen in flashes. Even though he only had 2 boards yesterday, he got at least one of them them in traffic and above the rim. I also thought I saw him attempt a Tyson tip-out.

    He got suckered into the and-1 by Zaza, and was late running out to some jump shooters but trying hard.

  12. Frank

    Even though he only had 2 boards yesterday, he got at least one of them them in traffic and above the rim. I also thought I saw him attempt a Tyson tip-out.

    FWIW the Knicks had a DRB% of 90% with him on the court, so he wasn’t hurting them on the defensive boards at all.

    Have to be honest – I’m not hating what I’m seeing from him on the defensive end. He looks to be no worse than Amare in space, and definitely seems better on the ball than Amare. Woodson seems to be applying the Amare PNR coverage rules to Andrea, which is a hard hedge vs. trap most of the time. The problem yesterday was the rotations behind the trap were slow, which led to a bunch of open shots. Not sure that’s really Andrea’s fault if he was actually told to trap rather than recover back to his man.

  13. mokers

    I am in the “Having Bargnani is Not the Apocalypse” camp. I think even those of us who were bullish on his prospects didn’t want to see him as the backup 5, which is how Woodson appears to see him. Bargnani 5, Melo 4 should just never see the court. Secondly, if Bargnani is not drawing fouls and getting to the line, he is not worth playing.

  14. Z-man

    If Bargnani doesn’t start hitting his perimeter shots, it’s going to be hard for him to draw fouls.

  15. Mike Kurylo

    Secondly, if Bargnani is not drawing fouls and getting to the line, he is not worth playing.

    Geez these Bargnani quotes is reminding me more and more of the Eddy Curry days.

  16. johnno

    lavor postell October 31, 2013 at 11:59 am On another note the Knicks are apparently the most overrated team in the league according to genius statistician and analyst Kevin pelton. I struggle to see how a team that gets dumped on by the national media and wasnt picked by one espn analyst to win their division despite coming off of a 54 win, division winning season in which they were ravaged by injuries is overrated.

    I love this — ESPN has a computer program that picks the Knicks to win 37 games and then they print an article that says that the Knicks are wildly overrated. I guess that ESPN thinks that their over/under for wins should be about 25?? Does that guy dogrufus who showed up on this site during the playoffs work for ESPN?

  17. JK47

    Everything Bargnani does is just so damn tentative. There isn’t an aggressive, confident bone in the guy’s body. I just don’t know how you overcome that. He’s 13,000 minutes into his career and he still has that deer in the headlights look.

  18. mokers

    Geez these Bargnani quotes is reminding me more and more of the Eddy Curry days.

    I think the Knicks are much better prepared to handle if Bargnani can only play limited minutes. The key is getting to realize he is not the backup 5. I think Bargs and STAT are both house money players in that the Knicks can get to the playoffs with limited contributions from them.

  19. Mike Kurylo

    I think the Knicks are much better prepared to handle if Bargnani can only play limited minutes. The key is getting to realize he is not the backup 5.

    Yes. I was laughed at for predicting lots of minutes for Aldrich, but this is my reasoning. Tyson can’t play all the minutes at center. Kenyon Martin can’t take the rest. Bargnani shouldn’t be playing the 5. Amar’e will get hurt.

    So it comes down to Aldrich or whoever they pick up (Tyler?)

    When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

  20. Mike Kurylo

    Also we know that Woodson is slow to react. He’ll give something weeks & months before he moves to the next thing. Copeland had some good games before February, but he went straight to the bench when Amar’e came back. Also the Indiana series.

    Be prepared to see Bargnani at center for at least the next month.

  21. Z-man

    Considering the investment, I would expect that Bargnain will get lots of minutes until it starts costing the Knicks in the standings. If we had lost yesterday, for example, that might have shortened the leash a bit.

  22. JK47

    In yesterday’s game, it was clear that the 17 minutes invested in Bargnani could have been better spent on K-Mart or MWP. If that continues to be obviously apparent, you’ll see a dip in Bargnani’s minutes. The silver lining to the cloud is that there are alternatives to running him out there if he’s playing terribly.

  23. ruruland

    And yet, Mike, Woodson pulled the plug on AB starting before the first game.

    Copeland had severe issues defensively early in the season that were partially corrected later on.

    Also, Robert Silverman, the idea that Indy signed Copeland to keep him away from New York doesn’t look so crazy right now, does it?

  24. d-mar

    Since Bargnani has no post up moves and little ability to rebound, I just want him to stand out beyond the 3 point line and draw the opposing PF out there with him. Then all he needs to do is hit the occasional 3 pointer, or head fake and go to the basket and get fouled. There’s really no reason for him to be anywhere near the basket on the offensive end.

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