Since returning from a hamstring injury, Andrea Bargnani has turned his season around for the Brooklyn Nets, but there are limits to what he can do. Small doses may be the way to maximize his talents.
Over the past eight games, Bargnani has averaged 12 points and nearly five rebounds per game, including a 23-point explosion in 23 minutes vs. Philly in his first game back from injury. Bargnani has changed his game a bit:, too. He's now taking the ball to the rack hard after setting up shop 18 feet out. It's simple, but on a roster that features Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, the former No. 1 pick doesn't need to do much.
Before Wednesday's game against the Dallas Mavericks, Bargs had taken 64 shots in his seven games since returning from injury, 16 of which had come from less than five feet (he shot 62% on those shots) and 25 coming from between 15 and 19 feet (he hit on 48% of those attempts). He's still taking mid-range two's but the fact that he is able to put the ball on the floor and finish around the rim is a very promising sign for the Italian his countrymen call "il Mago" - "The Wizard" - and the Nets. As he continues to find his way into the teeth of the defense and finish, it's going to give him room for his jumper, as well.
As seen through the clips above, Bargnani is taking it to the rim and is finishing strong despite contact on the drive or at the rim. Bargnani, a notoriously weak finisher around the rim, is having a career low year shooting around there. For the season, Bargnani is shooting 43% on shots at the rim or within three feet, including this recent hot stretch, which is an alarmingly low rate for s seven-footer. However, if this recent stretch is an indication for how the rest of the season will go, he may find his stride around the rim.
Bargnani is not the traditional big man by any means, he needs to line up outside of the paint and it's clear the Lionel Hollins believes in Bargnani's abilities on the offensive floor, giving him ample opportunities to prove himself.
A common set of Hollins, and many coaches in the league today, HORNS aligns two big men at the elbow at the start of the possession, which is great for Bargnani because it puts him right at his favorite spot on the floor. So maybe that is why the Italian sees minutes ahead of more post-oriented players like Thomas Robinson and Willie Reed. A more common look for the Nets has had Hollins lining up Lopez and Bargnani behind one another on the weak side and setting a double screen for a wing player and setting up the offense from there, as seen here.
Bargnani misses, but this play has been seen a few times and although it's quirky it is an interesting wrinkle to an otherwise vanilla Nets offense. That is really what Bargnani provides to this Nets offense, some spicy flavor that is interesting. I won't say it's great, but definitely interesting. The Bargnani-Lopez combination has provided some positive output for Brooklyn as well as being interesting. Since he returned from injury, Bargnani has teamed up with Lopez in the front court fro 51 minutes, giving the Nets a +6.7 net rating, and a much improved offensive output (120 points per 100 possession). There are definitely negative aspects to his game, and I question if he can keep this fine play up, but there is no denying that Bargnani and Lopez can form a fine front court duo through the course of the game.
It's clear what is wrong with Bargnani's game: he takes poor shots, can look lost on both sides of the floor, and can't stop a nose bleed on defense. As we've noted, his shot selection has improved and he is helping the Nets offense quite a bit over the past two weeks, but his defense remains sub-par.
The big man simply can not slide and contain NBA caliber players. He is allowing opponents to shoot 75% on shots less than six feet from the rim this season, and there hasn't been much improvement over the past eight games. For a player receiving 20 minutes per game, that is alarmingly high.
Bargnani's lack of court sense can be masked on offense with his natural ability to score, but on defense, he is a moving target. Players shoot greater than 14% on shots that Bargnani defends. Whether it be falling for head fakes, running directly into screens, or simply getting blown by on the dribble, teams are going to pick on Bargs, and the Nets don't have the defensive weapons to make up for it., particularly with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson out.
Hollins is going to need to find an answer for what to do with the big man because, as we saw in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's overtime loss to the Mavericks, Hollins kept Bargnani in too long and his defense began to outweigh his offensive production. What happens with Bargnani's usage is worth monitoring going forward.
In the future, what should Billy King and the Nets do with Bargnani? He has a $1.5 million dollar player option this season and he probably can't command much more on the market. Bargnani has been exposed by the whole league as a marginal player because of his defense, one that is prone to mental burps on the floor. So Bargnani may be wise to take his player option, try to continue to build something with Brooklyn, and hit the free agent market in 2017, when everyone will have enough money to splurge on even role players such as Bargnani.
Would the Nets want him in the future? It's not all too clear. He has some talent that makes him a useful backup big man but he most certainly cannot be trusted with a ton of responsibility. I think that if Bargnani continues to give the Nets an offensive spark plug off the bench -- which they desperately need with Bojan Bogdanovic in the starting lineup for at least the next several week -- the Nets should continue to use him off the bench and hope he can provide an offensive burst until he can't.