Making Sense of David West's Remarks
Rarely do I see headlines about ex-Raptor Andrea Bargnani, but this October was an odd exception. Equally to my surprise, he was trending because of some back-handed, yet praiseful insight offered by former opponent David West;
"When Bargnani and Bosh were in Toronto, the reason why that shit didn't work is 'cause the NBA let us beat them up. We beat up Bargnani, they let us body Bosh," West said. "Like, Bosh and Bargnani right now, they would blow this NBA out of the water. They were damn near impossible to guard. I'm serious. The only reason Bargnani didn't have a (successful) career was 'cause the referees let people like me beat him up.”
"They were tough, man," he added. "But it was a different NBA then."
Bosh is already solidified among the Raptor greats, and is a lock for the Hall of Fame. While playing in Toronto, he made five All-Star appearances, earned All-NBA Second Team honours, and won Olympic gold with Team USA in Beijing.
Bargnani, on the other hand, has little resume to speak of. The Raptors have only won the draft lottery once; selecting the Italian big man with the first overall pick, beginning the infamous tale of ‘Big Primo’. This 2006 draft class was considerably weak, but the Raptors still passed up on LaMarcus Aldridge; who collected five All-NBA seasons playing at the same position as Bargnani.
Regardless of that comparison, Barg still put together a relatively productive career. During the 2009-10 season, he recorded a 17.2 PPG scoring pace as a 24-year-old, while shooting 37% from three and getting to 1.4 blocks per game. To follow this up, he averaged a career-high 21.4 PPG next season as the starting centre.
Even amid these successes, however, Bargnani never shot above 50% on field goals. Efficiency became a central issue over his career, and he rarely offered enough as a defender or rebounder to compensate. Unable to meet the expectations of a primary scoring option, Bargnani was soon regarded as a bust. With this said, I do understand and agree to an extent with David West’s comments about the duo.
What David West Got Right;
To claim the Bosh and Barg frontcourt pairing would “blow this NBA out of the water” is pretty outlandish. I believe Bosh would continue to thrive in the modern game, but that benefit of the doubt is hardly extended to his Raptor counterpart. In a more foul-sensitive era, the scoring pace and field goal percentages of both players would undoubtedly improve. More importantly, as capable shooting big men, they would fit the modern NBA mould pretty well.
From this perspective, I agree that we could have seen a more offensively polished career particularly from Bargnani. As the lottery pick, the young Italian must have been greeted by a world of expectation in Toronto. Prior to the draft, certain scouts optimistically compared him to Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki.
Both players are European centres known to stretch the floor; but their shooting success is simply non-comparable. Although Dirk was a stronger rebounder, he also converted enough offensively to justify a lack of mobility and passing. Bargnani faced a similar dynamic in Toronto, where most nights his worth was measured strictly in made jump-shots. However, efficiency problems soon tainted his young career, evoking much outward spite from the Raptors faithful.
Bosh was versatile, but Bargnani was a one-dimensional prospect from the onset. In my opinion, the benefits that would be derived from playing in the modern NBA are minimal. Although it would offer Barg more free-throws and space to operate, his former weaknesses would only be exacerbated matching up current talent.
In today’s league, three-point shooting is nearly prerequisite through all five positions. This poses a double-edged sword for Barg; as he can play this offensive style, but would inversely struggle to defend against it. ‘Big Primo’ is not exactly an athletic specimen, and I believe he would get burned needing to close-out routinely on three-pointers. Lastly, his lack of rebounding and rim-protection make him a defensive liability in any era of basketball.
I agree with the underlying sentiment of David West’s comments; the Toronto frontcourt was suited to a playing style slightly ahead of their time, but by no means would they dominate now. A more reasonable proposition could be that Bosh assumes greater prominence, allowing Bargnani to establish himself as a modern role player behind him. However, even that consideration is highly questionable…
Why We Thank Bargnani Anyways
Big Primo will forever be part of Raptors history; and we should own that.
The Raptors have been justifiably clowned for drafting a first overall bust, but he still managed to be one of few serviceable players from the 2006 draft. Ironically, Bargnani is often grouped among elite names in Raptor record books; as he played the eighth most games in franchise history and remains top-5 in career points.
Barg could not live-up to the inherent hype of being a first overall selection, and transitioning to a new continent likely perpetuated that. Clearly we expected more, but the Raptors were ultimately able to extract lasting value out of Bargnani. After assuming Toronto’s GM role, Masai Ujiri’s first move was trading Barg to the Knicks for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quinten Richardson, a 2016 first-rounder, and two second-round picks (2014, 2017). My god... Thank you Knicks.
This trade imbalance is reflected by the opposite trajectories taken by both teams following the acquisitions. By moving Bargnani’s $22M contract, the Raptors cleared enough cap-space to sign valuable free agents DeMarre Carroll and Corey Joseph. Furthermore, the acquired first-round pick turned out to be Jakob Poeltl; a vastly underrated young centre who became part of the Kawhi Leonard trade package.
The trade tree which stems from Bargnani is remarkable; and the Raptors’ track record from this point is even more so. Knowing all this, fans should be able to look back at the Bargnani experience/experiment with some lighthearted fondness. He ultimately deserves some thanks, as Barg worked hard through nagging criticism and constant over-projection of his capabilities.
Thank you, Barg; even though you would still get cooked in today’s league.