Defending Colangelo’s drafting AKA Defending the Bargnani pick

With the lottery over and all the picks set—the focus shifts to the draft and hoping that the fifth pick is some blessing in disguise. Naturally, getting the 5th pick doesn’t lend itself automatically to getting 5th pick level talent, the same way finishing third last in the league doesn’t get you a top 3 pick (f— you lottery)—the draft is, in a way, a lottery (f— that). It’s so hard to watch a prospect in such a short time frame and get a good idea of whether they will be a valuable NBA player or bench fodder at best. But in order to get full value for our pick—we need someone good at the controls. With Bryan Colangelo getting that much needed extension we now avoid Jim Kelly turning the Raptors into the Raptures. Colangelo, despite all the hate that gets bounced his way, is actually a pretty good drafter. I don’t want to go through his entire history but he has had a knack for picking good players from the draft including Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, Shawn Marion and (43rd overall) Stephen Jackson.

He’s had a few hiccups here and there, (Zarko Cabarkaba—who was in 2003 Draft with Darko. Zarko! Darko! It’s the NBA Finals On ABC!!!)  but looking at it as a whole—Colangelo been a pretty good drafter. In his recent times in Toronto, he hasn’t lived up to his past record either. DeMar Derozan, Ed Davis and yes, Andrea Bargnani were all good selections.

But of course, judging by the amount of sheer animosity directed at our Italian “centre”, I’m going to have to defend that statement which is the central focus of this column. That, yes, despite his ineptitude at rebounding, lack of focus/drive/determination/effort and general “I don’t care if we lose by one or by forty” attitude—Andrea Bargnani wasn’t the right pick—but he was a good pick.

If his Primo Pasta commercial doesn’t justify the number one overall selection, surely his actual NBA resume can. Bargnani became a 20+ point scorer this year, averaging 5 rebounding (yuck) but still reaching a PER of 16.50—not great, but not bad. And trust me, I’ll be the first one to be critical of Andrea. I don’t mind guys that don’t have talent—sure they’re frustrating, but I have nothing against them. I’ve never been upset with Soloman Alabi or DeMar Derozan this season, because overall they give effort on every possession. Bargnani doesn’t. And he’s even admitted it.

Colangelo did much better than people think in the '06 Draft

Isn’t it pathetic that in the same paragraph that I began to defend Andrea, I probably wrote more critical things than positive?

But even though Bargnani clearly has his flaws—he’s a good scorer with half-decent efficiency and can defend a big man one-on-one surprisingly well. His weaknesses come from rebounding and help defense—but he’s effective at some things in the NBA.

This isn’t exactly the most flowery write-up of Bargnani’s game which most likely stems from the fact that I don’t rely on Leo Rautins’ analysis of Bargnani’s game. Which is almost entirely notifying me that I am watching a 7-footer with the ability to stop and take a pull-up jumper. Judging by the Raptors’ centre history, I’d be much happier if Leo would say “there’s a 7-footer with a jumphook” or “there’s a 7-footer that’s been in the key for more than half a second”.

Nonetheless, Bargnani is talented. Even the most vehement Bargnani hater admits it. And that’s why we hate him. We wouldn’t hate him if he just flat out sucked, we hate him because we’ve seen flashes of greatness, but we’ve also seen incredible lulls (and lulz and lulz and, of course, more lulz) from Bargnani that make him look like he cares less than Kobe when Smush Parker was starting (!) in LA. The point is that he’s talented.

Understanding that, please let me direct your attention to the 2006 NBA Draft. Let’s try to find players better than Bargnani. Second pick Lamarcus Aldridge certainly is better than Bargnani but are Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Randy Foye, Patrick O’Bryant, Mouhamed Sene, J.J. Redick, Hilton Armstrong all better than Bargnani? Maybe put together. It really looks like the only lottery picks that were better than Bargnani are Aldridge and Rudy Gay. I wouldn’t even add Brandon Roy into that mix considering his knees time traveled his game to his late 30s. So you here are your top 3 players from the 2006 lottery Aldridge, Gay and Bargnani. Add in Rajon Rondo (picked 21st)—who Colangelo and no other GM wouldn’t have taken in the top 10 because he couldn’t and still cannot shoot—and maybe Kyle Lowry and there is your top 5. Pretty rough draft, right? So, why the hate for Bargnani? Could we have done much better?

We missed out on Gay and Aldridge but we still landed one of the three 20+ point scorers in the Draft. Not so bad, if you ask me. If they had a 2006 NBA Draft Team, Bargnani would be a focal point. It’s all relative.

And Bargnani is only 25. He’s got some learning to do and he can slowly develop a real role for himself instead of being thrust into a role that doesn’t fit him at all. Now, I’m not so certain this development is going to come in Toronto—but it will come. He’s an NBA player and counter to the dominant opinion about him—he actually has trade value around the league.

Point being that I have faith in Colangelo drafting skills. He has a knack for finding talent even in the most bottomless of talent pools—well next to the 2000 Draft.

You don't remember the Fizer era?

(I’ll ask to scroll through the list and find someone who isn’t (A) drafted way too high, (B) an incredible talent wasted, (C) someone that was drafted so high but you’ve never even heard of them before. Marcus Fizer, anyone?)

And with the 2011 Draft getting the dubious comparison to 2000’s “you could probably convince me that this was the 2000 EuroLeague Draft” disaster, many were worried when we didn’t lock up a top 2 selection and thus the ability to select Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams. But there’s good reason to not be afraid. In 2000, the fifth pick was Mike Miller (that line was written in 2005). And that reason is that Bryan Colangelo is good at drafting. Period. Ed Davis and DeMar Derozan are certainly more concrete evidence of this fact but scooping up a Bargnani from the 2006 Draft might actually be the most impressive feat.

What? You wanted Adam Morrison?

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