With New Additions in Place, Andrea Bargnani Has Become as Crucial as Ever to Raptors Playoff Hopes

Andrea Bargnani is in perfect position to punch his team's ticket to the playoffs, or punch his ticket right out of town. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors have made some big moves this off-season, however one of the biggest moves for the team was one they didn't make: trading Andrea Bargnani. The HQ's Scott Campsall argues that by not trading their leading scorer from a season ago, he has become potentially the most important player on the squad.

With the period of speculation and big-time player movement now just about passed, the discussion surrounding the Raptors has shifted, as it often does at this point in the off-season, to concerns about the potential outcome for the upcoming season with the roster as it is currently comprised.

Even now, with the multiple new additions to the roster, this is still a discussion that absolutely cannot be had without mentioning the importance of their leading scorer Andrea Bargnani, who will be entering his seventh season in the NBA come October.

Bargnani’s a name elicits a myriad of different responses from those that follow the team, and it is safe to say that he has become the most polarizing player on the squad during his tenure here. But, he has also become one of the most important players on the roster.

Last season Andrea seemed to hit somewhat of a stride, averaging 19.5 points per game—albeit on 43 percent shooting from the floor—and playing the best defense of his career. Bargnani’s scoring was something that the Raptors desperately needed, and by adding that dimension to the squad which had become almost entirely defensive-minded, he made them a better team.

Yet, the 2011-2012 campaign was hardly one to brag about for the seven-foot Italian. Yes, he did play a stretch of basketball at the beginning of the season which at the time seemed to finally validate all of the faith the organization had put in him, however his play during the rest of the season snatched away all of that good faith almost as quickly as it came.

After suffering a calf injury partway through the season, he was really never the same. This makes it far more challenging for anybody to claim that he has finally made the leap in his somewhat tumultuous NBA career.

So, what exactly should we be expecting from Mr. Bargnani this season?

The odds tell us to expect another inefficient shooting season with poor rebounding numbers and little defense to speak of. But, the possibility still remains that we could see an improved Andrea Bargnani reminiscent of the one we saw to begin the 2011-2012 campaign.

Yet, more to the point, even if he plays at a level that marginally resembles that remarkable stretch; the Dinos could be in for a very interesting season given the pieces that they have now assembled around the 26 year-old power forward.

The expectations that have been placed on Bargnani since he became the number one overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft have been hefty and despite his struggles over the years, haven’t exactly changed accordingly.

This is a problem given the limitations that he clearly possesses within his game. Bargnani is hardly an average rebounder, and won’t block many shots, but what he does do well is create and make shots, which is something that he can do for this team. The trouble that we run into with Bargnani, is expecting him to do anything more than that.

if Bargnani averages 20-plus points a night, hits clutch shots and plays passable defense on a team that competes for, or maybe even squeaks into the playoffs, will that be enough to consider it a successful season for Bargnani? Or, has it reached the point where his expectations and his lack of success at reaching those expectations will not allow for such a declaration unless he has also become a capable rebounder and shot-blocker?

These are questions that need to be asked and very well may be answered depending on how this season shakes down. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the media and fans alike respond to Bargnani should he be able to put together a respectable season in those areas.

What we know at this point is that Bargnani can score the ball and he will be counted on to that on a regular basis. This season, with Kyle Lowry and either Landry Fields or Terrence Ross in the lineup, the Dinos will have other offensive options to lighten the load for the Bargnani, freeing him up a little offensively, which in theory should make him more effective.

We also know that because of his inability to rebound at any sort of meaningful rate, he will need to play next to a big man that can both rebound and defend the rim. This is something that the Raps seem to have done by retaining the services of Aaron Gray and adding Jonas Valanciunas to the mix.

Basically, the Dinos’ front office has put Bargnani in the best possible scenario to succeed. If he can come through with some meaningful production, this is a team that should be competing for a playoff spot and Bargnani himself may finally earn some recognition for his play. If, yet again, he disappoints, then there really isn’t much else to say about the Andrea Bargnani era in Toronto other than that it was a complete and utter failure.

Needless to say, both Andrea Bargnani and the Toronto Raptors have a great deal riding on the upcoming season.

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