"What If"...Andrea Bargnani DID Become the Next Dirk Nowitzki?

It's "What If" day across SB Nation's basketball blogs and RaptorsHQ asks a dangerous question regarding a recently departed lottery pick...

At this point, to say that Andrea Bargnani is the next Dirk Nowitzki is a bit like saying Roko Ukic is the next Steve Nash.

It's done.

Finito.

If anything Andrea Bargnani is the next Vladimir Radmanovic, or Al Harrington, or simply the next Andrea Bargnani.

But he's no Dirk.

Nevertheless, it's "Theme Wednesday" again at SB Nation and with this week's topic being "What If," I got thinking...

...WHAT IF ANDREA BARGNANI HAD BECOME THE NEXT DIRK NOWITZKI????

What if instead of settling for off-balance long-range two-pointers and shying away from contact on the glass, the Raptors had drafted themselves one of the league's all-time great inside-outside offensive threats, a nightly mismatch terror for opponents?  Instead of talking about Andrew Wiggins next season, would we instead be talking about another run at an Eastern Conference title?  Or maybe an NBA Championship?

Of course this is when you, the avid HQ reader jumps in and says:

"Wooooooah Franchise, simmer down here. Even if Bargs was a Dirk clone and paired with Chris Bosh up front, we're still talking about a club with such All-Star Wing options as Joey Graham and Jamario Moon!  Easy on the championship talk!"

Let's go back in time to the summer of 2006.

The first re-boot of Superman was in theatres, Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" was annoying the hell out of me, and someone was about to bring Sexy Back.

No, not Justin Timberlake, but Mr. Andrea Bargnani, the 7-foot Italian basketball sensation who the Toronto Raptors had recently drafted first overall in that summer's NBA Draft!  He was billed as the heir to the Dirk throne, or Dirk 2.0 thanks to what many saw as superior size and athletic ability.

With Chris Bosh evolving into a franchise cornerstone in his own right, and the team upgrading around him thanks some unheralded overseas acquisitions, Bargnani looked to be the icing on the cake, and the club could take its time acclimatizing him to life in the NBA.  "Future Dirk" could start by supplying some offense, his most NBA-ready skill it appeared, and the team could go from there.

And Bargs wasn't so bad as a rookie.

He averaged nearly 12 points and 4 rebounds and shot 37 per cent from long-range.  The club made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons and while an early exit awaited them thanks to Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets, the club looked to have some nice pieces for the future.

As we know though, that's where this story takes a turn for the worst, especially in terms of Andrea Bargnani.

But what if it hadn't and Bargs had become the player Bryan Colangelo envisioned?

As Sportsnet's Michael Grange wrote in the wake of this off-season's Bargnani trade, "Even now the mind reels at what Toronto's recent basketball history would have been like if Bargnani had delivered on that kind of promise."

The Bosh/Bargnani duo would have been a formidable one offensively, with both capable of putting up 20 point games nightly.  Take away Bosh's deadly mid-range game, and you'd have to contend with the dead-eye Bargnani spotting up on the perimeter.  Take away the latter, and Bargs could drive right past slow-footed defenders en route to the hoop, or able to find Bosh in the lane for the easy-oop.  It would have been a thing of beauty to behold, and would have likely given even the East's top teams fits.

Consider the 2007 Eastern Conference Finalists, the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers.  The Pistons had one of the league's top defenses anchored by Ben and Rasheed Wallace, and the Cavs of course had the one and only LeBron James.

However a Bosh-Dirk type pair would have represented a major match-up issue for both clubs.  One of the Wallace boys would have had to check Bargnani on the perimeter, and contend with the more nimble Bosh inside, while the Cavs would have likely fared even worse.  At the time they were throwing out a big man rotation of an aging Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Scott Pollard!  Anderson Varejao was only a sophomore averaging seven points and seven rebounds so it's not hard to envision a Bosh-Bargs combo wreaking havoc on O.

Looking at the data though, I'm not going to go as far as saying it would have been a perfect fit.  Based on HoopData.com's shooting locations for both Bosh and Dirk (assuming Bargs evolved into a player who took the same type of shots in the same ratios) there is a good chunk of overlap in their preferences.  Over his career, 36 per cent of Chris Bosh's shots have come in the 16 to 23 foot range, where he's made good on nearly 45 per cent of them.  Dirk has similarly taken 39 per cent of his shots from that same range, hitting nearly 50 per cent of them. While Nowitzki has take a much greater percentage of three-pointers than Bosh, especially earlier in their respective careers, the duo indeed have similar statistical marks so a big challenge for then coach Sam Mitchell would have been to ensure proper spacing, so the duo could operate at peak levels offensively.

And yes, defensively there would still have been issues at times, particularly against bigger, back-to-the-basket types.  However had Bargs actually rebounded like his German doppelganger, he and Bosh certainly would have been able to hold their own on the glass too and suffice to say, the Toronto Raptors would have been a very different team, based on this duo alone.

In fact, scanning the league at that time, it's hard to envision another front-court duo being able to hold a candle to this Bosh-Bargs combo.  The Detroit "bigs" likely would have  provided the stiffest test for Bosh and Bargs as even Dirk's own team, the Dallas Mavericks, were surrounding him with the likes of Erick Dampier, DeSagana Diop and Kevin Willis.  Other elite teams at the time like the Spurs, Suns and Cavs usually had one stud big man, but not much else beyond that.

Therefore I think then we've answered the first part of the "what if Andrea Bargnani did become the next Dirk Nowitzki" question. Even if the fit between the two wasn't 100 per cent perfect, it's a bit like saying LeBron and Wade aren't an exact match.  Maybe not, but they'll still decimate the vast majority of opponents they're matched up with. With Bosh and a Dirk-esque Bargnani, there's no question in my mind that the Raptors would have been much more competitive, a playoff lock, and likely in Bargs' first two seasons, competed for an Eastern Conference crown.

However past that, it's hard to say.

Partly because Bargnani didn't become the next Dirk, Bryan Colangelo was forced to keep moving pieces around to try and find better complements for Bosh, and we all know how that worked out.  TJ Ford become Jermaine O'Neal, who became Shawn Marion, who became Hedo Turkoglu, who became Leandro Barbosa who became...you get the idea.

The second part of the question to me then is had Bargs indeed become the next Dirk, the vast majority of the moves Bryan Colangelo made during his tenure, likely wouldn't have been necessary.  With Bosh and Bargnani in place, he could have focused on upgrading the wing position and bench, and filling in the club defensively where needed.

And finally, one unforeseen result of Bargnani being the next Dirk, may have been the increased value of some of Colangelo's signings that didn't work out.  Suddenly if opponents are focused on containing Bosh and Bargs, Jason Kapono becomes a lot more deadly, akin to his time in Miami with Shaq, Wade and the Heat.  Even valuable contributors like Jose Calderon, Morris Peterson and Anthony Parker become that much more valuable as floor-spacers.  We saw how this works in last year's NBA Finals.

Maybe no NBA title lands in Toronto during their time together, but there's no question in my mind that with Chris Bosh and a Dirk-esque Andrea Bargnani, the complete course of the Toronto Raptors' franchise is changed.

Does Bosh still bolt for Miami?

Maybe.

But even if that occurs, the Raps still have a key piece to build around, and maybe the winning years with Bosh and Bargs buy the franchise some Spurs-like goodwill on the free agent front.  Perhaps then the team doesn't drop off the face of the NBA landscape after CB4 is no more.

Maybe, maybe maybe.

Yep, such an article contains a lot of them.

With the Bargnani era now over in Toronto though, there are no more maybe's, as Dirk 2.0 never materialized, and the club is again facing an ugly rebuild.

The maybe's instead now go to Knicks fans, who can only hope that somewhere inside of Mr. Bargnani, there's still a bit of Mr. Nowitzki, waiting to emerge.

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