Andrea bargnani nba
If you land the number one pick and draft Tim Duncan, you get two decades of sustained excellence, five championships, year after year of contending for the title, and can build an organizational culture that becomes the standard bearer of the league. Twenty years later, even as Duncan is retired and shopping for oversized jeans at Old Navy, his impact will still be felt by the Spurs, who are positioned to remain contenders for years to come. On the other hand, if you land the number one pick and select Andrea Bargnani, well, that’s a completely different story.
This week, Bargnani, selected first overall by the Raptors in 2006, signed a two-year deal with Saski Baskonia of the ACB League in Spain after 10 years in the NBA. His decline in recent seasons made his decision to play overseas inevitable. Last season, Bargnani played 46 games for the Brooklyn Nets and averaged 6.6 points before agreeing to a buy-out in late February. In the two seasons before with the Knicks, Bargnani made minimal impact in New York, and was labeled by Phil Jackson as a “big tease” and “maligner,” who refused to participate in non-contact drills during practice when he was injured.
Being picked first overall comes with a certain stigma that is rarely attached to any other draft selection. Teams that end up in that position have usually seen a downturn in their fortunes, and pin their hopes on an incoming player to be a savior. Duncan and Bargnani are two examples, but there are plenty of factors for a first overall selection to go awry.
The Magic landed a franchise player in Shaquille O’Neal in 1992, but the collective bargaining agreement in the 90s allowed him to hit unrestricted free agency after four seasons in Orlando, paving the way for his departure to Los Angeles. The Cavaliers got LeBron James with the number one pick in 2003, but their inability to nail free agency signings and trades pushed their franchise player to choose Miami in 2010 before they eventually got him back. The Rockets thought they would pair Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady together and win multiple championships, but Yao was forced to retire early due to injury.
Bargnani’s NBA career was a disappointment, especially held to the standard of successful number one picks that came before him. We will end up putting him on a list alongside names like Pervis Ellison, Joe Smith, Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi. But considering his body of work, even if you have to look closely to see it, Bargnani was far from the worst first overall pick ever. A decade ago, Bargnani entered the league with the Raptors and averaged 11.6 points in his rookie season, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Brandon Roy.
The Raptors went through a resurgence in Bryan Colangelo’s first season as general manager, winning the Atlantic Division, and appeared positioned to build around Bargnani and Chris Bosh. When Dirk Nowitzki was asked about Bargnani during his rookie season, he scoffed at the notion that “every tall, white shooter who comes over is going to be compared to me,” before adding: “Sky’s the limit for him.” Even LeBron James called him “a junior Dirk” after playing the Raptors that season. It was, in some ways, similar to the praise Kristaps Porzingis received in his rookie season last year.
While a player like Porzingis has flashed enough potential on both ends of the floor to lift the ceiling on what he can ultimately become, Bargnani never developed other parts of his game to become a more complete layer. Defensively, he was a liability throughout his career. On offense, the skillset that made it possible to envision him as an elite stretch forward in the league deteriorated. Toward the latter parts of his career, Bargnani was a below average shooter from beyond the arc, taking away the one discernible skill that made him viable on the floor.
Despite that, after Bosh chose to join LeBron and Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2010, Bargnani averaged a career high 21.4 points (on 17.8 shots per game, also a career high) the following season in Toronto, and followed that up by scoring 19.5 points per game the year after. The offensive production was there in terms of the raw numbers, but the Raptors were never competitive in those years. In fact, if we’re to draw on Duncan’s two-decade long influence on the Spurs organization, Bargnani’s impact has been felt in a much different way.
As part of the trade to acquire him, the Knicks surrendered a first round pick to Toronto, which landed in the lottery this year. The absence of the pick has not forced New York’s team building process in a particular direction, but it certainly played a part in its decision to move toward a win-now approach this summer by trading for Derrick Rose and signing Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee to take advantage of Carmelo Anthony’s remaining years as a premier scorer in the league. Bargnani’s selection and his inability to grow into a franchise cornerstone also forced Colangelo to go down a rabbit hole of roster moves in Toronto to find another player to pair with Bosh, and none of them — Jermaine O’Neal, Shawn Marion, Hedo Turkoglu — panned out, eventually costing him his general manager job.
Still, Bargnani was a serviceable player for several seasons in the league, and in the “worst first overall pick ever” discussion, names like Kwame Brown and Anthony Bennett (who, coincidentally, will be joining Bargnani’s most recent team, the Nets) still top that list. Bargnani isn’t even the worst bust in the lottery from his draft class, a year when Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Patrick O’Bryant, and Mouhamed Sene were taken in the top ten.
What will make Bargnani stand out is the slot in which he was taken, but also the fact that he simply never truly had a definable moment in the NBA. Bargnani arrived, flashed his skills for a few seasons, then slowly retreated, disappearing into a void where he rarely left an impact on any game he played in. If this is indeed the end of his run, that will be the story of his NBA career. The latest forgettable first overall pick, and a reminder that landing the top selection is only half the battle, sometimes even less than that.