NEW YORK — Not so long ago, Andrea Bargnani said to Raptors president Bryan Colangelo, “What’s going on? Why is everybody looking at me like I can’t play? All I need is 30 minutes a night to be effective.”
How quickly we forget; the league’s pick of the litter averaged 11.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 65 games (25.1 mpg) two seasons ago after a slow start. It was good enough to finish second in rookie honors to Brandon Roy.
Last season a sinus infection, personal problems and inconsistent daylight reduced his efficiency to 10.2 and 3.7 in 78 games (23.9 mpg). Off-season surgery to correct a deviated septum, as well as plenty of time in the weight room (bulked up 7-9 kg) and on the floor restored his confidence.
Still, he was not overly impressive until 10 games ago when Jermaine O’Neal suffered a knee contusion against the Warriors, ensuring him starting minutes at center.
“When Andrea’s time was uneven he tried to do too much too quickly. Consequently he looked awkward, committing dumb fouls and taking bad shots,” Colangelo said via phone on a train from Boston to New York scouting college players. “Now that he knows he’s going to get steady time he’s in the flow and has found his shooting rhythm.”
Before O’Neal went down, Bargnani averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 40 games (21 starts) in 28.2 mpg. Since, his numbers have soared to 22.3 (71-for-130; 54.6 percent) and just over seven in 36.6 in games through Jan. 15.
He established a career high 31 last week against the Bulls in which he also grabbed 10 boards, the highest since Nov. 24 when he had 11 against the Lakers.
“Andrea is skilled enough to play all three frontcourt positions,” Colangelo underlined, “but there’s no doubt his best position now is the five, because he complements Chris (Bosh) so well. Chris is inside-out, Andrea is outside-in.”
“He reminds me of Mehmet Okur. Wayne Embry (team consultant) keeps telling me he’s the second coming of Alvin Adams.”
As the Warriors and Kings fight over Paul Westhead’s services as defensive coach, Mike D’Antoni is showing expertise and innovation in that area he presumably lacked.
In the Knicks’ recent win over the Celtics, everybody justifiably applauded D’Antoni’s strategy to have 211-cm Jared Jeffries greet 185-cm Rajon Rondo in mid-dribble up top and cut him off at the pass. The key element to that tactic, which nobody detected, was not to follow Rondo when he veered off into the corner but instead to crowd Kevin Garnett.
In last week’s victory in New Orleans, D’Antoni employed another novel approach in containing Chris Paul to 23 points (needing 19 shots) and seven assists.
Paul was Wilson Chandler’s assignment. Jeffries played Tyson Chandler. Forward observers duly appreciated the matchup change.
What went unnoticed was how the Knicks defended Paul’s prized pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler. When he ran it, Wilson and Jeffries switched.
Against most teams, that would leave a guard in the compromising position of trying to stop Tyson from catching a lob should Paul get by his new man and into the paint.
For the most part, Jeffries kept Paul in front of him, stifling his effectiveness to find David West and Peja Stojakovic (combined 9-for-32) with a pass in their sweet spots.
Wilson’s strength and hops allowed him to body up Tyson and contest/intercept alley-oops.
In other words, the Knicks defended the lane at all cost, rapidly responding and twisting the night away; matchups be damned. Bernie Madoff wishes he could’ve moved his jewelry that quickly.
I know what you’re asking, because I posed the very same question to myself: Where was D’Antoni’s defensive ingenuity against the Wizards, who shot 59.7 percent (10-for-14 from three), while losing 128-122?
Having no inclination to look it up, I’m taking an educated guess this may be an all-time record for shooting percentage by a team in defeat.
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Chris Paul’s work sheet against the Mavericks tortured Mark Cuban more than the Securities and Exchange Commission. His 33 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and seven steals would be a quadruple double bypass in Miami.
If his splurge had happened in Minnesota versus Dallas, let it be known Ricky Davis is on call for to oversee the recount.
What exactly did we surmise from Paul macerating the Mavericks?
It’s difficult to guard someone while genuflecting.
The last player to reach that virtually unattainable pinnacle (Feb. 17, 1994) was David Robinson — 34 points, 10 blocks, rebounds and assists. Only three others accomplished the feat: Hakeem Olajuwon (18, 16, 10, 11; March 29, ’90); Alvin Robertson (20, 11, 10 and 10 steals; Feb. 2, ’86); and Nate Thurmond (22, 14, 13 and 12 blocks; Nov. 18, ’74).
Of course, had blocks been recorded in Wilt’s heyday it might’ve motivated him to average a quadruple double.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBAfor the New York Post.
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