Long way to go yet

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Andrea Bargnani was brutally honest after his up-and-down pre-season came to a close.

"I have to work a lot, I have to improve a lot," the No. 1 overall pick said in the wake of the Raptors' 108-97 loss against the Chicago Bulls Friday night at the United Center. "I have a lot of work to do on everything ... defence, shot."

His flaws came to the forefront in Chicago, where the 7-foot Italian picked up three fouls in his first three minutes and finished with five fouls and three points in 15 minutes.

"I played bad," Bargnani said. "That's it."

That certainly is not it, however, for Bargnani's steep learning curve. The thing to watch with Bargnani is where he'll be in two or three years, not where he is today. If all goes according to plan, he'll eventually be part of a championship contending nucleus.

At the moment, he is an uncomfortable-looking young man still discovering the important details of the NBA game. Bargnani averaged four fouls and 9.6 points in seven pre-season games. He makes regular mistakes on defence and isn't a big factor on the boards.

But there is no doubt Bargnani has potential for greatness. His shooting stroke is a joy to watch and he has the range to swish threes. If the Raptors need instant offence, finding Bargnani for an open shot isn't a bad bet.

However, Bargnani definitely does not have a steady all-around game yet and it would be very surprising to see him in the race for rookie of the year.

The good news is the kid isn't shy. He says, despite a recent ankle injury, he is eager to start playing real games. If he has an open look, Bargnani will not have rookie jitters and pass it up.

And Raptors coach Sam Mitchell should have enough depth to avoid putting Bargnani in troublesome situations.

"I want to start the season," said Bargnani, who received a off-key rendition of Happy Birthday from his teammates after he turned 21 on Thursday.

EXPERIENCE

When the Bulls went back to many of their starters in the fourth quarter, Mitchell kept Bargnani and several of his other young players in the game and they took their lumps. The hope is they'll be better off for the experience down the road.

"I think it made them realize we have a long way to go and this is what we're going to face every night for 82 games," swingman Morris Peterson said.

Mitchell gave the Raptors yesterday off. They'll return to practice today to begin preparing for the season opener Wednesday in New Jersey against the Nets.


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