Minutes missing for Bargnani

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:02 PM ET

Look to Jorge Garbajosa for that honour.

But the reason why Bargnani is not being touted as a possible rookie of the year isn't because he is not talented as originally projected by the Raptors when they drafted him No. 1 this past summer, nor that he may be attending too many Knights of Columbus dinners.

It's a simple question of minutes. Of all the rookies in the NBA this season, Bargnani is a surprising 19th overall in that department, averaging just 9.2 per game.

Adam Morrison, who was drafted third overall by the Charlotte Bobcats, is playing 32.7 minutes per game, No. 6 pick Brandon Roy of the Portland TrailBlazers, is getting 32.4 per game and the eighth overall pick, Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies, is receiving 23.6.

And on it goes. Not only is the seven-foot Italian getting fewer minutes than most of the other lottery picks in this year's draft, he is playing considerably less than guys such as Kyle Lowry of Memphis (18.3), who was drafted 24th overall, and Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz (9.7), 47th.

Even Yakhouba Diawara, a rookie free agent with the Denver Nuggets, is playing twice as much as Bargnani (18.6). Admit it. You've never heard of Diawara.

Which raises the question: Is Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, the man who had the final say in drafting Bargnani first overall, satisfied with the fact that his prize catch is playing 9.2 minutes per game?

And, if not, is he pressuring head coach Sam Mitchell to play the rookie more?

Mitchell is in the final year of a contract, with nothing guaranteed for next year, so his prime focus this season is to win. If he doesn't, he is out.

Colangelo also wants to win, but it is also important to him that Bargnani develops into an NBA star.

On the surface, there seems to be a conflict of interest. But neither party sees it that way -- at least for the record.

Mitchell has nothing but good things to say about Bargnani. Of course, part of the problem is fouls. Bargnani is averaging one foul for about every four minutes.

For his part, Colangelo is hesitant, even a little irritated, to discuss the issue of minutes for his No. 1 pick.

"Sam and I talk about the development of the entire team and the role of all players, but nothing special regarding him," he said.

If that's true, you have to wonder how long it will last.

If the Raps win and Bargnani plays nine minutes a game, then fine. Great. But if the team struggles and Mitchell stays with his vets, you know there will come a time when the GM will start to wonder when Bargnani is going to get more minutes.

But Colangelo is not a GM to push the panic button, or second-guess his coach. He has preached patience in terms of Bargnani's development, and maintains that the 21-year-old was drafted looking at the big picture, and not just to get the club over the hump this season.

"The fact that our team has the depth that it has and certain individuals have stepped up and contributed, we are afforded the opportunity to bring along Andrea slowly," Colangelo said, adding that he wants to see Bargnani progress "as quickly as possible."

There have been reports in the media this week that Mitchell has warned Bargnani about spreading himself too thin away from the court and has challenged him to focus more on his game. Colangelo has no problem with that, adding that it's tough for first-year players to find that balance.

"There is an unusually high demand for interviews, photo sessions, etc., for the No. 1 pick, not to mention one that has an entire country on the edge of their seats. It's something Andrea and his representative need to find a balance with," he said. "But we see a young player committed to become better as a basketball player and, with time, he will become the player we drafted."

REPORT CARD

B Offence: The Raptors shot 47% and managed 88 shots, but picked up only 12 second-chance points.

C Defence: The Raptors were not tough enough in the paint, allowing the Hawks to score 52 from that area. The Hawks shot 50% and out-rebounded the Raptors, 48-40.


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