Bargnani reveals skills gradually

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

The glimpses are still brief, but telling.

Yes, the big picture tells us that Andrea Bargnani has much to learn and far to go before he is an impact player in the NBA. But there are a handful of snapshots from each game that tell us how far he has come in a very short period of time.

A month into his first NBA season, Bargnani's apprenticeship has passed, barely, beyond the deer-in-the-headlights phase. He still makes mistakes. He still makes errors in judgment. Decisions that one day will be instinctive are still being imprinted on his brain.

But even the demands of adjusting to the best basketball league in the world can't mask the weapons that Bargnani brought with him from Italy for his rookie season.

Last night was typical of the progress he has made. He entered the game with a few ticks more than four minutes left in the first quarter and within a few seconds he had blocked an Al Jefferson shot, a rare but subtle flash of defence in a quarter when the Celtics shot an incredible 77% from the floor.

But there was nothing subtle about the monster dunk he authored halfway through the second quarter. Taking a pass from T.J. Ford, Bargnani thundered down the lane and elevated his seven-foot body a full two feet above the rim, slamming it home to give Toronto a 41-39 lead.

'ELECTRIFIED'

"That just electrified everybody on the bench," said assistant coach Jim Todd.

"I give it a 10 out of 10," said injured teammate Mo Peterson. "He is so long. He got way up there."

A few minutes later, Bargnani made a brilliant, leaping pass to Anthony Parker for an assist on an easy layup, another sign that Bargnani is learning. Passing the ball has not been his first instinct but this one was a beauty.

In the second half, Bargnani nailed a three-ball, the only one of the night for the Raptors, who have now hit a three in 630 consecutive games.

"Every day I feel more comfortable," said Bargnani. "Every day I get a little more confidence, but I know that for everything I have learned, there is much more that I still have to learn.

"It's basketball."

It's also a lot of pressure. Consider all the weight that rests on the 21-year-old's shoulders. Not only does he wear the pressure of the NBA's No. 1 draft choice, he is wearing the mantle of all of Europe, as the first player from that continent to be picked first overall.

Unlike most players, there is little chance he could travel under the radar while he makes his rookie mistakes, learning his craft as he goes along.

Coach Sam Mitchell has suggested that for a player such as Bargnani with multiple skills, it can be even more difficult to make the transition. The coach figures that a player with one dominant skill -- a shooter, for example -- needs only to concentrate on what he does well, which is shoot.

A player such as Bargnani, who can shoot, play the power game and defend, can sometimes get himself in trouble by thinking too much.

He also has been foul-prone, often getting himself in quick trouble which can reduce his minutes. A good many of those fouls are "rookie" fouls that would not be called on a veteran, whether the officials want to admit it or not.

"Yeah, he's a rookie," concedes Parker. "But, man, he's the No. 1 pick. That should count for something. They've got to cut him a little slack."

Parker, who as a returnee from Europe, appreciates all that Bargnani has to deal with, both on the court and off.

"He's doing a great job," said Parker. "He's doing the work and he is learning when to shoot, when to put it on the floor, when to swing it. I think everybody recognizes that Andrea is making huge progress."

In the end, the Raptors as a team, did what they had to do to beat the Celtics last night, making the plays they had to make down the stretch to win 106-102.

And also in the end, it was another brick in the foundation of what will no doubt be a long NBA career for Bargnani.


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