In a league more star-driven than any other in sports, Andrea Bargnani is now the Raptors’ main man. Whether he likes it or not.
Bargnani the 7-foot former No. 1 overall selection will be counted on to lead a rebuilding Toronto squad in scoring and — if last year’s form holds — shot-blocking and, with perennial all-star Chris Bosh now gone, he is now the closest thing to a face the franchise has. But he won’t come out and say so.
“This is Raptors team,” Bargnani said when asked point-blank if this was his team Monday.
“That’s something you don’t say at the microphone, it’s something you (earn) on the court, practice by practice, game after game,” he said. “It’s something that the team has to give to you, it’s not something you talk about before the season even starts.”
But teammate Sonny Weems did it for him.
“Bargnani is going to step up in a big role, I mean he has to,” Weems said. “He’s basically our guy.”
Indeed. If you are the highest scoring and highest overall draft selection on a club, as Bargnani is, generally, it’s your club and you better go out and prove it. (Jose Calderon is the highest paid Raptor.)
That, at least, Bargnani seems ready to do.
“I have to be a good player, the best player possible and keep getting better,” he said.
To that end, Bargnani put in time as the Italian national team’s marquee player this summer and emerged as a more confident low-post scorer.
No longer the skinny, introverted kid that arrived in Toronto following the 2006 draft, Bargnani seems far more comfortable in his own skin.
He banters with the media now and exudes confidence, even if he won’t admit to his leading man status.
“He’s been progressing every year, getting better every year, to some degree, in the shadow of (Bosh),” Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo said. “He’s going to have a lot more opportunities to score, to express himself on the court.”
Interestingly, Bargnani made it clear that while Bosh will be missed, it wasn’t as if the team was a force with him. “I mean, we didn’t come from a championship last year; we didn’t even make the playoffs,” he said.
Bargnani got used to life as a featured performer when Bosh got injured last season and while with the Italian team and says he learned a lot about dealing with double-teams.
“I was the main guy, I had to score every night, get the touches at the end of the game,” he said.
He will have to put those lessons into action and will need to avoid the peaks and valleys that have followed him throughout his career. He must find consistency and shed his history of varying greatly in terms of efficiency from month-to-month.
The GM is pleased with the progress made by the player his time in Toronto will most be defined around and recognizes much more is expected this season.
Will Bargnani deliver?
“I don’t know how giant a step (he will take, but) there will definitely be a step,” Colangelo said, while admitting that Bargnani’s poor rebounding remains a concern.
“He’s well on his way. You look around the league at the bigs, the 7-footers, who has his versatility and skill-set? Every team that calls wants to ask about Andrea. Is he available? They smell blood in the water.”
But Colangelo has refused to budge and now it is up to Bargnani to reward that faith