The evolution of Andrea Bargnani continues.
The enigmatic former No. 1 overall selection reached a new level with a dominating 41-point, seven-rebound, six-assist games against the Knicks in New York on Wednesday.
While many wondered if Bargnani’s game would slip minus perennial all-star Chris Bosh, instead, it has gone the other way.
No longer a timid flinger of deep shots, seemingly allergic to the paint, the confident Roman has grabbed seven or more rebounds in six of his past seven games and averaged about 22 points a night over that stretch, despite misfiring on 85% of his shots from three.
“We found him different areas where he could be effective,” said Raptors head coach Jay Triano. “If there is a five (centre) playing him, then we spread the floor. If there’s a (swingman) we try to get him touches down low.
“His game is consistently evolving. His post play has been a lot better than it has been any other year and we’re not afraid to get it to him (there).”
The results have changed and so has Bargnani’s demeanour. Fist pumps and excitement have replaced the non-plussed aloofness observers grew to associate with the now five-year veteran.
Off the court, he has also been far more animated in his interactions with the media ... except perhaps, when quizzed Thursday about his success against the Knicks.
“Of course everybody wants to touch the ball. Next question,” he said when asked about his season-high 24 field-goal attempts.
“It was not that I was making crazy shots or something unbelievable,” he continued. “I was making easy shots inside the paint.
“They had (small forward) Wilson Chandler on me. That was part of the game-plan. The goal was to get the ball inside.”
On Wednesday, Bargnani was also the facilitator of the offence. He looked more effective moving the ball to teammates than the departed Bosh — never the greatest passer — ever did.
“That’s something new, I still have to get used to it,” Bargnani said of facing more double-teams. “I think I’ve been getting much better at that with experience. It is something that is going to come.”
Earlier in the season, the Raptors had success going to Bargnani early in games but oddly went away from finding him as much in second halves.
According to Triano, the reason why his star player is getting more involved is simply because he is letting his teammates know he wants to be.
“Part of that is on him, where he has to demand the basketball down in the low blocks area and not take the ball outside all the time,” Triano said.
“(Against New York) he was very good at demanding the ball down low.”
The next step for Bargnani is to continue his offensive success and work on the boards while also getting his block and three-point shooting numbers back up to where they were a year ago.
As guard DeMar DeRozan pointed out when defending his own recent struggles (and those of the team’s other swingmen), Bargnani was 1-for-18 from three-point range of late and down to a career-low 33% from deep, before sinking 2-for-3 against the Knicks.
Bargnani has also gone four games without blocking a shot and is averaging half as many blocked shots as he did a season ago.
Putting it all together and doing so consistently will determine whether Bargnani is an NBA all-star the franchise can rely on, or just one of the many talented players in the league who can burn opponents once in a while.