Monday, April 14, 2008

The phrase 'higher ceiling' must mean something different in Canadian

It's natural to develop an affinity for players you cover. As you spend time and get to know players better you discover sides of their personalities that few other people get to see. It's easily my favorite thing about this job.

But it can also be a bit of a curse. It's not really a big deal for me, as I work for the team and hence, no one really expects or assumes that I'm impartial. That's not to say that I don't call it as I see it, but I'm admittedly biased.

Having said all of that, I'm hardly qualified to throw stones when it comes to overvaluing skills or overlooking flaws of certain players, but throw stones I shall. While answering some fan mail, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star made a few statements regarding LaMarcus Aldridge and Andrea Bargnani that I found so patently flawed that they require rebuttal. First, the Q & A:
Q: Andrea Bargnani, 10.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 39% shooting
LaMarcus Aldridge, 17.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg 48.5% shooting

Are you still naive enough to believe that the Raps made the right decision in drafting Bargnani? How credible is the argument that Bargnani has a higher ceiling than Aldridge when Aldridge is already showing signs of becoming one of the best power forwards in the game at the age of 22.

How can you argue that "Aldridge and Bosh together would not work" when Bargnani and Bosh have yet to develop chemistry in almost 2 seasons together?

When will the Toronto media admit that drafting Bargnani was an ill-advised decision by Bryan Colangelo?

I think if the Raptors had Aldridge on their roster this season they would be at the very least a 45-win team with a lot more room for growth. They now find themselves on the brink of ending this season .500, without any contributions from the 2006 1st overall pick and with much uncertainty about Bargnani's future.

Kareem E, Toronto

A: Naïve? Moi? Come on.

The argument that Bargnani has a higher ceiling than Aldridge is not only credible, I’d suggest it’s obvious. While Bargnani has not nearly reached his potential yet (and he probably took a step back this year), he shoots the ball at range, has a better handle than Aldridge and is bigger and stronger.

Aldridge one of the best power forwards in the game? You’re kidding right. He’s okay for a 22-year, yes; one of the best in the game? Come on. How about: Duncan, Garnett, Stoudemire, Nowitzki, Boozer, Brand, Rasheed, Jamison, Bosh, Gasol. There’s 10 head and shoulders better than Aldridge right now.

Maybe when their careers are over, or maybe a year from now, we can revisit this debate. After two seasons, I’m not ready to give up on Bargnani, and to render this discussion even more moot, neither is Bryan Colangelo or Sam Mitchell and they’re the only two guys who really count.

Now the rebuttal. Might as well start from the top.

"The argument that Bargnani has a higher ceiling than Aldridge is not only credible, I’d suggest it’s obvious."

Uhh, really? Stating that Bargani has "a higher ceiling" than Aldridge is at best debatable, at worst false. There's no way it's obvious. Not even close. Granted, it's just about impossible to quantity "ceiling" but for the sake of argument, let's use admittedly flawed player-based comparisons to test out Smith's claim.

LaMarcus Aldridge's ceiling: Kevin Garnett.

Andrea Bargnani's ceiling: Dirk Nowitzki.

(If you've got better comparisons, I'd love to hear 'em.)

Between those two guys, who would you take? That's an easy one for me. Would anyone outside of Toronto and maybe Italy claim that it's "obvious" Bargnani has more upside than Aldridge if you accept that these "ceiling" comparisons are, at least on a cursory level, accurate? Heck, who outside of members of the Andrea Bargnani fan club would say he has a higher ceiling than Aldridge straight up?

Moreover, how many GM's, let alone fans of the game, would claim that Aldridge isn't all but certain to be a better player now and forever? My guess would be not that many.

Next claim.

"While Bargnani has not nearly reached his potential yet (and he probably took a step back this year), he shoots the ball at range, has a better handle than Aldridge and is bigger and stronger."

Oy vey. That's just ... I don't even know how to react to that. I mean, really? Honest and for true?

To say Bargnani "probably took a step back this year" is like saying the KG and Ray Allen probably improved the Celtics this year. From last season to the current, Bargani's stats decreased in (deep breath): minutes, field goal percentage (by a lot), three point percentage, steals, blocks, assists, points, PER and most likely a couple other categories that I'm too lazy to look up. At the risk of sounding unprofessional, he stunk. Big time.

But that's between Bargs and the Raptors; I'm here to defend LaMarcus Aldridge. To that end, Bargnani has (at least for now) better range than Aldridge and probably better handles. But "bigger and stronger"? That's specious on a good day.

I guess in the empirical sense Bargnani is technically larger, seeing how he's listed at 7-0, 250 lbs. to Aldridge's 6-11, 240 lbs., but in basketball terms, would anyone consider Bargnani "bigger"? Does it matter that you're 7-foot when your game is perimeter oriented? I'd answer a resounding "no" to both of those questions.

What's more, anyone who saw LaMarcus take his shirt off during the Laker game knows the dude is cut up. Straight stung. Swoll. Anyone want to make that claim about Bargnani? Anyone?

And Bargnani is stronger than Aldridge? Not a chance. That's so patently false that it almost doesn't warrant mentioning. In the weight room, on the court, on the playground, at a "World's Strongest Man" competition, in an arm wresting tournament. It doesn't matter. Mentally and physically, LaMarcus Aldridge is all day, every day stronger than Andrea Bargnani. Write that down on a piece of paper and mail it to five friends. Then tell them to mail it to five friends.

In regards to Smith's assertion that Aldridge isn't one of the best power forwards in the game, that's a straw man argument. Kareem E. from Toronto didn't claim L.A. is one of the best power forwards in the league, he stated that at 22, Aldridge is "showing signs of becoming one of the best power forwards in the game." What person who follows the NBA would argue that point?

In fact, Aldridge's sophomore stats compare well to the second year numbers of almost all the players Smith trots out as better than L.A. Can you say that at 22, Andrea Bargnani is showing signs of becoming anything other than a sub-par No. 1 pick? You can't. I'm guessing that players who get significantly worse in their second season, after the often cushy NBA life sets in, rarely end up becoming the player they had the potential to be.

This is what it boils down to: LaMarcus Aldridge took on a huge role in his second season. His team's record improved dramatically (in a historically tough Western Conference), as did his statistics. On the other hand, Andrea Bargnani reacted to increased expectations in his second season by slumping hard. His team's record worsened (in a historically bad Eastern Conference), as did his statistics. Neither player is wholly responsible for improvement or lack thereof of their respective teams, but give credit where credit is due.

And just so we're clear, that credit should go to LaMarcus.


Vito said...

You are the man Casey, hit the nail right in the head.
I knew it from the begining. Why draft a permiter 7-footer first overall. No offense but even in the long run Tyrus Thomas seems a better option.
The only thing you are wrong on is Lamarcus sadly will never be KG and Andrea will never be Dirk. But Aldridge will be a hell of a lot closer to KG and Andrea will ever to Dirk.

Casey Holdahl said...

I would tend to agree that neither Aldridge or Bargnani will end up being as good as the comparisons I made, but I thought as long as we were talking about "high ceilings" I'd pick the highest.

Having said that, I think LA has a much better chance of getting to KG's level thank Bargs has of getting to Dirk's level.

Rudy said...

Great Re-but! Let's not forget that those homers in Toronto were also the same sports writer/s to not vote for Brandon Roy as rookie of the year. The guy voted for Bargnani because, "Unless you see him every day, you can't truly appreciate what he does for the Raptors." Whatever you say, dude. I'm glad the Raps are so happy with Andrea. If they are so delusional, maybe that means they will trade Calderon to us for Jack?

Sophia said...


I watch every did I miss LA taking his shirt off...?

man im surfing youtube right now

on a pertinant note, this is no biased opinion its facts v facts...that other one from Toronto is on one, and yes if it werent for Toronto Broy would have won Rookie of the year unanimously(sp?)

PS- Im Italian..and as much as I loveeee to root for my countryman, Andrea has been at best, mediocre(remember they are in the east so they get to play the Nets and the like 4 times..) nothing we should shout to the hilltops about...he wishes he could be like Dirk... GOoo blazers :)

Casey Holdahl said...

I think it was sometime in the second quarter of the Laker game. If I'm not mistaken, he had some blood on his jersey.

On a related note, LaMarcus walks around shirtless at the practice facility WAY more than anyone else on the team. He's just one of those guys.

blazerchic said...

i went to the star link and read another blogger question, which was for smith to pick any 5 players from the last few drafts to start a franchise with. he mentioned roy and oden, but of course listed bargnani as well. build your franchise around bargnani? what a joke. his love affair with andrea is perplexing. but that's what they say about love.....
anyway, if that's the dufus who voted for bargnani as r.o.y., then at least he's consistent.
i didn't see your great rebuttal on the star website, how come?

Casey Holdahl said...

Well blazerchic, I have a forum (this blog) that allows me to convey my thoughts. I say what I feel on my turf.

But as an employee of the Trail Blazers Communications Department, it's probably not the best idea for me to call out members of the media on their turf, even if it's done using facts and logic in a respectful manor.

As far as picking 5 players to start a team with, I sure as hell wouldn't use a roster spot on Bargnani. I'm an admitted homer, but that's simply preposterous. I'm guessing if Smith was plunking his cash down for a franchise, he might reconsider.