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.
"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.