Toronto Raptors Andrea Bargnani reacts after hitting a shot during their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City

The Inbounds: The Pierre-Bargnani Defensive Mirror


Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Some of you will be aware of this, but for those of you aren’t, let me catch you up real quick. You know how Andrea Bargnani has this reputation as being the very definition of a horrible defender? It’s not entirely a fictional archetype, but it’s also not really so much in love with the truth that the two have announced the relationship on Facebook. Synergy Sports ranked Bargnani in the 88th percentile in post defense on a per-possession basis, and the 56th percentile in isolation defense last season (with a gaudy 95th percentile overall). It wasn’t all Dwane Casey’s wizardry last season (though his work with Bargnani’s defense should not be ignored, but we’ll get there. In 2011, he was 47th percentile in post and 83rd percentile in isolation. 2010? 72nd percentile in the post, 28th in isolation. Bear in mind these numbers are regardless of the number of possessions, so someone that defended in the post once successfully logs in at the top of the chart. So basically, he’s even better than these numbers indicate, relative to his position.

But as so many people that don’t understand nuance, statistics, or empirical information suggest, “numbers don’t tell the whole story.” It’s easy to say that, but what about who he was guarding, etc. Unfortunately, if you have too much time on your hands, as I have over the past four years, you can actually watch the game video and discover that, whoops, often Bargnani was actually defending the better offensive threat due to his raw height. Surprise! Andrea Bargnani is a pretty good man defender. Let your world shake into a new comfort. Even with the problems afforded Synergy and the metrics used in that glorious environment, it’s impossible to deny that Bargnani at least does a decent job of distracting the guy he’s matched up with into missing his shot a lot of the time.

But notice I said “man defender” there and not “defender.” Because the reason Bargnani has so consistently been set aflame by Twitter, bloggers, and your average Raptors fan is because he is, at his heart, an absolutely atrocious help defender. He never crowds the lane on perimeter penetration. He doesn’t nail the weakside block. He fails to rotate the first time, much less the second, and too often is already out of position for a rebound when the ball is in the air. There’s a lot to dislike.

Modern NBA defensive criticism is interesting because it specifically targets centers with fault for failing to cover for the mistakes of their teammates. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Why is it Andrea Barganani’s fault that Jose Calderon can’t contain perimeter penetration? Why should Bargnani have to clean up the mess for DeMar DeRozan? No one’s blasting wing defenders for not committing to the double team when Bargnani’s outmatched. This isn’t to suggest Bargnani’s victimized, it’s fair criticism. It’s just worth noting that for a fanbase that tends to lean towards traditional models of personal responsibility, we hold centers culpable for the wellbeing of the entire defensive state. They’re supposed to raise themselves up by the bootstraps and take care of their neighbor, so to speak.

And in another way, it’s hard to fault Bargnani for the thought process. He’s essentially torched because he fails to abandon the man he’s been tasked with keeping from scoring.  Think about that. He’s a bad defender because he carries out his assignment too much (while failing to execute other assignments that, depending on the time, have a greater priority). That, again, seems contradictory to our model of what we hold one another too. But it’s how it is, and when you consider the essential manner each defender is dependent on every other, the criticism rings true.

So what does Bargnani need to do this next season to make the major leap forward he started last season prior to injury? He needs to emulate JaVale McGee. And McGee needs to be like the seven-foot Italian. McGee is a block machine. He’s able to swat nearly any shot out of the air, even hooks from seven footers. He can alter any possession with his athleticism, and has great timing when he manages to channel his boundless energy into a significant play.

He also has defensive ADD. He sees the rabbit and dives after it, despite the electronic collar. He’s always chasing the weakside block. Too often he goes to close on a driving player who has been successfully corralled by a teammate, only to lose his man who sneaks weakside for the dump-off score. He’s chasing the bunny rabbit and loses the buck behind him.

So Bargnani is hammered for not helping his teammates enough, and McGee is hammered because he abandons his responsibility in pursuit of helping those same teammates too often.

But for each, it may mean something different. McGee speaks of wanting to lead the league in blocks. If you have the ability to defend the shot, even if your teammate has it well covered and the player is unlikely to convert, how can you not swat that thing? If you have your guy locked down, why are you worried about what someone else was or was not able to do?

We’ve seen over the past four-to-six years a familiar trend from the past reasserting itself. Older big men are blossoming. It’s really 26-plus when players come into their own. Because nowadays, system defense is what matters, what makes an impact, and that takes time to add to a skillset. Bargnani is 26. McGee is 24. To make the adjustments they need to reach the next level, it means letting go of their own personal concepts of right and wrong defensively, and playing as one cog in a greater system. The singular great defensive player is gone, even Tyson Chandler relies on teammates funneling players to where he can achieve.

If the two hyper-long freak athletes are going to fulfill their potential, they have to recognize the value of what’s on the other side of the mirror. It’s not a skill question, an ability question, or toughness question. It’s just bout understanding the big picture and being able to bridge those gaps in knowledge. If they can, the big men in the league could be in for a jolt. Defense has evolved from checkers to chess, and next season represents a chance for the young players to learn the game they’ve been fumbling through for years.

Watch as DeMar DeRozan drop 40, lead Raptors to 109-91 win over Pistons

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 40 points and Jonas Valanciunas added a career-high 32 as the Toronto Raptors opened their season with a 109-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.

DeRozan made a career-high 17 field goals on 27 shots and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line, while Valanciunas was 10 for 15 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds. Valanciunas’ previous career high was 31, also against the Pistons, on Jan. 12, 2015.

Tobias Harris had 22 points and Marcus Morris had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who lost for the eighth time in their last 11 games against Toronto.

DeRozan broke Vince Carter‘s opening-night record of 39 points, set against the-then New Jersey Nets in 2003. Alvin Robertson is the only other Toronto player to record a 30-point opening-night game, in the franchise’s first-ever game, also against New Jersey, in 1995.

Pascal Siakam, drafted 27th overall in June, became the first Toronto rookie to start a season opener since Valanciunas in 2012, and rose to the occasion, hauling in nine rebounds to go along with four points in 21 minutes.

Despite falling into a seven-point deficit 2:09 into the game, the Raptors went in front on a jumper by DeRozan with 6:47 to go in the first quarter and led the rest of the way.

DeRozan and Valanciunas steadied the ship in the opening quarter, driving to the basket and drawing fouls. They were a combined 13 for 13 from the free throw line and scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, as the Raptors took a 33-23 lead after one quarter.

While Detroit responded against Toronto’s reserves in the second, drawing within four points early on through Morris, Valanciunas returned to the game and added another 11 points as the Raptors pulled into a 58-46 halftime lead.

DeRozan provided much of the fireworks in the third quarter, scoring 21 points as Toronto pulled away to lead 86-71 going into the final 12 minutes.


Pistons: C Andre Drummond took a hard elbow to the face from Valanciunas at the start of the game and remained down on the court. Detroit was forced to burn a full timeout, but Drummond returned to the court. . Henry Ellenson, Detroit’s first-round draft pick last June (18th overall) went scoreless in two minutes of play, while second-round selection Michael Gbinije (49th overall), had two points in two minutes.

Raptors: C Lucas Nogueira (ankle) sat out. . DeRozan started his franchise-record eighth straight season opener, breaking a tie with Carter. . Kyle Lowry‘s basket with 3:58 remaining in the first quarter broke the monopoly of Valanciunas and DeRozan, who had scored all the points up to that point. . First-round draft pick Jakob Poeltl became the first Austrian to play in the NBA. He finished with two points in 13 minutes. . Oct. 26 is the earliest date that Toronto has ever had a home opener. . The Raptors are 13-9 on opening night and have won four straight.


PBT Extra: Spurs showed Warriors have work to do defensively

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Nobody expected what happened Tuesday night in the Bay Area.

If you had said “San Antonio would beat Golden State by five” most people would have said that’s a possibility — but nobody saw a 29-point thrashing. A game where the Spurs were never threatened and where Kawhi Leonard looked like the MVP.

What does it mean? In this PBT Extra I talk about how the Spurs showed the Warriors they have some work to do on the defensive end. The Warriors clearly miss the rim protection and rebounding of Andrew Bogut, and they are going to have to make that up as a team (because Zaza Pachulia is no Bogut). The Warriors also have 81 more games to figure it out.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has it figured out.



Anthony Davis becomes first player since Michael Jordan to score 50 in opener – and adds 16-5-7-4

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 26:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots over Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter at the Smoothie King Center on October 26, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

An astounding 86% of general managers said one year ago Anthony Davis was their preferred choice to build a franchise around.

An underwhelming season by the Pelicans put Davis in a strange light, and he ended the year sidelined due to injury.

Asked the same question this year, general managers gave Karl-Anthony Towns took a plurality of votes. Davis also plunged behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

Well, Davis sent a message to those who no longer view him as an elite franchise cornerstone. His opening-night performance:

  • 50 points
  • 16 rebounds
  • 5 assists
  • 7 steals
  • 4 blocks

The last player to score 50 in a season opener was Michael Jordan in 1989. No player since at least 1983-84 has matched Davis’ stat line across the five major categories in any game.

Yes, New Orleans lost – 107-102 to the Nuggets. But Davis’ teammates shot 36% from the field and 18% on 3-pointers.

Davis produced an all-time great individual performance. That the rest of the Pelicans couldn’t keep up says only so much.

He just knows how to make a splash in season openers.

76ers on blocking anthem singer wearing ‘WE MATTER’ jersey: ‘We use our games to bring people together’

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01:  Actress Sevyn Streeter speaks onstage during the 'Ringside' panel discussion at the TV One portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Sevyn Streeter said the 76ers prevented her from singing the national anthem at tonight’s game because she was wearing a “WE MATTER” jersey:

76ers statement:

“The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change. We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community.”

This is a continuation of Carmelo Anthony‘s argument: The emphasis should be on action in communities and there’s no longer a place for gestures like Colin Kaepernick kneeling.

But this needn’t be an either/or discussion. Community-based action is obviously important (though don’t assign responsibility to NBA players to fix racism). Recognizing the width and depth of the problem is necessary – which is why symbols matter, too.

Take Street’s shirt at face value. “We matter.” “Black lives matter.” What’s so offensive about that? There is no implicit “more” attached.

Yet, the 76ers found it antithetical to their brand.

This is why the widespread “unity” message preached by arm-locking NBA players left so much to be desired.

To the 76ers, unity meant silencing Streeter.

Is that what players were demonstrating on behalf of during the preseason? I’m sure that arena was much more united with a 76ers dancer singing the anthem than it would have been with Streeter spotlighted. But sometimes divisiveness is necessary to advance a cause.

If the 76ers don’t want Streeter using their platform to say “WE MATTER,” that’s their right. Not everyone has to support that choice, though.