Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bargs and Boards

Well, well, well...what's happened to Bargs? Suddenly the rookie has discovered there are more interesting things to do with a basketball coming off a backboard then watch it.

The last three games the seven footer has been (for him) on fire in the ribbie department, with a total of 24. That's better than one every four minutes, and wouldn't Sam Mitchell love to see that keep up, considering the minutes Bargs has been logging the last couple of months.

As an example of how stunning a transformation this has been, consider that on February 21st, against the Cavaliers, Bargnani had 7 rebounds. That was more than he totalled in his previous four games. In the two games since then the pace hasn't let up, with 6 rebounds in 25 minutes against the Pacers and 11 in 32 minutes in the Raps most recent outing against Charlotte.

So what is the big rookie doing differently? Consider that all but two of the last three games' rebounds have been defensive. He hasn't changed his offensive game. He still spots up from outside the arc, at the top of the key. His percentage is high enough that he doesn't get many misses coming back to him and he is rarely in position to pickup a rebound under the basket or one coming from a Parker or Peterson shot.

So why the increase in defensive rebounds? Watching him the last few games, he has been making a definite effort to muscle his opponents to positions outside the paint. He has also been leaving them a lot later, when providing help defense. These actions have had three major impacts:

One, he is in physical contact with them more often when a shot goes up. It is far easier to box out an opponent when you are making physical contact, and can maintain that contact as you spin toward the basket. Your opponent has to go around you to get the rebound, and you can beat him most of the time.

Two, if he is not in contact with them, at least they are starting from further out than he is. Bargs is fronting a lot less. Fronting might have been an effective strategy in Europe, where he may have been faster than many of the players he was playing against, but it doesn't work well in the NBA unless there is a significant mismatch in terms of height.

Three, by not being so quick with the help defense, he doesn't give his man a chance to pickup a rebound by sneaking inside while he concentrrates on the other player.

As an aside, looking at the rebounding stats of Charlotte, Indiana and Cleveland, we find that all three teams are in the top ten in rebounds in the league compared to Toronto's 28th spot, with the Bobcats the only one of the three whose opponents average more rebounds. So it's not that these teams aren't capable of rebounding.

Maybe Bargnani has turned a corner. Maybe it's a statistical fluke, but I wouldn't bet on it. The big rookie has shown a steady improvement in his play. His shooting percentage has gone up almost month by month (as has the whole teams, topic for another Blog), his defensive play has improved and he seems altogether more comfortable. I suspect we will see his improved rebounding continue, and maybe he will move up from 9th among rookies to challenge Garbo's 2nd ranking.

We Raptor fans can only hope.