Monday, December 29, 2008

Brandon Roy Continues to Torment Bryan Colangelo

Toronto Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo has always stubbornly defended the decision he made when he selected Andrea Bargnani with the first overall draft pick in the 2006 draft. Brandon Roy, taken sixth in that same draft, continues to offer damning evidence to suggest that Colangelo got it dead wrong.

As witnessed by Portland’s comfortable 102-89 win over the Toronto Raptors Saturday night, it was once again Brandon Roy who played a vital role in guiding his team to victory, while Bargnani came and went like Toronto’s first half double digit lead.

Roy scored 32-points which was the same amount the Raptors could muster as a team for the second half. He was 14-for-19 from the field and combined with nine assists, it easily outshone Bargnani’s contribution of 13-points, which included shooting 3-for-4 from three-point range and two rebounds.

In the five times that these two players have now faced each other, Roy averages 24.2 points, (on 55-percent shooting) six rebounds and over eight assists. Bargnani averages a paltry seven points, (on 34-percent shooting), less than three rebounds and has dished out a total of only three assists in those five contests.

Regardless of whether or not he was thinking of a long term project or a short term gain, if Colangelo could have that one franchise-changing night from June 28, 2006 all over again, there is absolutely no doubt whom he would have chosen with that crucial first pick.

The prospective gap between Roy and Bargnani’s careers right now, is as wide as the distance between Oregon and Rome. As one player heads towards superstar status, the other heads towards being labeled a super bust.

Roy was Rookie of the Year in his first season and an All-Star in just his second. While he plots his course to greatness with the Portland Trail Blazers, Bargnani meekly plods along with the spluttering Toronto Raptors, occasionally hitting three-pointers but providing his team with little else.

While the frustration continues for Colangelo as he watches his Raptors limp along at sub .500 pace, how often he must ask himself that unanswerable “What if?” question. Just ‘What if’ the name above the number seven jersey for the Raptors said “Roy” instead of Bargnani ? Where might the Raptors be right now ?

It must be even harder for Colangelo to watch Royas he elevates himself to one of the leagues elite, confidently and calmly taking the new Trail blazers with him. Almost single handedly, Roy has buried the ugly “Jail Blazers” tag deep away from Portland.

This once tarnished franchise seems now a million miles away from the dark days of those player arrests and continual controversy.

Bargnani and the Raptors however, have made little progress together. Two playoff appearances in two seasons has been an improvement after some barren years since the Vince Carter days, but in reality, Toronto is no closer to being a serious contender than it was back at the early part of this decade.

If that draft of ’06 taught us anything, it was again a case of how an inexact science drafting talent can be. Despite what any of the scouts and experts says, there is simply no way of knowing for sure, exactly how a player will develop and adjust to the rigors of the NBA.

There was no possible way to determine that in less than three full seasons, Roywould already be being mentioned in the same breaths as the current crop of the NBA’s best, along side names such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul.

The name Brandon Roy could easily complete that quartet.

The only comparisons Bargnani is making right now is to the more cringe worthy names such as Kwame Brown and Michael Olowakandi. Both were former number one picks, both complete busts. It’s enough to make Raptors fans shudder.

When Colangelo watches Roy as he drives easy into the lane, he must wonder how Chris Bosh would look on the receiving end of one of Roy’s crisp passes. Instead Colangelo is only constantly reminded of Bargnani’s ineptness, for when he catches the ball, there is often a look of utter confusion on his face and what’s expected from him within his own team’s offense.

Surely too, Colangelo couldn’t help but also allow his mind to wander to the summer of 2010 and wistfully ponder the prospect of having both Roy and Bosh together lobbying another of the other glorious free-agents to-be to join them north of the border. Instead, right now it appears right now as though Colangelo will need to plead desperately with Bosh to convince him to stick around in Toronto.

Roy and Bargnani do share some common elements to their game in that neither player seems suited to play only one position. Roy can seamlessly slide from the two-guard to playing the point-guard spot, occasionally even fitting into the three if he is needed there. Bargnani always seems to be in a ‘square peg in a round hole’ situation, too big for the small forward, to slow for the power spot and just not agile enough for a center.

This has forced the Raptors to have to yank him around from position to position, from a starter to a bench player and back again, trying any and every combination to find the right fit.

They haven’t found it yet.

From a 16-points-per-game average in his rookie campaign, Roy is now safely in the coveted 20-point plateau this season, averaging 23 per game, tied for 10th best in the league.

He knows what’s expected from him and he delivers, never looking to make a statement about himself, only for the team which he carries on his broad shoulders. Unlike many of his predecessors, Roy doesn’t need tattoos or earrings to draw attention to himself, he’s more old fashioned and he lets his game do the talking.

Recently, after he scored a career-high 52 points in a win against the Phoenix Suns, he shrugged at his achievement “My No. 1 goal is to win. Not to be the MVP. Not to be the All-Star,”

Others can talk about him; he just wants to talk about his team.

Bargnani, over the same timeframe has seen his production slowly regress each year. From a respectable 11 points-per-game average in his first year, to now averaging less than 10 points-per-game this season. Furthermore, the one strength that the Italian did possess – the three pointers also seems to have deserted him.

He’s making less per game now and shooting them at a lower percentage than he did in his first season.

The only statement Bargnani has made to date has been that maybe he doesn’t belong on the Toronto Raptors and maybe not even in the NBA.

Bargnani’s problem is that he looks literally like he’s too big for his own shoes. When he gets the ball at the top of the paint, if he doesn’t take the three-pointer he looks totally unsure of how to create any sort of opportunity for himself or his team mates.

On the occasions that he does take the ball into the lane, it is so awkward, so premeditated that the result is often ugly. Defenders often just stand there and wait for him to barrel into the lane and try to draw him into an offensive foul.

Ironically, when Roy has the ball, he too doesn’t make his mind up until the last second either, simply because he’s not quite sure which of his vast array of weapons he’s going to use. A spin around jump shot or a drive inside the lane finishing with either hand or maybe he’ll just dish off to an open team mate, whatever Roy decides to do, he always seems to know what to do and precisely the right moment when to do it.

And he usually gets it right.

Maybe it’s too early and even unfair to judge these two players against one another. Perhaps Bargnani will “get it” one day and perhaps Roy has peaked already, but both scenarios seem unlikely in the extreme right now.

Bryan Colangelo has a reputation for sharp suits and ties, but no matter how suave he looks, nothing will let him have that night all over again.

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