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Impressed With Coaching North of the Border

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Here's to former Coach of the Year recipient Sam Mitchell for getting off on the right foot this autumn in Toronto.  How he did it was simple: by asking a 6-foot-10 power forward to start playing like one.

According to the Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk, Mitchell asked Andrea Bargnani to go the first three days of training camp without a single three-point attempt, before during or after practices or scrimmages.  The goal of course was to force the former number one overall pick to diversify his offensive arsenal.  Given Bargnani's track record, that sure sounds like the way to go at this point.

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Over his first two seasons in the Association, more than 39 percent of Bargnani's field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc.  That's a lot of time for any forward to be spending on the perimeter, particularly for a big man who checks in at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds.  It didn't help matters that Bargnani regressed significantly as far as efficiency was concerned last season.  His three-point percentage fell from 37.3 to 34.5 percent, and his true shooting dropped from 54.6 to 49.5 percent in his second season.  Though the 22-year-old from Italy managed 10.2 points in 23.9 minutes per game, it took him more than nine field-goal attempts per game to do so, and he barely got to the foul line twice per outing.

Bargnani's performance on the glass and the defensive end weren't too encouraging either.  He has yet to have a season in which he grabbed as many as four rebounds per game, and he wasn't particularly effective defensively in 2007-08.  The Raps were 1.7 points worse per 100 possessions defensively with him off the court than on it, and Bargnani also allowed opponents an effective field goal percentage of 54.6 percent while playing power forward (which is where he spent most of his time) while only putting up an eFG of 44.8 percent of his own at the four.

Perhaps more tellingly, 41 percent of the shots Bargnani allowed while playing power forward met 82games' qualification as 'inside' shots  while only 21 percent of those he took did the same.   Simply put, the guy needs to get more comfortable with playing basketball on the interior.  The Raptors didn't make Bargnani the top draft pick in 2006 to have him take minutes at power forward and center while playing a bigger, slower version of small forward or off-guard.  Bargnani has the size to be an effective post player, and his sweet shooting touch and decent big man quickness should be assets that help make him more dangerous.  His offensive game should not amount to over-reliance on his outside shooting.

If Bargnani can improve his mid-range pull-up and use his touch to increase his accuracy on turn-around jumpers and dives to the basket in the low post, he'll likely do himself a service toward being able to free up for better looks on the outside that he can hit with higher accuracy.  Playing closer to the basket will also give him a better chance to use his big body to cause trouble on the offensive glass.

If Andrea Bargnani can diversify his offensive arsenal and get a bit more comfortable banging inside, the next step will be getting him to replicate that on the defensive end.  But for now, it sounds like Sam Mitchell's concerted effort to change the one-time top pick's habits with the ball is a first step in the right direction. 

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