Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani Returns to the Line-Up After Missing Two Months

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Andrea Bargnani returned to the line-up for the Toronto Raptors for the first time since Dec. 10 in a 99-95 loss to the Boston Celtics.

The forward returned off the bench after missing nearly two months with a ligament tear in his shooting elbow along with a sprained wrist on the same arm. He recorded 13 points, three rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes of action, and didn’t look out of place at any point on the court.

Those in Toronto have been calling for Bargnani’s head for what feels like the moment the season tipped-off for the Raptors. There were times when he played well before the injury, but there were a lot more times where he played poorly and appeared uninterested.

After the Rudy Gay trade, general manager Bryan Colangelo even told the media that Bargnani hadn’t asked for a trade, but he was open to one. Given all the heat that surrounded the former first overall pick, it made a lot of sense for there to be a mutual separation.

When Bargnani entered the game there was a mixed reaction of cheers and boos. Many in the media expected nearly all boos; however, there were more cheers than boos on this night – key word being this night. Nobody likes to see anybody get hurt, so it was good of the Air Canada Center to cheer on a player who had just battled back from injury.

What lies ahead for Bargnani’s future is unclear, as many expect him to be long gone from Toronto by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. However, given Bargnani’s play against Boston, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Colangelo begin to have second thoughts on trading the seven-footer.

It’s no secret Bargnani is not a number one option offensively, but many in Toronto believe he could an excellent third or fourth option for a championship contender. Given the recent addition of Gay and the development of DeMar DeRozan, Colangelo could wait to see the season play out and make a decision in the offseason. After all, Bargnani has never played with a line-up like the one he is currently apart of. He’s never had two quality wing players capable of scoring 20 points by driving to the basket and getting to the foul line.

Bargnani’s perimeter scoring could actually be exactly what the team needs to improve itself offensively. If Bargnani can pull his defender to the perimeter, it’ll open up lanes for Gay and DeRozan to drive to the basket with one less big man to block the shot. If Bargnani’s defender chooses to leave him alone on the perimeter than Toronto fans know he’s more that capable of knocking down a wide open three-pointer.

The loss against the Celtics also showed an underrated portion of Bargnani’s game, his passing. Bargnani has always been an exceptional passer for a seven-footer, but failed to show off those skills early in the year as he tried to carry the load offensively. Against Boston, he routinely made the extra pass or drove to the basket to defenders and kicked out to an open teammate on the perimeter. If Bargnani could do that more often, the Raptors would be one of the scariest teams in the league from an offensive stand point. Who could guard a pair of wing players with the ability to posterize any opponent along with the ablility to kick it out to a seven-foot three-point shooter? Very few teams will be able to limit the offensive abilities of all three of those players at the same time.

There’s no question that Bargnani’s offensive game is his strength and his defense is one of his weaknesses. Being a poor rebounder and sometimes slow to rotate defensively are things that plague the power forward; however, one has to ask when pride start to become a factor.

Bargnani’s is not stupid – he has no doubt heard all the criticism when he was out of the line-up, and perhaps it’ll light a fire underneath him to prove he is better than what the fans think. If it does, fans’ opinions of Bargnani will quickly change with all the excitement surrounding the team after Gay’s arrival.

If he hasn’t changed though, then there won’t be a shortage of those offering to drive him to the airport.

It’s only one game and it was only 24 minutes of action after missing two months, but Bargnani looked good against the Celtics. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come because few doubt the potential he has. Instead, it’s his compete level that’ll need to be shown on a consistent basis.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts