Our stay in Treviso couldnt have resulted in a better ending than a game at the Italian League Finals featuring this years top international draft prospect, Andrea Bargnani.
After upsetting Climamio at Bologna in game one, with an excellent showing by Andrea (16 points and 5 rebounds), Benetton was playing game two at home in Treviso on Friday, therefore giving us a great opportunity to almost completely watch the series decided.
Even if the PalaVerde wasnt completely packed, as a few seats were free, there was a great atmosphere to watch the game, which is what you can expect at this point of the year in Italy. Still, its a bit surprising that a small town like Treviso that enjoys a top European team isnt a bit more devoted to its local squad. Basketball isnt certainly in vogue these days in Europe, and its rare not to hear complains about low attendance, low TV ratings or a level drop-off in most countries. The future does look bad with so many emerging stars, which should draw attention towards the European basketball, leaving for the NBA. Bargnani is just the next guy in line, and as excited as Italians are for seeing their first countryman finally make the NBA, it will hardly do any good to their domestic league.
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Bargnani, a Force in the Paint
Benetton started the game very strong, and so did Andrea, working very well in two areas, shot-blocking and low post scoring. Youve read it right, Bargnani was producing down low, asking for the ball in the post and managing to put it in the net.
We had already said in the past that with the excellent footwork he shows in many situations, it should be somehow easy for him to develop some post moves that his impressive physical set would make effective. He didnt look very polished, but Bargnani has remarkable foot-speed and some ability to finish near the basket. It particularly deserves to be mentioned how easily he delivers the one-handed dunk, which is extremely difficult for the defenders to stop, because hes always in control of it and will avoid any rivals hand while he elevates thanks to his length.
Actually, Bargnani does look huge on the court. Hes at least every inch of the seven feet hes listed at.
He was looking even better at the other end of the floor too, becoming a true wall that Climamios players were constantly bumping into; showing good positioning, nice intensity and some serious timing to get the job done. You could see that he still suffers when banged by strong rivals, but hes not backing off, while his physical set should sort that problem out sooner or later. Indeed Andrea enjoys an excellent frame, looking quite better than he does on TV, with broad shoulders and already some interesting strength.
Foul trouble kept Andrea on the bench for a big portion of the second quarter, but all in all, coach Blatt played him as much as he could. Anyway, Bargnani slowed down for the rest of the game. He wasnt getting the ball down low as he was in the first quarter, and his shot wasnt falling. Indeed, he missed the few jumpers he tried until he scored a three-pointer in the last period. Its important to stress that despite his excellent scoring start, Andrea always stayed cool and waited for the appropriate opportunities to look for the basket.
One of these opportunities, and his best play of the game, came in the third quarter. He received the ball right in front of the three-point line, and as his defender was arriving to contest his shot, Bargnani put the ball on the floor with his left hand and slashed to the basket with impressive quickness. He then stopped near the basket to fake a pivot move that completely fooled his rival and left him wide open for an easy layup.
Once again, he was showing excellent footwork, only reinforcing our picture of him becoming productive near the basket on a regular basis, a similar process that Pau Gasol went through when he arrived in the NBA (Gasol was a full-time face-up player in Europe), although not as drastically, as Bargnani doesnt seem to share the same exceptional soft touch around the basket of the Spanish star, hes also a much better shooter than Gasol ever was, and even a quicker slasher, although perhaps still not quite as productive as Pau.
Its interesting to bring up the Gasol comparison, because they share some similarities in terms of physical set, some skills and production in their last season in Europe. Still, theres a big difference here: while Gasol became absolutely dominant in his last months in Spain, Bargnani hasnt been able to reproduce that achievement with his disappointing playoffs. That was until the finals, though, where the Italian is emerging as the most important player of his team, although still not in the same range of what Pau meant to F.C.Barcelona in 2001. That kind of blossoming would make him a lock for the number one pick this year. For the moment, 17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 steals and 2 assists in this game seems like a move in the right direction.
This game has only provided more intrigue to the prospect that Bargnani is. Potential wise, he has little competition in this draft, which is why hes still mostly certainly in the running for the top pick. If Toronto keeps the #1 pick, all indications are that he will almost certainly be drafted there. And even if they dont, look for him to land in a Raptors uniform.
Belinelli's 3-Point Obsession
Logically, Bargnani gets the spotlight here, but there was another top Italian prospect in the game, Marco Belinelli, who is completing an unbelievable season for such a young player. Decisive in the semifinals against Carpisa Napoli, going for 34 points in the fifth and final game, Belinelli had struggled in the first chapter of the Finals (8 points on 3/11 FG), and coach Repesa decided to leave him out of the starting five. It didnt work out for Climamio, as Benetton quickly took a lead that only the impact of Marco in the game could erase.
As we have become accustomed to during the season, Marco delivered his particular shooting show that boosted his teams offensive punch. The truth is, Belinelli is dangerously settling for becoming a one-dimensional player. He hangs around the three-point line almost exclusively, or sometimes performs some cuts, but just to take his perimeter shots, and rarely attacks the basket. He indeed averages only 1.8 free-throw shots per game in the Italian League this season. Its really a pity, because he has the tools to be effective there: ball-handling, quickness, athleticism and even the court vision and passing to effectively find the open man off the dribble. Considering how well he has played this season, its scary to think what he could do if he were more aggressive in this department.
In this game, Marco nailed an impressive turnaround trey with his defender all over him, while he made another one from beyond the NBA range. Hes money in the bank when left open, but hes taking more and more risks lately. In that fifth-game effort in the semifinals, he attempted an astounding 15 three-pointers (and made 8) on his way to the 34-point mark. On Friday, he finished with 15 points, on 3/9 from behind the arc.
Theres not much more to say about his game. Defensively, he looked good, smart in his positioning and with accurate lateral quickness. He drew a couple of personal fouls while dribbling to look for space for his shots, always showing nice control of the ball. He only showcased his good athleticism in a wide open dunk in a transition.
Anyway, we still have the impression that Marco needs to prove more on the court from a versatility standpoint to become a really hot draft prospect.