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Why Steve Novak may be more talented than Andrea Bargnani

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English: Basketball player Steve Novak during ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Knicks traded for Andrea Bargnani, clearly they anticipated an upgrade, or the chance at one. Bargnani is both much more expensive than Novak and it cost New York a 1st and two 2nds to make the swap, thus by logic they prefer Bargnani.

Regardless of how they feel about Novak’s production the last 2 seasons vs a standard Bargnani year, it seems obvious they prefer Andrea’s talent. Bargnani is a former #1 pick and is more physically gifted, thanks to both a 7’1 height in shoes and greater athleticism.

However I’ve made the point repeatedly on this blog, that treating physical tools as the near end all of talent is dangerous. What Novak lacks physically compared to Bargnani, he may make up elsewhere:

First consider that Novak is a better pure shooter than Bargnani. Aside from his career 43.3% 3P to Bargnani’s 36.1%, Novak has a career FT% of 88.6% to Bargnani’s 82.5%. Novak shoots free throws at a rate reserved for the NBA’s shooting greats. In addition to this, Novak had an incredible shooting career at Marquette, hitting 46.1% from 3 and 93.1% from the FT line over 4 years. While Novak has only taken 105 free throws in his entire NBA career putting his FT% in small sample size dispute, that he took 261 FTAs in college at an even better rate, helps confirm his ability. The evidence suggests that for pure shooting, Novak is among the best of the best along with NBA players like Steve Nash, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, etc. Whereas Bargnani is an above average shooter for a big man, but not as freakishly gifted at it.

However the biggest difference may be in mental talent. Bargnani has awareness issues, the root of falling behind so often in help defense. Even on offense, Bargnani has never struck me as a natural or fluid basketball player. He’s not a player who surveys plays or feels his opponents out. Very few of his plays could be described as crafty. Bargnani to me, has a similar affliction that athletes like Javale McGee and Anthony Randolph do. Despite obvious talents they do not read the game well. Chris Kaman is another big man who has standout skills with size and mobility, but can’t pick up plays fast enough in a read and react dominated game. What separates Brook Lopez and Chris Kaman has everything to do with this feel and instincts.

Novak on the other hand, knows positioning, recognizes space when shooting and in the few times he needs to move shows a degree of smoothness and fluidity. Overall I would argue Novak has a better feel for the game than Bargnani does.

That’s not to say Novak is for sure more talented than Bargnani. Bargnani’s athleticism does give him more versatility attacking the basket or creating midrange jumpers off the dribble. Bargnani’s height and strength allows him to defend the post more than Novak. While defensively he may lose plays mentally more than Novak, if he’s in the area his physical tools allow him to contest shots better. It’s hard to pin down just how much value Bargnani’s physical talents could have, if it’s accepted he’s an enigma who doesn’t use all of it.

Nevertheless, to me calling Steve Novak more talented than Andrea Bargnani is perfectly reasonable. For while Bargnani may have the edge in physical gifts, I see Novak’s special talent as a shooter and his feel potentially making up the difference.

Written by jr.

October 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm