Andrea Bargnani is starting to “get it”

Remember Andrea Bargnani? He was the 20 year-old Italian that the Raptors picked #1 overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. During his first two seasons, he struggled with his shot — 43% in 2006 and 39% in 2007 — and didn’t rebound very well for a seven-footer (< 4 boards a game). Some even started to throw around labels like "disappointment" or even "bust." But even with those shooting struggles, Bargnani managed to score double-figures in each of his first two seasons, so the potential was clearly there. After a pretty strong start to the 2008-09 season -- 14.7 ppg in the first seven games -- Bargnani had his ups and downs coming off the Raptor bench. It wasn't until Jermaine O'Neal's injury that he really started to flourish. Since O'Neal has been out of the lineup (Dec. 29), Bargnani has averaged 22.3 points and 7.1 rebounds, while shooting 55% from the field and an amazing 58% from long range. O'Neal may return as early as tonight and it's unclear what kind of effect this will have on Bargnani and/or his minutes. Bargnani's emergence has started some rumors about the possibility of trading O'Neal, who hasn't been a great fit in Toronto. His contract runs for another season at the tune of $23 million (wow!) but expires before the infamous summer of 2010. One idea would be for the Raptors to swap O'Neal for Shawn Marion, who could play small forward alongside Bargnani and Chris Bosh, but the Heat would probably prefer to let Marion's deal expire and use the cap space this summer or next on a free agent like Carlos Boozer (or even Bosh). O'Neal just hasn't been able to stay healthy over the last few seasons and I'm sure his giant contract has more than a few owners wary of trading for him.

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