Knicks coach Mike Woodson is still struck with wonder over his Italian/Canadian import Andrea Bargnani calling the Rome native a “triple threat’’ and installing him as the Knicks’ new starting power forward alongside Carmelo Anthony.
Bargnani’s name is mud in these parts and Friday night when the Knicks face the Raptors he will make his first return to Air Canada Centre and will be jeered. Raptors fans and Toronto media made the 2006 No. 1 overall pick the scapegoat for five straight non-playoff seasons leading to his late-June trade to the Knicks.
“They can boo him all they want now’’ Raptors coach Dwyane Casey cracked. “He gave seven great years to the organization. [But] fans are fans. He should probably put on ear plugs.’’
Bargnani passed his first Knicks’ test Wednesday in Providence R.I. where he scored 12 points in 18:56 and made all six of his free throws in a 103-102 victory over the Celtics.
It wasn’t perfect. The enigmatic Bargnani was 3-of-8 missing all three of his 3-point attempts committed an early charge and perhaps drove to the basket too much instead of firing away at open looks.
“I like everything about him’’ Woodson said. “That was the reason we brought him over. I think he’s just a talented kid who knows how to play. I’ve got to keep his spirits up and pat him when he needs to be patted and ride his [butt] when it needs to be rode.’’
Paired with Anthony Woodson liked how the big front line looked. “The spacing was really good with him’’ Woodson said. “When you swing it he’s a guy who can make shots. He missed some good looks. But he’s a guy that can put it down [on the floor] and cause problems getting all the way to the rim and pulling up with the mid-range shot. I think it’s going to work.’’
So why didn’t it work out in Canada?
“I’m not even going to go there’’ Woodson said. “I don’t criticize coaches or organizations. I see a player I think fits in [the] scheme of things I do. It’s not about that team anymore. It’s about getting him acclimated to what we’re doing. I think he’ll be just fine.’’
Woodson even praised his defensive rotations. He’ll save the criticism of Bargnani for Torontonians who felt he was injury-prone distant with non-European teammates and not a winner.