Knicks 'zzone

Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.


Andrea Bargnani, 'starving to win,' will focus on D and rebounding with Knicks

Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani drives against the

Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani drives against the Phoenix Suns' Ronnie Price during the first half of a game in Phoenix. (Credit: AP, 2012)

Andrea Bargnani has shown he can score, and he might get more and easier opportunities playing with Carmelo Anthony. But Bargnani knows he has to put more an emphasis into defense and rebounding.

“I’ll focus a lot on that,” Bargnani said on a conference call Thursday morning. “I got to get better in many aspects of the game. Last year was tough for me because I had so many injuries. I wasn’t really able to play continuously during the season. That really affects your rhythm and your shape. I really look forward to a healthy season and help the team in many ways, all of the different ways. “

Bargnani, who the Knicks officially acquired from Toronto Wednesday, has been inconsistent and in many ways a disappointment since the Raptors took him with the first overall pick in 2006.

The 7-footer has never been a strong rebounder or defender, particularly a help defender. Bargnani has grabbed just 4.8 rebounds in his seven-year career and blocked less than a shot a game.

Mike Woodson said he would work on those areas with Bargnani, but it remains to be seen if the big Italian will work as hard there as he does on his offensive game. At this stage, that needs improvement, too.

Bargnani averaged a career-best 21.4 points during the 2010-11 season. The following year it dipped to 19.5 and then last year to 12.7, his lowest output since his second year in the league.

The past two seasons he’s played just 66 of a possible 148 games. He’s never played more than 80 games and just three times in seven years more than 70.

Wrist and elbow injuries limited Bargnani to 35 games. The elbow was the more serious one. But Bargnani said he’s “100 percent healthy,” and will be playing for the Italian national team this summer, and is looking forward to camp in the fall.

“I’m glad I’m here,” Bargnani said. “I can’t wait to start. This team is good. We want to win. I just can’t wait to start. That’s all I can tell you. I’m extremely excited to be here.
“It’s all about winning here. I want to do as much as possible and what the coach asks me to just to win games because I’m really starving to win.”

Bargnani received a lot of heat in Toronto for his struggles and was booed often. He called his time in Toronto “a weird experience,” because of the ups and downs.

“When you lose it’s never easy,” he said. “Everybody is frustrated. There was a lot of frustration in Toronto because we’ve been losing the last five years. We didn’t go to the playoffs.

“When you’re the leading scorer and the leader of the team you get all the pressure. The fans have their right to express their feelings. I really loved Toronto. It was a great city, great fans, great organization. No regrets. I wish them the best.”

Bargnani will be under some pressure, but not as much as Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith or Woodson. It could be a good situation for him if he can stay healthy.

The Knicks sent Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first-round pick and second-round choices in 2014 and 2017 to Toronto for him.

They believe Bargnani can create mismatches and draw defenders away from the basket and open up the paint, something that didn’t happen much against Roy Hibbert and the Pacers in the playoffs.

“Andrea brings a unique skill set with unique size,” GM Glen Grunwald said. “He is a player who will hopefully cause difficulties for other teams as they try to match up with us on defense. We think he’ll blend well with other veterans we have on the team. His skills will help us be a more successful team.

Grunwald also said getting Bargnani wasn’t insurance because of Stoudemire’s recurring health issues.

“I think it’s independent,” Grunwald said. “Amar’e is a great player. We are excited to have him back. We think that he can play with Andrea. It’ll give coach Woodson an opportunity to go big or small. We’ve got two very versatile players with Amar’e’s improvement in his post game this past season - and we expect him to continue to do that.

“The offensive ability of those two players is outstanding. Again, we think it will cause other teams difficulties as they try to match up with us.”

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