Reconstructing Gallo

Heading into the 2015/16 NBA season, Danilo Gallinari may be the Denver Nuggets best all-around player.

Ty Lawson is gone, Kenneth Faried still hasn’t found consistency and Wilson Chandler continues to struggle with his shot.

New Head Coach Mike Malone has surely been watching closely as Gallinari has been balling out at EuroBasket 2015, leading the Azzuri into the upcoming Quarter Finals.

The Rooster’s been nothing short of dominant.  In the group stages he averaged 21 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and hit an insane 64.3% of his field goal attempts. He also attempted 49 free throws, hitting 44, in just 5 games.

In arguably the toughest group of the Tournament – one that also featured Spain, Serbia, Turkey, Germany and Iceland – Gallo knew he’d have his work cut out for him.

“It’s going to be a war,” Gallinari said before the tournament. “This is the toughest group of the EuroBasket and it’s hard to name any team as the absolute favourites.”

In the opening game against Turkey, Gallo went 9-10 from the field and 14-15 from the line for 33 points and 5 rebounds.

In an upset win over European powerhouse Spain, he had 29 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and a block, nailing 5-7 from deep and 13-14 FTs.

Then in a crucial game against Germany, with his team down 2 points in the final seconds of regulation, Gallo calmly put the ball behind his back to create space for a game-tying jump shot to force overtime. Italy, behind Gallo’s 25 points and 9 rebounds, went on to win in the extra period.

The resurgence of Gallinari is one of the most interesting sub-plots of the upcoming NBA season.


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When the New York Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony in 2011, the young Italian forward the Nuggets received in return was almost an afterthought.

Gallinari had played just two and a half seasons in the NBA since being drafted 6th overall in the 2008 draft, and while he’d become a reliable scorer, he was seen as just one piece of a rebuilding puzzle.

An article in the NY Daily News earlier this year looked back on that blockbuster trade with disdain, claiming both franchises had gone backwards since then. It was hard to argue.

Sure the Knicks had a solid season in 2013, securing the #2 seed in the East and making it to the second round, while the Nuggets developed into one of the most exciting offences in the league, claiming the 3rd seed in the West that same year; but neither team had emerged as a title contender.

Gallinari didn’t even make it to the playoffs that season after tearing up his knee just two weeks before the post-season would begin. That injury resulted in two surgeries, nine months apart. The first was to repair meniscus damage and the second, in January 2014, was the full reconstruction, costing him the entire 2013/14 season.

Prior to the injury, Gallo had been balling, averaging a career-best 16.2 points (2nd on the team), 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and a team-leading 1.9 3ptm per game. The Nuggets missed his on-court smarts in the playoffs and were upset in the first round by Golden State. The following season they failed to make the postseason.

Nuggets GM Tim Connelly told in 2014 what the team missed most with Gallinari out.

“Basketball IQ,” Connelly said. “He was a calming influence and a secondary playmaker. Gallo’s above-average in every basketball skill, and he’s such a natural in how he approaches the game because he’s grown up around it. His father was a great player. He’s been playing professionally since a young age. He has a certain calming influence and an overall intelligence that at times was lacking this year.”

Certainly some reassuring words about his value to the franchise, but that didn’t change the fact that he had a long, challenging road ahead to recover that form.

Fast-forward to the 2014/15 season and Gallinari, who returned in time for a full training camp and pre-season, looked a shell of his former self. He lacked confidence, looked tentative, his shot was erratic and he was removed from the starting line-up by coach Brian Shaw after just two games. Gallinari looked so lost, he may as well have put on a Dharma Initiative jumpsuit.

Gallo averaged just 8.2 points on .344 FG%, hit just .296% from downtown, grabbed 3 rebounds per game, dished 1.1 dimes and played less than 20 minutes a night before the All-Star break.

Clearly a change was needed for both Gallinari and the team. With Afflalo gone, Shaw took the opportunity to shake up the starting line-up and reinserted the Italian, moving Wilson Chandler to the 2-spot.

Maybe it was the confidence of playing with the first team again, maybe it was that much-needed rest to rejuvenate his body and mind, or maybe Gallinari’s legs were finally feeling stronger after getting some miles on them.

Whatever the reason, he was like a different player for the final two months of the season and his play looked even better after Shaw was fired and replaced by interim coach Melvin Hunt.

Gallinari’s play after the break was arguably the best of his career. He had a terrific March and then went to another level in April where he averaged 22.3 points on a staggering .523 FG% and .463 from deep (his .893 FT% leaving him just shy of a 50/40/90 month), grabbed 5.5 rebounds, dished 2.8 assists, had less than 1 turnover per game.  All of that resulted in an offensive rating of 140!

The reconstruction of Gallo seemed complete on April 10th when he blew up for 47 points in a 2OT loss to Dallas.  If the Nuggets had won that game, Gallo would’ve issued Marc Cuban with an invoice for the clinic he’d put on.

Rather than resigning himself to being just a jump shooter as he was under Shaw, the Rooster was using his entire arsenal. Yes he hit seven triples and several long twos, but he also attacked the rim relentlessly, finished in transition and got to the line. Things he did consistently under Hunt late in the season.Gallo clearly believed in himself again.

And it’s that belief that he has shown in spades during this month’s EuroBasket.

Despite his long journey back, Gallo never gave any thought to not being there for his country.

“If I am ok physically, I don’t see why I should not come to play with the national team,” Gallinari said. “I love playing for Italy and we hope to do something nice together.”

The feeling’s clearly mutual among the Italian supporters.

Nice meeting you tonight and thanks for bringing us luck..

A photo posted by Danilo Gallinari (@danilogallogallinari) on

Yet, what Malone is probably enjoying most is Gallinari’s leadership. At a time when the Nuggets lack an obvious alpha-dog and veteran presence, Gallinari is currently demonstrating those qualities night after night.

The Italians do not like to acknowledge anyone being a leader on their squad, with Alessandro Gentile saying: “Here we are not talking about individuals. Every player on the team is equal, nobody is indispensable but everyone is important in the same way.”

However, despite sharing the ball with Andrea Bargnani, Marco Belinelli and Luigi Datome, it’s pretty obvious whom they look to at big moments of the game.

Denver may look to him too. Which begs the question, is Gallo ready to embrace a leadership role?

“I’m always ready,” he said when asked that question in June. “But clearly serve a coach and a company that will give me that role.”

While Gallinari’s knee was reconstructed about 20 months ago, his Nuggets contract was reconstructed this off-season as he signed a two-year, $34 million extension.

It’s his game, though, that has undergone the largest change and the Nuggets and new Coach Mike Malone are going to benefit the most.

But first, Lithuania awaits in the EuroBasket Quarter Finals.

Author of the article

When you’re introduced to the NBA as a 6 year old in 1984, staying up late to watch Bird, Magic and Dr. J, it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with the game. I became consumed with the Association, and as my own game was developing, I tried to emulate as much as I could at an early age and learn how to play “the right way”. I have memories as a teenager of being glued to Saturday Basketball on TV and spending every spare cent I had on basketball cards and replica jerseys and so began my obsession with NBA knowledge and stats. I played my first season of Fantasy Hoops in 2002, as my serious playing days were slowing down. I now play in 5 or 6 leagues every year. To say I’m obsessed with Fantasy Hoops would be an understatement. To say I love nothing more than sharing my opinion on a player’s value would be entirely accurate, and I guess, the reason why I’m here. Follow me on twitter: @tomhersz @downtownball

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