It has been a long way back for Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari. The 6’10 forward suffered a torn left ACL in April 2013, and setbacks during the recovery process forced him to undergo another surgery on his knee in January 2014, which forced him to miss the entire 2013-14 campaign.
Gallinari returned to action this year, but he was a shell of himself over the first few months of the season, and he played limited minutes in a bench role. Prior to the All-Star break, the 26-year-old averaged 8.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 34.4 percent overall and 29.6 percent from three in 19.3 minutes per game. During that span, he also missed 18 games, with most of those missed games coming because of a torn right meniscus.
But while it seemed all hope was lost for Gallinari after yet another knee surgery, we’ve seen a different player since the All-Star break. In 14 games after the break, he’s averaging 17.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 41.7 percent overall and 40.4 percent from three. His resurgence has helped the Nuggets turn things around in the wake of firing Brian Shaw.
So what has been the key to Gallinari’s resurgence? Let’s first take a look at his shot charts from the two different time periods:
About three-quarters of Gallinari’s shots came from outside the paint before the All-Star break, and as you can see, he bricked quite a few of those shots. Shooting about 30 percent from outside the paint while taking over 75 percent of your shots from there isn’t a good blueprint for success. Here’s his shot chart from after the break:
Gallinari has upped the percentage of shots he’s taking in the paint, but the obvious difference is that he’s simply knocking down jumpers at a much higher rate. His three-point shooting is significantly better, and his mid-range game has seen some improvement as well.
Looking at the numbers even further, we can see that Gallinari has become a much more efficient catch-and-shoot player, which shouldn’t be a surprise at all given the uptick in three-point shooting. Prior to the All-Star break, he shot just 29.0 percent overall and 28.3 percent from three on catch-and-shoot jumpers, per SportVU. Those marks have gone up to 42.4 and 42.9 percent, respectively.
Nuggets interim head coach Melvin Hunt recently talked about what has changed with Gallinari since earlier in the season, per Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post:
“He’s changing his game,” said Nuggets interim head coach Melvin Hunt. “He used to beat people with a deceptive first step. But now he’s making ‘tall’ shots; ‘I’m taller than you’ shots. Back then, we were trying to get him to ‘if someone is closing out on you, shoot it anyway because you’re big.’ But he hadn’t embraced that yet. But with the injury, it’s made him kind of slow it down, so now he’s taking those 6-foot-10 jump shots.
“And now his drives, they’re deceptive. He’s just different than he was back then.”
This quote speaks to Gallinari finding his range again from deep, as he has clearly regained confidence in his jumper. But while the improvement in his shooting has been the biggest reason for his resurgence, we’ve also seen flashes of that versatility that made him such a special player to begin with (video via YouTube):
And here’s a nifty little pass after breaking his man down off the dribble following a pump-fake:
The Nuggets are 6-2 under Hunt, and Gallinari’s improved play is a big reason why. He’s embracing his larger role again and finally rounding into form after the litany of knee problems. Let’s hope those knee issues are behind the big Italian for good.