A familiar NBA face has been tearing up EuroBasket this week, one that many NBA fans haven’t seen in a long time –– at least, not playing like this.
Danilo Gallinari has been one of the most impactful players in the tournament thus far, helping lead Italy to a 3-2 record and averaging 21 points through five games. More importantly, he’s looked great doing it, appearing to be in his best form since April 2013, when he first injured his ACL and began a series of injuries and setbacks that would keep him sidelined for 19 months.
It was a difficult recovery for Gallinari, who elected to see a specialist in Denver to handle his initial injury using a procedure that was designed to allow the ligament to heal on its own. Unfortunately, Gallinari’s ligament didn’t respond to the procedure, and he was forced to undergo another surgery. He would later give Sportando a less-than-glowing endorsement of the Steadman Clinic, where he first went to receive treatment.
Eventually, Gallo returned to the court at the beginning of last season, scoring seven points in his debut and looking every bit as rusty as many expected. Sadly, he was soon sidelined again, this time by a torn meniscus in his right knee, an injury that kept him sidelined until early 2015.
This time, though, Gallinari’s recovery went much better, and he returned after missing just three weeks of time. The problem was, when he returned, he wasn’t playing or moving around the same way he used to, appearing a bit labored on the court and completely devoid of his former world-class shooting touch.
As seemed to be the case for several Nuggets players, something clicked after Denver fired former head coach Brian Shaw and promoted Melvin Hunt to interim head coach. With improved spacing and a more free-flowing offense, “The Rooster” suddenly spread his wings again, launching three-pointers and effectively attacking off the bounce in ways that he literally hadn’t done in years.
In his last 15 games of 2014-15, Gallo put up 19.3 points per game on 46/40/88 percent shooting splits, adding five rebounds and a couple assists per game to boot. Not everyone noticed this, since the Nuggets weren’t a playoff team and Gallinari’s numbers came so late in the season, but those who did watch might have seen performances like those in EuroBasket coming. For the rest of us, it’s a nice reminder of just how good a player Gallinari can be when he’s healthy.
The Nuggets allegedly shopped their sharpshooting forward around this offseason, although they ultimately didn’t find the kind of value they wanted in return. As such, they decided to hang on to Gallinari; in fact, they decided to give him a contract extension, a choice that’s looking better by the day.
EuroBasket has been the perfect stage for Gallinari to reassert himself, since it’s a tournament and environment that he knows well. He’s taken that confidence and had himself an incredible tournament, showing off all the skills that we once loved but weren’t sure he had anymore: the 40-foot shooting range, the positional versatility, the scoring touch, the attitude. He hasn’t just hit a bunch of baskets, either, he’s been hitting important baskets too, sending Italy’s matchup with Germany into overtime thanks to a jumper from Gallinari in the final seconds.
The Nuggets and new coach Mike Malone obviously must be thrilled to see the way their Italian forward is playing, especially since he’s just entering his athletic prime at 27 years old, and they still have him under contract for three more seasons. His cap numbers are a bargain as well, $14 million next year, then $15 million in 2016-17 before a $16.1 million player option in 2017-18, per Basketball Insiders.
For a player like Gallinari, who’s one of the league’s best three-point shooters and a legitimate playmaker as a small-ball power forward, that’s a bargain. The only thing Denver needs to be worried about with that contract is that he’ll opt out after two years to become a free agent and cash in on the money bonanza that seems to be approaching during the next couple offseasons.
He’ll also provide a scoring presence and veteran leadership to a team that sorely needs it. The Nuggets shipped out problem-child Ty Lawson this offseason, but their roster is still extremely young and impressionable, with guys like Emmanuel Mudiay, Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris, all of whom are blue-chip prospects who need some smoothing around the edges. Getting back a guy like Gallinari, who’s played in the NBA and overseas for a bevy of teams of different styles, should help them to better fall in line.
Young teams often struggle to put up points as well, and this Denver team will probably be no exception, especially given Malone’s defense-first ideology. Still, simply having Gallinari around should make it easier for everyone else to score the ball.
He’s a lethal threat from the three-point line, which makes him one of those rare shooters who practically has a gravitational pull on opposing defenses. His presence bends the attention of the other team, hopefully creating quality opportunities for learning players like Mudiay or Nurkic to capitalize on. If the defense doesn’t mind his shot, he’ll hit, or he’ll attack the rotating defense in another way, now with an offensive creativity and versatility that wasn’t always there during his younger days.
There’s no question, Gallinari fills in a lot of funky holes on offense for a team like Denver, who has several combo guards and positionless wing players that should make for some interesting lineups this season. Until Mudiay gets his game up, Gallo is probably the best of the bunch, plus it’s hard to keep shooting like his off the floor anyway. As EuroBasket is reminding us, he’s a special player who will be at the centerpiece of Malone’s rotations this upcoming season.
For now, that’s all we have too. With the season still more than a month away, Gallinari’s comprehensive NBA comeback remains unseen. It looks like it’s going to be an exciting return, however, so let’s just hope he remains in good health until then.