The Italian national team wrapped up a very successful summer with an 83-58 win over Belarus yesterday, concluding Eurobasket qualifying with a perfect 8-0 record. Danilo Gallinari led the way with 16 points and 12 rebounds to cap off an impressive stint with the national team, which won 8 straight games despite lacking Gallo’s fellow NBA talents Andrea Bargnani and Marco Bellinelli.
Eurobasket is FIBA’s bi-annual European championships which will be held in Slovenia for 2013. It’s been dominated by Spain in recent years while the Italians have sort of lingered on the international scene without much success since their silver medal win in the 2004 Olympics.
Gallo played very well on the new-look Italian team under head coach Simone Pianigiani, one of the rising stars on the European coaching scene. Italy was one of the best defensive teams in the tournament despite lacking a traditional post presence and played a very unselfish style on both ends of the court.
Before we get into looking at Gallo’s performance, a quick disclaimer that basketball here is a bit like what you might see in summer league. Anything you choose to take away from it comes with the caveat that it may be largely meaningless when it comes to the real NBA. Just one year ago, Gallo looked horrible in a short stint with Olimpia Milano during the lockout before going on an absolute tear to start the shortened NBA season. Nevertheless, it is good to see Gallo healthy and performing well against a field littered with current and future NBA talent.
Gallo finished the tournament with averages of 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 26.9 minutes per game. He ranked 7th in the tournament in free throws attempted (6.4), 5th in free throws made (5.3) and 6th in fouls drawn (5.9). His penchant for attacking the rim, a staple of Denver’s offense, was on full display and Gallo also managed to throw his size around with more success, ranking 13th in defensive rebounds with 5.4 per game.
With Gallo being Italy’s best offensive player by a mile, you might think he’d initiate most of the offense and look for his own shot more than he would in the NBA. From what I saw of Italy’s games, his role on offense was a far cry from that. Coach Pianigiani gave Gallo freedom to be himself and a green light to shoot, but you rarely saw Italy try to feature him in the pick and roll. They would set him up on the wings or high post where he had plenty of space to operate thanks to Italy having about four three-point shooters on the floor at all times.
I was only able to watch highlights and portions of two games on stream, but one thing I did notice was Gallo’s fledging post game. As he has in the NBA, Gallo is very reluctant to attack a mismatch on the low block. He often just won’t back down much smaller players, looking awkward and tentative with his back to the basket in general. Italy relied on Gallo to play big thanks to his size and while he was able to deliver on the defense and rebounding front, he is still purely a perimeter player on offense. That is fine for the Nuggets at this point in his career, but Gallo will find his growth limited if he does not develop one or two moves he can go to in the extended post. At his size it will make things so much easier on the offensive end.
One of the things that has always bugged me about Gallo’s game is his reluctance to shoot coming off screens. When Gallo gets a screen, he’s looking to shoot the gap in a straight line. When that’s not there he almost always hesitates and picks up his dribble, unsure of whether to pass, shoot, or continue the drive. The defense then always has time to collapse the passing lanes and close out on him before Gallo will force up an off-balance floater or long two-pointer. He does this in Europe too and even against smaller less-athletic defenders, Gallo misses these shots nine times out of ten. Gallo creates space so easily if he learned to just pull up and shoot I think his efficiency would skyrocket. Thanks to his outstanding ability to get to the rim, he still manages to be very efficient and connected on 54.8% of his two-point shots.
Gallo leading the team in rebounding is also a very positive sign for his development. By rebounding at a high rate he can force opposing teams to match up with his size. Defensively, Gallo is active on the perimeter and better than he’s given credit for. He has struggled to make an impact on defense in the NBA thanks to his propensity for leaking out on the break and his inability to guard players his size. Gallo does not need to become a great post defender, but he will have hold his own for his size and make his presence felt against teams who will look to bully him under the basket.
Sometime during the lockout, Gallo’s three point shot left him and hasn’t come back. He shot 32.8% from three last year, a performance I’m hoping will prove to be an anomaly. Unfortunately Gallo’s three-ball didn’t recover in Eurobasket qualifiers as he shot just 30.6% in eight games. It’s important to note Gallo missed all preparation for this tournament with back and shoulder injuries which could have affected his shot. Gallo will have a big role shooting open threes in Denver’s offense next season and I still have full confidence that he will make them if healthy. While I’m concerned about his shooting, I still don’t believe he’s all of the sudden turned into Baron Davis behind the arc.
The most important takeaway from Gallo’s summer is his experience as a leader on the floor. Gallo never scored fewer than 10 points in the tournament and was relied on to be Italy’s best player on both ends. Ultimately he helped deliver eight straight wins in a team role, some of them very ugly where he faced adversity and had to battle back. Upon his return to Denver, Gallo needs to bring the same mindset and confidence to the NBA hardwood. He and JaVale McGee are the two players capable of elevating their games to a point that can get the Nuggets to another level. By virtue of not being McGee, Gallo at this stage in his development has the best chance of making it happen.
Danilo Gallinari is quickly becoming the face of Italian basketball in the modern era, the only Italian NBA player to say yes to the national team this summer. He was a boy on the 2009 team that failed to qualify for Eurobasket and the 2011 squad that was an afterthought. Today, he’s grown into a man leading the revival of the national team with eight straight wins en route to a top seed in Slovenia next summer. Whether or not Gallo can make the same leap in the NBA remains to be seen. If he wants it as bad as he wanted success with the national team this summer, Gallo can take on a larger role with Nuggets next season. It’s there for him.
Update: RMC reader Monimo has shared several videos featuring Gallinari’s play in the Eurobasket qualifiers. Many thanks to Monimo
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