After a lengthy delay, coming in at number three in our #NuggetsRank series is starting small forward Danilo Gallinari. Despite possessing perhaps the best combination of skill and athleticism on the Nuggets’ entire roster, Gallo trailed behind the top two in our #NuggetsRank voting and ends up as the popular pick for third-best player on the team.
That’s not an indictment of Gallo’s potential as much as it is a byproduct of lowered expectations following two years of stop-and-go progress in Denver. He’s the one player who’s really defined the post-Carmelo Nuggets up to this point: unconventional and dangerous under the right circumstances, but unreliable and still a work in progress in just about every facet of the game.
Four years into Gallo’s career, it’s fair to say we’ve learned more about his limitations than his ability to become the next Dirk Nowitzki. Gallo is mobile and supremely skilled for a player his size, but he’s not particularly explosive in any area and lacks the mindset of a traditional NBA scorer. Gallo’s game right now is more about kick-out jumpers and transition rather than actually handling the ball and creating.
Rounding out his offense to the point he’s a consistent scoring threat is where Gallo can make a significant leap as a player. The frustrating thing is he’s already been through several stages in his identity and hasn’t settled on one. In New York, he was a three-point specialist slowly learning to balance his game with inside play. In Denver, he’s been a foul-drawing machine with a broken jump-shot. The truth obviously lands him somewhere in the middle, but fans seem genuinely torn between appreciating Gallo’s unselfish game and expecting something more.
Gallo signed a reasonable four-year extension last season, the first of several long-term commitments the Nuggets made to players brought in entirely by Ujiri. If the hope is to hit the jackpot by assembling a core of budding young talent entering their primes, the gamble on Gallo still looks as good as any Denver has made since.
He’s currently sporting one of the five worst True Shooting percentages among NBA starters, so it’s tough to remember that Gallo is still a young player who was really starting to establish himself with the Nuggets last season. He was by far Denver’s most important player in terms of adjusted plus/minus, with all Nuggets lineups being significantly better on offense (+2.2) and defense (-6) with Gallinari in the fold. Here at Roundball Mining Company, much of our offseason banter focused on Gallo’s expanding role and his opportunity to have the breakout year many thought was coming last season.
I will refrain from making any snap judgments of Gallo’s early season struggles, but it is becoming clear he will struggle to guard the 4 and 5. He’s clearly at his best in a bigger lineup out on the perimeter where Gallo’s a constant mismatch with his size and offensive skills. Playing next to Harrington and Kenneth Faried in the front court has him stuck in the low post and struggling to see the ball on offense with Lawson, Miller, and now Iguodala all fighting for touches.
I’ve been encouraged with Gallo’s willingness to look for his shot this season and I still think he’s ready to put up a solid year. The major missing ingredient is the free throws. Gallo is averaging nearly two fewer shots at the rim than last season, despite an increased number of overall attempts. That clearly indicates the problem is deeper than simply not getting calls. Getting his shot attempts distributed evenly over more games will give us a much better picture of Gallo’s progress on the offensive end, where he has at least seemed willing to take on a bigger role.
Since being traded for Carmelo Anthony, Gallo seems to have inherited the title of default scapegoat when things go bad. It does seem like waiting for him to break out has become an annual rite of passage, but he remains a motivated 24 year-old slowed by injury just as much as anything else. He is no longer the great white hope with the promise of youth and boundless potential on his side, but Gallo should do plenty this season to justify our ranking of third-best. After two years and a shiny new $44 million invested last season, I’m just not sure that’s enough anymore.