The Return of Danilo Gallinari

The Maestro

I am a Knicks fan, albeit often a bitter one. Danilo Gallinari was drafted by the Knicks in 2008 and quickly became a fan favorite (I was one). He was apart of a very enjoyable Knicks team in 2010 before he was abruptly dealt to Denver in a trade that saw half of the Knicks’ rotation replaced by Carmelo Anthony. This appalling transaction saw the Knicks sacrifice talented young assets and salary flexibility for Melo, all because James Dolan couldn’t wait until July (this trade also led to former Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh resigning after being overruled by Dolan). I realize it’s not that simple, but the Knicks could have at least attempted to play hardball, instead of throwing in Mozgov just to sweeten the deal. If the Knicks ended the 2010-2011 with their initial roster intact, they would have had somewhere around $38 million tied up in salary between seven players (by my calculations) for the following season. The NBA salary cap for 2011-2012 was $58,044,000 and the luxury tax sat at $70,307,000. There was more than ample room for the Knicks to sign a max contract free agent (Melo) and still round out the roster through various exceptions and draft picks. But I digress, I just believe the Knicks could have gone about it in a much better fashion.

Fast forward to the 2012-2013 season where the Nuggets are one of the most enjoyable teams in the NBA (see above gif) and finish third in the Western Conference with a 57-25 record (the Knicks also went 54-28, somehow). Gallo was having his best season at the age of 24 with a 56.1 TS%, a + 2.3 box plus/minus (52nd best in NBA), and 7.2 win shares (38th best) along with a per-game stat line of 16.2/5.2/2.5. The Nuggets looked poised to make a deep playoff run, but then disaster struck. Gallo tore his ACL with 10 games to go and the Nuggets fell apart in the opening series of the playoffs. That next year saw the Nuggets (wrongly) dispose of head coach George Karl, the (poor) hiring of Brian Shaw as his replacement, and a (questionable) four year $50 million extension for Kenneth Faried. Which brings us to the current season at hand.

Gallo made his return on November 1st, 2014  after sitting out the entire 2013-2014 season. It was unspectacular to say the least as Gallo struggled to find a solid role in the Nuggets rotation. His shot chart for November to March certainly seems less than stellar.

Well that's not good
Well that’s not good

I don’t believe the blame falls solely on his shoulders. The team quietly became one of the NBA’s more hilarious spectacles with the players apparently counting down the weeks until the season’s end in the team huddles. After their loss against the Pelicans on March 1st, the team had a 20-39 record and had lost 18 of their previous 20 games. Then the front office did something right, they fired the ineffective Brian Shaw as their head coach and promoted Melvin Hunt to take his place. During that horrific span, specifically after the all-star break, Shaw attempted a different approach (most likely in the hopes of saving his job). He began to play Gallo more and we saw a resemblance of the player prior to the injury. The promotion of Hunt helped transcend the revival and it seems we now have the Gallo we know and love once again.

I realize that some people hate numbers, but this is where the fun begins for me. Below are Gallo’s numbers before and after the All-Star Break:

Pre-All Star Break (34 GP): 19.4 minutes, 36.3 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 20.1 USG%, 51.7 TS%, 8.3 PPG

Post-All Star Break (17 GP): 31.0 minutes, 42.3 FG%, 38.5 3P%, 22.1 USG%, 58.1 TS%, 17.6 PPG

That’s some darn good shooting. One can see the improvement is definitely present, but it’s not just the shooting either. Gallo is a creative playmaker who can not only shoot, but penetrate off the wing as well. So while the assist numbers aren’t necessarily high, you can see the effect on the defense and the spacing that opens up for the Nuggets. Look at the vine below:

Nifty. He’s like a really tall Italian version of Steph Curry. It’s only been a few games, but it appears he’s beginning to play some of the best ball of his career. It was only a few days ago that this happened as well:

Thanks to the beauty of the Sport VU tracking system (DEFINITELY CLICK THIS LINK), we can track metrics such as type of shots, number of dribbles before a shot, drives, rebounding opportunities and more at nba.com. Gallo has recently seen a tremendous amelioration in his game in the form of “catch and shoot” jumpers. These are defined as “any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player possessed the ball for two seconds or less and took no dribbles.” In the 11 games since Melvin Hunt took over on March 3rd, on catch & shoot opportunities Gallo is connecting on 42.2% overall FG%, 41.4 3p%, and 42.9 3P% with a defender within 2-4 feet of him. In his 40 games prior his catch & shoot numbers were 32.5% overall, 32.4 3P%, and 34.5 3P% with a defender within 2-4 feet of him. Oh yeah, he’s shooting 89.4% from the free throw line on the season as well. You can see the developments from the earlier shot chart since Hunt took over as head coach below:

Better! Moto bene!
Better! Moto bene!

It’s hard to say what exactly has led to his resurgence over the past three weeks (I am never able to watch the Nuggets, ever). However, there are some other interesting stats to note. His Player Impact Estimate (measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in) has gone up from 10.0 (around league average) to 12.3, his eFG% has increased from 45.1% to 53.8%, and his Net Rating has gone from -2.8 to +9.1. His Usage %  is only up 2.0%, but the fact that he is touching the ball more is doing wonders for the offense when considering the drastic change in Net Rating. The Nuggets starting 5-man lineup currently has a +/- of 2.8 (10 game sample), which makes them the 20th most effective lineup in the league. One would have to make an inference that it is largely due to Danilo Gallinari, and I’m that person.

Much of this could be contributed to more minutes, an expanded role, a change in coaching style, or all of the above. Despite the small sample size, it’s apparent that he’s turned a corner and looks very much like his old self. Even though I’m happy he’s found his way back,  I’m still resentful he’s not in blue and orange. Here’s to staying healthy Danilo, I’ll be breaking out the #8 soon myself.

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