Will The Real Danilo Gallinari Please Stand Up?

By: 11.26.12
Danilo Gallinari

Danilo Gallinari (photo. adidas)

Danilo Gallinari used to be the shooter’s shooter, earning praise as one of the greatest long-range shooters in the game. But what he brings to an offense has blossomed with his move to Denver, and he’s become more capable at driving for a layup rather than sinking a three-pointer. Except this season, he’s lapsed into his old, jumper-heavy game, and the Nuggets have paid the price.

When New York drafted Danilo Gallinari in the summer of 2008, he was meant to personify a new era of Knicks basketball, one in which head coach, Mike D’Antoni, ordered his troops to launch as many threes as the Acheaens launched ships after Paris’ abduction of Helen. Even Z-Bo averaged over two three-pointers a game with D’Antoni as coach that season before being traded to L.A. The plan was for the Garden faithful to fall in love with the fellow Italian D’Antoni drafted to lead his men on their heroic journey towards offensive supremacy. Shooting was now king, and Gallinari was the coach’s prince on the court.

There was no shortage of effusive praise from D’Antoni when Gallinari arrived. The Knicks coach claimed, “He’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen.”‘ Danilo was also long, young and growing into his groove, like most 20-year-olds sent off to do battle across the sea (the Atlantic, in this case, rather than Mediterranean of Homeric lore). After his back proved to be his Achilles heel, Gallinari’s second season in the Big Apple saw him starting to grow into the role envisioned by D’Antoni. He connected on 38 percent of his three-point shots while averaging more than six attempts a game. Then Dolan struck, and now D’Antoni is in L.A., Gallinari is in Denver, and Carmelo Anthony has the Knicks off to a hot start. Gallo’s transition has proved to be the most cumbersome, though, primarily because he can’t figure out his role with Denver: is he a three-point shooting specialist, or a more contemporary hybrid of forward spots, combining long-range shooting with dribble penetration and ballhandling that’s become vogue in a smaller, faster and more athletic NBA?

If you look at Galinari’s first 2.5 seasons in New York, he never averaged over 20 percent of his shot attempts inside. He increased his inside attempts from 14 percent in his injury-plagued rookie season to 18 percent in his first full season in New York. In his last half season in New York, he was up to 20 percent (all percentages via 82games.com). That slow trickle into the lane for Gallinari’s shot attempts turned into a fully-formed cataract on the inside once he arrived in the thin air of Denver. He attempted 33 percent of his shots inside the paint while in Denver during his bifurcated 2010-11 season, and last year, he kept that percentage high – 31 percent during the 2011-12 strike-shortened season. But this season, through 12 games, he’s averaging even more three-point attempts per game (according to Hoopdata, 6.2) than he ever did in his short time with D’Antoni asking him to gun away, and he’s only gotten 18 percent of his looks inside. He’s shooting under 30 percent from that distance, and it’s showing in the team’s plus/minus when he’s off the court.

Last season, shooting 31 percent of his shots from the inside and 69 percent on jump shots, the Nuggets averaged 112.0 points per 100 possessions with Gallinari on the court, compared to 109.9 when he was off the court. They were also better defensively, giving up just 102.8 per 100 with Gallinari on, and 109.7 with him off. This season, with his shooting splits now 82 percent jumpers and 18 percent inside, the Nuggets are flipped when Gallinari is on the court. They score 105 with him on the court and 108 with him off. They’re still better defensively when Gallinari is playing, giving up only 105.3 with him and 107.0 without him, but they aren’t scoring like last season when Gallinari is playing. The only answer has to be more of Gallinari’s dribble-n-drive game.

Gallinari’s heavenly shooting could have just as well been Mike D’Antoni hyperbole. Perhaps D’Antoni was looking to boost his young rookie’s confidence in media-saturated New York. Aside from the 18 games he played in during his rookie season, Gallinari has never averaged over 40 percent shooting from long range in a season. As he’s grown a more mature offensive game, and gained enough confidence in that game to drive to the hole, he’s helped his team immensely.

But this season, he’s again jacking threes and forgetting there is life inside the three-point arc. Yes, he’s looked good in the last two games, both Nuggets victories, but he must continue to be the aggressor on offense, and not settle for three-pointers late in the shot clock (he’s shooting 43 percent of his attempts with less than eight seconds remaining on the shot clock, per 82games.com, and almost half of that – 21 percent – is with less than three seconds remaining). Danilo Galinari isn’t a three-point shooting specialist, D’Antoni praise be damned. He’s a real, overall basketball player.

Now he just needs to go back to playing like one.

What do you think?

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