What kind of Danilo Gallinari will Nuggets fans see come October?
Will we bear witness to the return of the galloping "Il Gallo" after an absence of more than a year and a half? Or will the Gallinari we've come to know be subsumed into a different form, one more devoted to stretching the floor with his outside game? Mike Olson and I tackled three tough questions surrounding Gallinari's return, and what kind of impact it will have on the 2014 Nuggets.
How closely will Gallinari resemble his pre-injury form on the court, and how far into the season will it take him to get there?
Colin: It's been a long road for Gallo. After first suffering his knee injury against the Dallas Mavericks on April 4th, 2013, there was a great deal of hope that he would be able to return to help the team sometime before the end of the 2013-14 season. Yet as 2013 gave way to 2014 with no clear sign of Gallinari's return, it became clear to most Nuggets observers that something was wrong. Those suspicions were sadly confirmed as Gallo's first anterior cruciate ligament procedure was not sufficient, and he'd now need a second ACL reconstruction. Assuming that Gallinari can play in the first potential game of the NBA season on October 28th, 2014, it will have been 573 days since he last saw an NBA court.
My sincerest hope is that on Gallinari's return, he'll still retain the same degree of athleticism that made him so dangerous as a tall 3/stretch 4. A career 37% three point threat, he combined outside range with the ability to hit incredible shots in the paint, and presented a credible chance to beat many slower small forwards off the dribble. I think that Gallinari will retain his shooting form - if not be a little better - but he will be a little more limited in his ability to drive into the paint. Ultimately, not necessarily a bad thing for an injury-prone player (yes, I said it). His lateral quickness might be a step slower, but his length should allow him to creatively use his body positioning to retain a lot of his solid defensive ability. His herky-jerky drives into the paint were always supremely entertaining and usually successful, but I wouldn't mind seeing him focus on spotting up for a shot more often. Of course, I hope Gallinari's ready to play full minutes the first game of the season, but a return on December 15th, 2014 would be very fitting.
Mike: While I share your hopes, my friend, this point/counterpoint thing isn't a lot of fun without a different perspective, so let me play the devil's advocate a little bit.
Your point about Gallo's long road is well made, but that may also be what hampers him from returning to his 2012-2013 form, at least during the upcoming season. Injuries of this nature are as much about having the trust in the knee stability as much mentally as physically, and Gallo has not been at full game speed since his fall. It won't just be his physical acuity that will have to round back into shape, it will be his mental surety on the knee and his ability to get back to game speed in total. Those are several finely tuned variables for an athlete to tune in, and could present real difficulties for Gallo to find his form this upcoming year with any reliability. So much of his game is predicated on his legs: his defensive speed and positioning, the lift on his three pointers, his explosive cuts to the rim... and coming back from this could shave something off all the things that make him special. I hope this is wrong, but look no further than Derrick Rose to find what happens to an explosive player when they lose faith in their legs.
What is the Nuggets' regular season ceiling in the Western Conference with Gallinari able to play the majority of the 82 game schedule?
Colin: With the Western conference still stacked with teams like the Spurs, Thunder, Rockets and Clippers, I think the Nuggets will be hard pressed to capture a home court bid in 2014. However, if Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and the return of prodigal son Arron Augustin Afflalo has the impact I believe it will, I can see the Nuggets sneaking into a top 4 seed and supplanting a finally stumbling Spurs or overconfident Clippers squad.
Mike: The law of averages says that one of those teams you mention will take a tumble this year, though laughably, I'd have argued it could be the Thunder or Rockets. Maybe we WERE destined to debate these things. Although Gallo will hopefully be a favorable upgrade to the small forward rotation this season, it's not just Gallo's health that would need to return to get into the top 4 in the Western Conference, it's the Nuggets' cohesion. Brian Shaw finally started seeing some results out of the team in the last third of the season, but Gallo and JaVale McGee played little-to-no meaningful minutes this past season, and you'd have to think the first third-to-half of the season may simply be spent learning whatever the system will be this year. A four seed in the West took 54 wins last year, and the Nuggets best was the recent 57. All of those variables make me want to keep my fingers crossed to just get back into the playoffs this year (a feat which took the Mavericks 49 wins this last season).
Can Gallinari help lead the Nuggets out of the first round this season?
Colin: Health. A word that seems so obvious and taken for granted, but one which has the biggest impact on where this team can go. Whoever said that injuries are no excuse has never watched 3 separate ACL injuries and a stress fracture completely derail a roster (or watched the sad state of affairs that is the 2014 Colorado Rockies). If Gallinari, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and JaVale Mcgee can remain off the injured list, I think this team presents one of the most difficult outs in the conference. Their opponent will be contending with a lineup even deeper than last season and with a seasoned Brian Shaw, who will feel a lot more comfortable with an adversity-full first year of head coaching under his belt and an entire offseason to polish his defensive scheming. Assuming this roster and Gallinari can remain healthy going into the playoffs (and that's a big assumption), I definitely think that the Nuggets present a very credible threat to get past the first round for the first time since 2009.
Mike: While I want to cheer on your answer, and hope like hell you're right, I've got to stick with some of the suppositions I made above. If the Nuggets find themselves in the playoffs this upcoming year, odds are much stronger it will be somewhere in the seven-or-eight-seed range. If they do, they'll find themselves up against a team who is battling to get to the Finals, and has won a brutal West to do so. While I agree we'll be a tough out, and Gallo will be rounding back into himself by then, asking the recently-constructed Nuggets to get past the experienced and battle-hardened Spurs or Thunder could prove to be a tall task for a single-season improvement.
But god, I hope you're right. Go Nuggets!
Also, enjoy a few highlight mixes of some of his best work.