Scott Howard-Cooper has a good article up on NBA.com about Danilo Gallinari and logging increased minutes at the 4 this year in small-ball lineups. Here is his quote from Michael Malone:
"Remember, I went over to Italy and watched him for a week as they prepared for EuroBasket with his team," Malone said. "He showcased the ability to play pick-and-roll and handle the ball. He's 6 foot 10 and there is, offensively, not a lot that he can't do. His ability to shoot. At the end of the season last year he had those two 40-point-plus games. He played at a very, very high level to end the year last year. We're going to try and let him use all the strengths he has as a player. I think ball handling and playing pick-and-roll, especially when he's a four, we're going to play small ball at times, I think that puts a lot pressure on opposing defenses."
It's a good piece to read in full, and both Malone's quotes and the commentary that follows give the impression that Gallo will be banging inside with other bigs for a good portion of this coming season. Is that really an accurate early read, though?
Yes, Gallo will be playing the 4 when Faried is the 5 in small-ball lineups - at least on offense. On defense, Chandler is likely to be playing as much interior as his fellow small forward cohort. That's how he was used by George Karl, and I expect Malone to find Chandler's strength and ability to body up larger men without giving ground to be just as useful as Karl did.
But the question still remains: how many minutes of pure small-ball are the Nuggets going to run?
It gets their most expensive players all on the floor together, and the Chandler / Gallo / Faried trifecta has been productive in the past when deployed in concert. With Joffrey Lauvergne and Nikola Jokic both showing well, however, and Darrell Arthur and Jusuf Nurkic (when both are healthy), there are plenty of minutes for a legit front-court filled with capable players. The Nuggets won't need Gallo to soak up minutes at the four after Nurkic gets back unless there's a disaster. And that's not even counting JJ Hickson (whom I am definitely NOT counting).
In truth, the use of Gallo as an interior 4 depends greatly on the effectiveness of the other Euro bigs and their ability to create positive lineups without fouling at a high rate. Malone seems to like the pressure that having a point-forward in small ball can cause, and I do expect to see it often. Yet, Gallo can be a point-3 instead of a point-4 just as effectively. Denver doesn't need to go small to run another team off the Nuggets new home court; having an effective and deep rotation provides the same benefit.
Malone will experiment with the lineups that work the best as the season gets underway, but if Jokic and Lauvergne keep swishing threes and snatching rebounds and can hold their own inside, then Gallo may find his time at the 4 more dependent on what the opponent is doing. If an opposing team wants to make us play small to get Nurkic off the court, I'm sure we'll oblige them. But that may turn out to be throwing Denver into a briar patch they're all too comfortable in.
As Gallo says in the article:
"I look forward to any challenge, to be honest. If that's one of the challenges, I look forward to it."
Draw the Nuggets into small ball at your peril.