Danilo Gallinari has shot an astonishing 307 free throws in 39 games this season (which amounts to nearly 8 free throws a game average) He has made 269 of them. This amounts to a a massive 36% of his TOTAL points (747). Gallo also leads the team in scoring (19.2 per). The Rooster is averaging a career high in both points and rebounds, which by most any measure is a fantastic season for the 27 year old from Italy.
At the same time Gallo has shot far, far too many isolation step-back jumpers that infuriate even the most ardent of Rooster supporters (cough...you know who...cough). While Gallo's free throws are great, they do require Gallo to more often than not step outside of the offensive flow and grind pass distribution to a screeching halt.
Yet there's something ... off. Everyone can see it. There's something extremely disjointed about the Nuggets offense. The Nuggets are 20th in points per game scored, and 17th in pace. Yes, there are defensive issues (and I'll tackle those next week) but right now the Nuggets run an offense has fits and starts, some good parts and bad....and seems to have no identifiable structure. Particularly with the starting unit. It's either the Gallo offense, or the Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris offense....
...Or at least that is what appears to be on the surface. According to Zach Lowe, the lineup that features Mudiay, Harris, Gallo and Jokic is pretty damn good:
The Nuggets have scored 111.5 points per 100 possessions with the quartet on the floor, a number that would trail only the Warriors in league-wide rankings. Keep an eye on Jokic, who isn't 21 yet. He's shooting 55 percent, including 10-of-28 from deep, and he's dishing assists at an elite rate for a big man.
To take it a step further, the lineup of Mudiay, Harris, Gallo, Darrell Arthur, Jokic is the 14th best offensive lineup so far this season,
Part of the problem lies in the fact that it appears Mudiay and Gallo have little to no offensive chemistry... still. Mudiay is much more comfortable getting the ball on pick and roll to Jokic, Kenneth Faried and even Jusuf Nurkic (when he is in shape). When Mudiay is running the offense it seems that Gallo is a bystander (or to function as a floor spacer). By that same token, when Gallo has the ball in his hands the offense seems to be either a (more often than not bad) isolation play or Gallo generates points by going to the line.
The Nuggets rarely put Gallo in pick and roll, and Mudiay struggles to get Gallo a three at this favorite spot (when Ty Lawson was here it would be the pick and roll throw back to the top of the circle for an open shot).
YET, when the Nuggets run actions to get Jokic in the pick and roll, or a nice pass to Harris for a corner three or a slice to the rim the Nuggets offense, with Gallo out there, works like a charm. Why mess with a good thing right?
So what is the problem, you ask? It's not a "problem" per say ... more a case of an uncomfortable marriage between the two styles that works well in fits and starts. Segments of games are fantastic offensively, others are just utterly painful to watch.
In Lowe's article he has a gif of the Nuggets zipping the ball around to Gallo, who drives to the rim. This is great ball movement. Gallinari ends up with the ball after a great pass from Jokic, not from Mudiay. While the play resulted in something great it is also a prime example of the "two offense" approach between Mudiay and Gallinari. Mudiay and Gallo's lack of offensive symmetry has lead to some strange possessions, often leading to bail-out iso shots from the Nuggets best player Gallinari.
What is interesting is Gallo and Jokic seem to have great offensive symmetry ... Additionally Gallinari seems to be one of the few Nuggets players (along with Jameer Nelson) who knows how to do an entry pass into the post.
On thing that strikes us is much of what makes the lineups work is Jokic's amazing vision and passing. While the Mudiay, Harris, Gallo, Arthur and Jokic lineups have not played a tremendous amount of minutes together (only 90) you can tell that much of what this lineup so dynamic is that extra element of passing and playmaking that Jokic brings. Add in some great chemistry from Gallo, fantastic pick and rolls with Mudiay, and Garris slicing to the basket and you have something that CAN work in the future if they stick to it.
The Nuggets bench or as I like to call them, "the place where offense and flow goes to die a horrible horrible death with fire and lots of it oh my god what have you done" is something that deserves an article all their own. Both the offense and defense of the second-unit is so bad that I actually cry tears of blood. Part of this is due to the injury to Jameer, and the sluggishness of Juka. When you have those injuries (particularly at the point guard spot) it becomes hard to maintain any consistency.
What will solve the Nuggets offensive oddity is further practice and developmental chemistry between the players. Additionally coach Michael Malone needs to develop some "trust" in players who aren't named Gallo and Arthur down the stretch. Also, while Gallo's free throws are all well and good, with a team that doesn't exactly fast break you to death like the Houston Rockets the Nuggets are actually devoting far too many possessions to Gallo barreling to the rim. Putting Gallo in more pick and rolls and Mudiay understanding WHERE Gallo wants to shoot the ball will help out tremendously as the team develops further. It will be less "bad iso Gallo" and more "efficient scoring playmaker Gallo". Gallo needs to not settle and trust his teammates.
Mudiay and Gallo need to spend a ton of time working together to find out where their own comfort zones are with each other. Where Gallo's favorite spot is and where Gallo can help out his rookie point guard in the flow of offense to MAKE Mudiay a better offensive player. These "issues" are most definitely fixable with time.
No more of this "two offense" approach. Lets see that excellent lineup pointed out above and learn from what they do WELL!!