Over the next few weeks, the Denver Stiffs staff will be previewing the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets. The team enters Michael Malone's second season with the Nuggets with a mix of new and familiar faces. With a roster mixed with young talent like Jamal Murray and more experienced veterans like Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets are looking to improve on their 33-49 record from last season.
It’s only fitting that Gallo comes in at number one on the #NuggetsRank series. Analysts and writers around the Nuggets may call Wilson Chandler the jack-of-all-trades on this Nuggets team but can anyone really argue that Danilo Gallinari has filled and excelled in every role he’s been asked to fill?
During the George Karl and Brian Shaw years, it was clear that Gallinari was the most offensively talented player on the Denver Nuggets. He showed skill around the rim, away from the basket, made some insane passes, and even filled the role of “go-to guy in the clutch” at times. Yet he struggled to assert himself consistently, leaving much to be desired by Nuggets fans.
Last year was different though. Gallo stepped up and asserted himself, averaging 19.5 points per game throughout his 53 games. January, his best month, saw him average 23.5 points over the course of 15 contests. Those 15 games saw the Nuggets play 13 playoff teams, meaning that he wasn’t just scoring against scrubs.
Then it came crashing down after the All-Star break. Gallo tore ligaments in his ankle and was limited to 53 games on the season. His injury allowed the younger players on the roster to grow, but it wasn’t like the team won any more games without him. It’s clear that Gallo’s scoring ability and versatility helped keep the Nuggets afloat in games before the All-Star break.
Let’s start with Gallo’s ability to score at all three levels of the court. This past season, the first instinct for the Rooster was not to stop up from beyond the arc, but to take the ball into the paint. His constant aggression earned him many trips to the free throw line, the most efficient form of offense for Gallo, as he shot 86.8% from the line.
This aggressiveness forced the defense to switch on to Gallo with a smaller player at times, in which case, Gallo would go to the post or the top of the key and demand the basketball. Gallo was one of the most efficient post up players in basketball last year, coming in at the 96th percentile. The only player more efficient than him with a higher frequency was “Iso Joe” Johnson.
This versatility helped him offensively and defensively, as he was strong and lengthy enough to guard most power forwards reasonably, as well as quick enough to keep up with several point guards. It’s my view that Gallinari is the player who best defends Stephen Curry on the Nuggets, and he does this by using his intelligence, quick feet, and length to bother perimeter shot attempts as closely as possible.
Finally, Gallo had the highest Plus/Minus on the team in clutch situations, according to Synergy Sports. He doesn’t always make shots at the end, but he makes little plays that help the team win. A key steal, a key assist, a rebound and icing the game at the free throw line. He does what needs to be done.
When it comes to weaknesses, the biggest question will always be health. Gallo has only played above 70 games in one season with the Nuggets, and it was the year he tore his ACL. That’s hard for the team to repeatedly deal with, and while it likely worked out last year, any Nuggets team looking to make the playoffs will have to factor games lost into the equation. Now, I made a bold prediction on the Corner3 Podcast that Gallo would play in 75 games this season. Considering his injury history, it’s a pretty bold prediction.
This is the big question for Nuggets fans, as Gallo is eligible to depart in free agency in 2017. With a player option following one guaranteed season, Gallo will likely opt out of his contract to explore his options on the open market in order to guarantee more long term security. He has repeatedly spoken of his desire to remain in Denver, but what will happen if the Nuggets go another season without making the playoffs?
*Denotes Player Option.