Danilo Gallinari just had back-to-back games of 20+ points and 10+ rebounds, the first time he's ever done that in his career. It was just his third back-to-back of 10+ rebounds. It might mean nothing - or it might signify the necessary shift in Gallinari's trajectory that he'll need for a strong second half of his career.
Gallo has always been a bit of an odd fit. He was a stretch four playing small forward, standing out at the 3-point line for Mike D'Antoni's Knicks. He charges the basket like an angry giraffe tripping over lions. He has to have a spot locked down on Scott Hastings's All-Flop Team, Euro Division - at least on the offense end.
What do you do with a player who is tall enough to play center but likes to iso drive from the arc to the rim, and then fall down when challenged by someone several inches shorter than he is? The Nuggets made him their best player, briefly, before he blew out his ACL in 2013 and derailed several eras of Nuggets basketball simultaneously.
The Rooster made it back from the surgery, but he's not the same athletically. Take a look at this game from December, 4 years ago:
Gallinari has never been a graceful athlete, but you can see his elegantly-awkward steps are controlled, and his behind-the-back dribbles are intentional sleights-of-hand rather than fumbling the ball around. He jogs easily, dunks when he wants to, and doesn't seem nearly as labored as he has this year.
I don't know the medical situation with his thigh. He missed games earlier this year and could be playing through a grade 1 or 2 quad strain for all I know. But if Gallo is currently healthy, he's proving that his amazingly uncoordinated-coordination is failing him at small forward. Clips from 3ball.io:
That's one game but it’s a solid example of how he can't drive to the hoop like he used to from the perimeter. He's completely reliant on bail-out foul calls and while he has always flopped in the best European style, his game now looks more like Luis Scola than his younger self. If Scola could shoot threes, anyway.
Gallo is a terrible finisher through contact but is incredible at creating that contact and getting to the line, maximizing his trips to the stripe. Last season he set a career high for free throws attempted and is currently running his second-highest rate this year. His rebounding was at its highest level last year and is third-highest this year (though in line with career norms). Perhaps that's a function of the offense under Malone and what Gallinari is asked to do, but simply watching him on the court his best options are to shoot the 3 or get fouled in the paint. The drives from point A to B are painful, and his perimeter defense on smaller wings is similarly awkward - and not in the good-awkward way that Gallo normally plays.
Those issues would be mitigated if he were playing more power forward than small forward. He would also be more available to run the high-post passing offense - the thing Denver doesn't have another player to function in when Jokic grabs a seat.
Gallinari and Jokic are around the same height. Gallinari has behind-the-back passes and look-off passes, can run the pick-and-roll and pop from most places effectively. He can definitely drain threes if left unguarded, which forces his defender at the 4 to step out of the paint to deal with him and opens up lanes for others. In short, Gallinari should be a great facilitator for this offense in minutes Jokic does not play and can prevent some of the ridiculous fall-off that happens when Nikola has a brain fart and commits a silly backcourt foul at the wrong time.
In his career, Gallo has been...let's say reluctant to bang inside with power forwards. He doesn't mind getting fouled on his way to the basket, but that's not where he wants to make his money on defense. If he doesn't have the necessary perimeter quickness, though, then he can't remain a three. The league is getting lighter (if not necessarily smaller) and more athletic, and not all of the team's inability to stay in front of perimeter penetrators can be laid solely at the feet of Denver's guards. Gallinari is culpable as well.
But recently Gallo has been standing on the low block almost exclusively for these rebounds. They aren't long caroms from missed threes but interior misses on both ends that Danilo is gobbling up, which is a change from earlier in the season. He's running to the block on defense in the last 3 games. That may be an artifact of the way the Clippers and Hawks attacked Denver and the personnel on the floor, but it bears watching.
If the Nuggets decide to re-sign Gallinari after this year they need to know how he fits into the team going forward. Turning Gallo into more of a "traditional" stretch 4 and playing him in front of Darrell Arthur makes more sense for this team than trusting that The Rooster can defend the perimeter exclusively into his 30s. Gallo's strengths are shooting from deep at his size and getting to the foul line. If he can do both of those things from the 4 it will help the Nuggets cut down on turnovers and reduce the ineffective dribble penetrations, as well as potentially give them a smart veteran presence inside.
Only Gallinari can say whether he'd be happy with that role, but much as Jordan had to develop the fadeaway when his knees went, Gallo will need to modify his game to keep playing another 6 or 8 seasons in the NBA. His presence on the block is something to keep an eye on moving forward.