Over the next three weeks, the staff at Denver Stiffs will be reviewing the Denver Nuggets' 2015-16 season with our Year in Review series. Check back daily for new articles and analysis.
by Adam Mares
Before the season began, the Denver Nuggets and Danilo Gallinari agreed on a 2-year, $34 million contract extension that would keep him under contract until after the 2016-17 NBA season, with a player option for the 2017-18 NBA season. The extension signaled that the Nuggets were all-in on Gallo as the lead man in Denver for this season and possibly for a few seasons to come. Gallo's injury history made the deal somewhat risky but if healthy, $34 million was a steal for a guy that would be the best player on a rebuilding team.
For the most part, Gallo fulfilled his end of the bargain for the Nuggets. He led the team in scoring, posting a career high with 19.5 points per game. He also matched his career high playing 34.7 minutes per game, also a team high mark. He remained healthy for most of the season, missing just six games before the all-star break due to a mild ankle injury. However, on February 26th, Gallo suffered a second ankle injury, this time much more serious. With two torn ligaments, Gallo was shut down for the final 22 games of the season. In total, Gallo appeared in 53 games, not too far off of his career average.
When he was on the court he was a very positive player for the Nuggets. Gallo had always been great at drawing fouls but he took that skill to new heights this season, drawing a career high 8.2 free throw attempts per game, nearly double his career average. His FG% dropped from every spot inside of 16 feet yet his overall efficiency was the highest since 2011, thanks in large part to his hot 3-point shooting and ability to get to the free throw line. Gallo was also the team's go-to scorer and playmaker at the end of the shot clock and toward the end of games. He led the team in field goal attempts in the final 7 seconds of the shot clock and out of isolations, two skills the Nuggets desperately needed before the addition of DJ Augustin.
Despite his overall solid play, Gallo often appeared frustrated through much of the season. Perhaps it was playing alongside such a young team and a rookie point guard, or the fact that the Nuggets spent most of the year on the outside looking in on the playoff race. Perhaps it was nothing at all and Gallo is just a fierce competitor and he only appears frustrated but is actually perfectly content. Whatever it was, the Nuggets will likely continue on the same path towards a slow, steady rebuild around Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay, forgoing any big trade moves that would make the Nuggets immediate contenders. Gallo was a great anchor for a rebuilding team for one year and has missed the playoffs for three straight years. Whether or not he is willing to play the leadership role on a middle-of-the-pack team again next year will be the lingering question for him next year in the final year of his contract.
One Important Stat
by Daniel Lewis
Aaron Gordon. Matthew Dellavedova. Roy Hibbert. Nik Stauskas. Kobe Bryant. Brandon Knight. Jrue Holiday. Danilo Gallinari. All those players had one thing in common this season - they all played between 1800 and 1900 minutes this season.
Like many seasons prior to the 2015-16 season, Danilo Gallinari finished the year on the injury report, this time unavailable due to a sprained ankle suffered against the Dallas Mavericks near the end of February.
Gallinari posted career highs in points, rebounds, and more than doubled his free throw attempts to 8.2 per game. He averaged a career-high 34.7 minutes per game, He improved as a leader for the team, and despite having played just over 10,000 career minutes, rose up to the challenge of guiding a team that was starting three players under the age of 21.
The youth of the team highlighted another stat for Gallinari this season. With a very inexperienced point guard in Mudiay, if the first few options were denied by the defense, the ball frequently ended up in Gallinari's hands with the rest of the players standing and watching what would happen next. That meant the Nuggets small forward ended up taking about 25 percent of his shot attempts with seven seconds or less on the shot clock - that's not the seven seconds or less offense that Mike D'Antoni rode to success with the Phoenix Suns.
The combination of playing the most minutes per game and the physical toll of taking shots late in the shot clock may have increased the probability of Gallinari suffering an injury. The Nuggets asked Gallinari to move down into the post in their small lineups as well, and the role of being a rim protector directly contributed to his ankle sprain.
It's a quandary that the Nuggets have entered into with Gallo - he's a talented player, and capable of contributing in many ways when he plays. He's versatile, and can fill a lot of roles for the Nuggets. When he plays well, the Nuggets odds of victory increase. But playing him more minutes increases the odds of injury, and that's a bad thing.
Ideally the Nuggets will be able to manage his minutes better next season. Wilson Chandler is on schedule to be active, and his contributions mean the drop-off won't be as severe when Gallo isn't on the court. They'll be able to keep him on the more friendly side of 30 minutes, and even rest him from time to time if needed.
But one thing is certain - Gallinari's minutes will need to be monitored as long as he's on the Nuggets roster. He's too valuable of a player to be suiting up for play-by-play segments with Chris Marlowe and Scott Hastings instead of suiting up for basketball activities.
One Thing to Improve
by Gordon Gross
Obviously if there were a genie-containing magic lamp sitting around, Nuggets fans the world over would be leaping over one another to rub that sucker and wish for unrelenting health for Danilo Gallinari. That's not really an improvement he can make in his game, though - Gallinari works out as hard as anyone on the team and does all the things necessary to try to keep his body right. His body has not given him the same consideration, that's all.
Defense was a team-wide problem, not a solely Gallo issue, so for Danilo Gallinari personally I'd say fitting into a ball-movement offense would be the key. Gallo took 18.9% of his shot attempts in iso situations, which put him in Melo / Kobe territory as far as "grinding an offense to a halt so you can show off your one-on-one skills" goes. The offense scored more without its leading scorer in the lineup, and when you're being replaced by JaKarr Sampson and Axel Toupane that is not a measure of their secret greatness, but rather an indicator that others had to do less so that Gallo could do more. It's certainly not all Gallinari's fault. A young team that was confused often relied on the Rooster to bail them out time and time again, and Emmanuel Mudiay has admitted he often deferred too much to getting Danilo his touches instead of trying to score or move the ball.
Gallo is not Harden; he does not have to be iso-dominant to have success. But he'll need to integrate himself into the offensive scheme next year rather than calling his own number at the first sign of trouble. The Nuggets will be better for it - and maybe Gallo will stay healthier too.
Highlight of the Year
by Gordon Gross
I don't see how the image of Gallinari this year that's burned into the brains of Nuggets fans could be anything other than this gem against Steph Curry and the Warriors (editor's note: great call by Chris Marlow too! "Just like Havlicek!):
Best Game of the Year
by Zach Mikash
Gallo essentially had three games in competition for best of the year: February 5th, 2016 home against the Chicago Bulls (33 pts, 3 rebs, 2 asts); January 23rd, 2016 home against the Pistons (30 pts, 6 rebs, 2 asts) and November 17th, 2015 at the New Orleans Pelicans. It's the Pelicans game that wins out as Gallo messed around and nearly had a triple double.
He ended the night with 32 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, guiding the Nuggets to a 115-98 drubbing of New Orleans. The versatility of Denver's 6'10" small forward was on full display. In the first half he killed the Pelicans from the perimeter and ended the night shooting 5-8 from downtown. In the second half superstar Anthony Davis was unable to continue and Gallo took full advantage by taking smaller defenders into the post.
The only downside of the game was Denver was going into cruise control by the start of the fourth quarter and Gallo was only able to record 3 points, 2 assists and 1 rebound in the final frame. Had it been a tight game one would have to expect he would have earned his first career triple double. Ultimately though 32, 8 and 8 with a victory on the road is a pretty good night, and for Gallo his best of the season.
Basics stats say this was Gallo's best year of his career, advanced metrics say it was the Nuggets 57 win season in 2012-2013, which one would you say was his best?
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I'll take this year. The thing to remember about the 57 win season is Gallo was surrounded by heady veteran players like Andre Miller, Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala. He also had Ty Lawson in his best years. This season it's been largely Gallo a a collection of under 25 year olds. While his efficiency wasn't as good, he stepped big time in production mainly because of necessity.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I'll go the other way and say the 57 win season. Gallo fit into that team perfectly and was still its best player, while taking that team to 40+ wins in its last 50 games before his devastating knee injury. This year Gallo had to take control of the offense as its veteran leader as well as its best player, but too often on the court that led to a "pass the ball to Gallo and get out of the way" mentality. Gallo spending 20 seconds trying to iso his guy for a cut to the basket is neither the best use of his talents nor the best offense Denver can create. This version of Gallo is tremendous at getting to the line; if he can also incorporate himself better into the offense that Denver is utilizing without him on the floor, so much the better.
Dan Lewis (@minutemandan): I'll take this last season as Gallinari's best season, and the thing that pushed me over to this year was that at least this season didn't end in a torn ACL. Gallinari had more responsibility this season, was more of a leader, and was a huge part of the reason Denver won as many games as they did. The leadership part of Gallo's game was really great to see, and it made me feel really happy to see him be part of the culture change.
Should the Nuggets consider moving Gallinari to power forward?
Mikash: It's an interesting idea. Gallo has the height to play power forward and with today's NBA moving more and more towards versatility and playmaking at the four Gallo certainly could be effective. The only way you can do it though is if you deal either Jusuf Nurkic or Nikola Jokic. Nurkic, Jokic and Gallo are all talented enough to demand starting minutes.
Gross: I'm not sure what the functional difference is between what he does now and playing PF in the new face-up NBA, where offensive rebounds aren't as valued and post presence isn't about backing somebody down for a score. Are we just changing who he guards on defense? With Wilson Chandler back next year (and as always, fingers are crossed on the health of both Chandler and Gallo) it seems any of Gallo's minutes at the 4 would change depending on who Will needs to guard that night, since he's the more versatile defender of the two. If the Nuggets move Kenneth Faried then it's always possible more minutes at the 4 will be needed and Gallo could fill that role. I'm not sure it's ever going to be Plan A though.
Lewis: No, they should not. One of the Nuggets strengths is that they have two veteran small forwards - moving one of them to the other forward position takes away that mismatch. Gallinari is a tough defender, able to use his length to contest other small forwards. When other teams go small, it's advantageous to move him to the frontcourt, so that their isn't a mismatch in terms of agility, but the Nuggets should be trying to play him at small forward. The physical demands of power forward are also concerning for a player that has had season-ending knee and ankle injuries.
How seriously should the Nuggets consider trading Gallinari?
Mikash: Very seriously and if the heavens should part and bless the Nuggets with a top two pick after the lottery then they almost have to. IF they get a top two spot they are taking Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram (hopefully Ingram) which makes Gallo imminently expendable. At #7 it's a little tougher, but say you use #7 and Gallo to move up and grab Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield, you still can hopefully still snag Timothe Luwawu at #15 and be just fine at the three while adding a big time scorer for your two guard position. Either way, Gallo's a big chip and the Nuggets HAVE TO make a deal at the draft, though he doesn't necessarily have to be part of it.
Gross: They absolutely have to consider it. Gallinari is essentially on a one-year deal, with his player option to be used only if he severely injures himself (again). As Zach said, if Denver snags a top-two pick then Gallo must become a trade chip. If they don't, then the more likely option is that Denver is left looking for a consolidation option in which several players are shipped out to get a centerpiece in here for a few years. With Danilo's continued injury history it's hard to see him as a top-2 piece in a future contender. So Denver either needs to add or grow two better pieces than him while keeping the Rooster on the roster, or they need to figure out a way to package him for a Jimmy Butler type. Danilo loves Denver and we love him, but the NBA is a cruel business. Trading Gallinari is one of those hard decisions that may be necessary to continue the growth of this team, and is certainly on the board for GM Tim Connelly.
Lewis: The NBA is a business, and one of the downsides of that reality is that sometimes players become assets. For the Nuggets, I think there are only a few players where Tim Connelly would immediately end the conversation if a trade discussion began, and I don't think Gallinari is part of that. He has more value to Denver than he does to other teams in the league however, so if there is a trade, there are only a few scenarios where I see the Nuggets immediately improving. Trading Gallo has been brought up since January (http://www.denverstiffs.com/2016/1/4/10706952/to-trade-or-not-to-trade-danilo-gallinari-nuggets), and sadly, it wouldn't surprise me if he wasn't on the roster next season. I really hope he is with the Nuggets, because I'd like to see him be part of the Nuggets success over the next stretch of his career. I'd be happy to see him succeed somewhere else, but I'd be sad that he didn't find that success in Denver. On a scale of 1 to 10 for how seriously they should consider it, I'll say a 7.