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As playoffs approach Danilo Gallinari is playing the best basketball of his career

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Danilo Gallinari remains a key contributor for the Nuggets as their team identity comes into focus.

Danilo Gallinari gets the crowd going at the Nuggets game.

The Denver Nuggets are coming off of four excellent wins, pulling away slightly from the Portland Trail Blazers in the competition for 8th seed in the Western Conference. Through hard work, this young team’s identity is slowly starting to emerge allowing everyone’s roles to come into focus. We all know that Nikola Jokic is now the player the Nuggets will primarily run the offense through given his other-worldly passing skills and exceptional court vision, but he’s just one of five players on the court. Sure, he’s the spark plug to the Nuggets’ engine, but the Nuggets have many players that have been, and still are making irreplaceable contributions each and every night.

One such player is Danilo Gallinari who is playing some of his best basketball lately. Gallinari’s hard work has gone over a little too quietly recently so I’m here to put a big spotlight on the Rooster’s contribution to the Nuggets this season—particularly after the all-star break.

In order to understand just how important Gallinari is to the Nuggets I’ve put together several tables for the stat geeks out there highlighting his career averages through last season, his averages in wins and losses this season, his averages pre and post all-star break, and some information on how he matches up against some upcoming opponents.

First, let’s take a look back at some of his career stats. Notwithstanding his rookie season where he didn’t play many games, you can see that his FG% has remained fairly consistent, while his 3-point shooting has mostly hovered around the mid-30’s range. He has also steadily brought in an average of about 5 rebounds and a couple of assists per game. Everyone has a bad game here and there, but if you look at the big picture you can see that Gallinari has been a steady contributor for the Nuggets in times where consistency has been scarce.

The biggest statistical inconsistency for Gallinari is how many points he brings in on average each game. Year after year he seems to improve and looks as though he may be entering his prime. As a rookie for the Knicks, Gallinari brought in just 6.1 points per game—albeit not getting very minutes. In the Nuggets record-breaking season of 2012-2013 he brought in 16.2 ppg, and by the end of last season he had improved that number to a career high 19.5 ppg.

Danilo Gallinari: Season GP MIN FG% 3PT% REB AST PTS
08-09 28 14.7 44.8% 44.4% 2.0 0.5 6.1
09-10 81 33.9 42.3% 38.1% 4.9 1.7 15.1
10-11 62 33.9 41.4% 35.2% 4.9 1.7 15.6
11-12 43 31.4 41.4% 32.8% 4.7 2.7 14.6
12-13 71 32.5 41.8% 37.3% 5.2 2.5 16.2
14-15 59 24.2 40.1% 35.5% 3.7 1.4 12.4
15-16 53 34.7 41% 36.4% 5.3 2.5 19.5

It’s no secret that the Nuggets have sailed through some turbulent waters in recent years causing some of their fan base to trail off, and others to become impatient. In the midst of rebuilding, Denver had another challenging start to the season this year as they tried different rotations in an effort to establish a productive lineup, solidify a team identity, and get their struggling defense in shape.

Through the ups and downs this season, Gallinari has remained a major contributor, and his performance has shown be a make or break for the Nuggets. Looking at the table below you can see that in losses Gallo averages just 38.8% from the field and 31.5% from three which is a far cry from the 46.6% 3-point shooting that he averages in team wins. The moral of the story here is that when Gallo has a bad game, the Nuggets typically lose which shows how much the team has relied upon him to be the bread winner each game—by and large he has filled that role.

Danilo Gallinari: Result GP MIN FG% 3PT% REB AST PTS
Wins 27 34.5 51% 46.6% 4.9 2.4 18.7
Losses 27 32.9 38.8% 31.5% 5.0 1.9 16.7

While Gallinari has shouldered the burden of bringing in the lion’s share of points for the team, Jokic has come in to his own recently to assist (and I mean literally in a dropping dimes kind of way) allowing Gallinari to focus his talents where they are most effective. Making cuts to get open for Jokic, driving to the rim, executing in the post, drawing fouls, and draining threes—offensively speaking. It’s also important to note that his 6’10” frame typically draws a big man out from under the rim when he spends time around the three-point line allowing the Nuggets an advantage in the paint on offense.

Gallinari is also a key defensive presence both on the perimeter and under the rim. His size allows him the ability to contend with a powerful forward like Draymond Green, while his quickness allows him to defend shots from smaller guards taking advantage of a size mismatch.

Now that responsibilities and roles are becoming more clear for the Nuggets, it’s not surprising that Gallinari’s numbers are skyrocketing as the offense is truly developing into a team effort. Post all-star break, Gallinari’s shooting percentages have increased substantially contending with some of the very best in the league. He’s maintaining with assists and rebounds while also recording a couple more points per game. He’s even out-pacing the stats he tallied in the 2012-2013 season—one of his best seasons to date, and the last winning season Denver had.

Danilo Gallinari: Timeframe GP MIN FG% 3PT% REB AST PTS
Pre All-Star 44 34.2 43.2% 38.1% 4.9 2.2 17.2
Post All-Star 10 31.7 50.9% 43.1% 5.0 1.6 19.6

So what does this mean for the Nuggets moving forward? Every team needs a primary guy who puts up big numbers, and a facilitator who makes everyone else on the court play better. Some nights that’s the same person, but those two components (among other things) must be present in every game in order to hope for a win. If the Nuggets wish to remain successful it will be important for them to keep the offense running through Jokic while keeping everyone else focused on their roles as they continue to develop. Gallinari and Jokic are consistently those two main components that are complemented by the other key contributions from Wilson Chandler, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Mason Plumlee and the rest of the Nuggs gang.

The Nuggets are currently 2.5 games up from Portland with a tough schedule up ahead. They face the Rockets (three times), Cavaliers, and Thunder among the remaining 15 games of the season. The Nuggets will be without Gallo on Thursday against the Clippers due to a bone bruise sustained to his knee in Monday’s win over the Lakers so Coach Malone will need to be creative to come up with a way to compensate. Gallinari has a good track record against the Clippers and the Rockets this season, and given his recent surge the Nuggets have a real shot at capturing some key wins this week if he’s able to come back to play Houston.

Danilo Gallinari: Opponent GP MIN FG% 3PT% REB AST PTS
Clippers 3 33.3 51.6% 50% 6.7 1.7 19.3
Rockets 1 35 54.5% 66.7% 5.0 1.0 16

If the Nuggets can continue to find consistency perhaps they can maintain their lead for last in the West. Time will tell if they can keep it together, but for now it seems they are trending in that direction thanks to the consistent hard work of key players like Gallinari.

Gold is refined by fire and a post-season match-up with the Warriors should prove to be an invaluable opportunity so the Nuggets’ blue & gold will shine bright next year. If you’re like me, you’re hoping Denver holds on to Gallo to see this process through. I also hope Gallinari sees the value of the hard work he has put in to build a foundation in Denver and chooses to see his hard work pay off. I firmly believe that if the team takes a page from San Antonio by persisting and making decisions based on long term vision they will find success in the very near future.