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How Danilo Gallinari became more efficient

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Denver’s leading scorer is dominating in new ways as he gets used to the point-Nikola Jokic offense.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s really easy to go under the radar with Nikola Jokic on the Denver Nuggets, but to go as far under the radar as Danilo Gallinari has is absurd.

Many players have impressed after the post-December 15th lineup change. Gary Harris has looked like a new player this year since returning on that day. Kenneth Faried has been revitalized in his new role as a complementary player. Rookies Jamal Murray and Juancho Hernangomez continue to impress in limited minutes, calling for expanded minutes from much of the Denver Nuggets fan base.

Gallinari has not received the same attention, but he has clearly been the second best offensive player on the team since the lineup change, and it has to do with adjusting to a complementary role in the offense. His field goal percentage and three point percentage have jumped this year, and they are even better since January 1st:

  • 18.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 47.9% FG, 39.3% 3PT in the year 2017.

Those are elite numbers, some of the most efficient in the league from the forward position. Some of it is attributed to simply shooting better, while some of it is playing with Jokic. Here are his career best advanced metrics from every season previously, compared to his numbers this year:

Year PER TS% Three point attempt rate Free throw rate Usage rate
2016-17 16.7 .614 .412 .523 19.6
Career 16.4 .580 .446 .453 20.4

The true shooting percentage is way up, the best it’s been since a low sample rookie season. This is because of his valuation of shots. His three point attempt rate is lower, as are his usage rate, which indicate him “picking and choosing” his shots. By taking better shots, Gallo is hitting them at a higher rate from the perimeter. To cap it all off, Gallo is still taking shots at the rim. According to Basketball Reference, just 21.9 percent of his shots are coming within 0-3 feet, yet his free throw rate is over 50 percent. Gallo is still “picking and choosing” his spots, and it’s led to a career best 67.2 percent efficiency from the 0-3 feet mark.

Now, let’s break down the play types Gallo is utilizing to become more efficient. The most important shots to take into account are Spot Ups, Transition, Pick and Roll ball handler, Post Ups, and Isolation, as these are Gallo’s most frequent and what makes his offense so potent.

Spot Ups

Year Frequency (% of possessions) Efficiency (Points per Possession) Percentile
2015-16 21.3% 0.96 PPP 54.8
2016-17 26.3% 1.20 PPP 91.3

These numbers are incredible. Not only has Gallo increased his frequency, but his efficiency has greatly increased as well. Only a few players in the league share Gallo’s frequency and efficiency on spot ups:

Spot Up frequency and efficiency since Jan 1
NBA.com

What Gallo does, he clearly does well spot up wise. The looks he is getting are much better, and 95.6 percent of his three point shots are assisted this year, as opposed to just 88.5 percent last year. He’s letting the bucket come to him instead of forcing the shot off the dribble. The names in this group may not be big names, but each are role players that fill their roles well offensively. Gallo not only plays this role well, but he fills many other roles offensively.

Transition

Year Frequency (% of possessions) Efficiency (Points per Possession) Percentile
2015-16 9.9% 1.54 PPP 98.6
2016-17 13.4% 1.05 PPP 41.6

Here, Gallo’s efficiency has greatly dropped, but the efficiency matters much less than the frequency in transition. The points per possession of the average transition attempt is much higher than most every play type, and Gallo has increased his frequency by four percent. tThe Nuggets are being aggressive in transition and helping increase this number.

In the first image, the ball was batted out to Gary Harris, giving every player a running head start. Gallo is at the opposite free throw line.

After two dribbles, Gallo is flying ahead of the defensive coverage on the left wing. Gary Harris identifies this and is about to pass the ball to him.

Gallo catches the pass and goes from a full sprint to a complete stop and pump fake, causing two Milwaukee Bucks players to fly by him, creating the opportunity for an easy dunk.

Gallo looks much more athletic this year than he has in years past. Far out from his ACL and meniscus injuries, his burst is back, making his galloping much more of a threat.

Pick and Roll ball-handler

Year Frequency (% of possessions) Efficiency (Points per Possession) Percentile
2015-16 12.0% 0.81 PPP 59.0
2016-17 11.2% 0.96 PPP 85.6

With slightly less frequency of pick and roll situations, Gallinari is hitting at a much higher rate than last year. Only five forwards hit at a higher efficiency: Tobias Harris, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kevin Durant, and Gordon Hayward. Much of this has to do with his free throw rate as the pick and roll ball handler, which is the best in the NBA. At 28.6 percent, no one comes close to Gallinari. Jimmy Butler is second at 21.5 percent. With Gallo’s incredible free throw shooting ranked 8th in the NBA in percentage, it makes sense to try and get to the free throw line.

Post Ups

Year Frequency (% of possessions) Efficiency (Points per Possession) Percentile
2015-16 8.5% 1.11 PPP 96.0
2016-17 10.1% 1.06 PPP 87.3

The frequency on Post ups is slightly up, while the efficiency is slightly down. Both changes are minor, but seeing Gallo this high is always good. The best Gallo is the one that takes his defender to the post when he has a mismatch. The reason for this is his foul rate, which is third in the NBA on post up attempts.

Gallinari’s post ups are defined by his quick moves and ability to see where the help defense comes from:

Gallo starts in the middle of the paint on this possession with Jokic distributing at the high post. Jokic throws it away from the defender to put Gallo on the left block.

The spacing is great in this shot. Wilson Chandler is running tot he corner, while Harris, Murray, and Jokic all stand on the three point line, allowing Gallo room to operate against Tony Snell. Because Gallo has played more power forward of late, there were usually a multitude of shooters around him, and with Jokic on the perimeter, the primary shot blocker on the opposing team is usually away from the play.

Gallo recognizes this and quickly spins baseline. Gallo’s agility is incredible for a 6’10 forward, and he’s able to put himself in scoring position before either Thon Maker or Giannis Antetokounmpo can react as help side defense.

Gallo has shown a willingness to pass out of contested looks, but when he gets a good opportunity at the rim, this is a common result out of the post. If Giannis had contested him, Chandler would have a wide open three pointer. If Gallo is stopped initially, he will see Jokic at the top of the key ready for an open three as well. By playing power forward and attacking the mismatch on a smaller player, Gallo quickly puts the defense at a disadvantage.

Isolation

Year Frequency (% of possessions) Efficiency (Points per Possession) Percentile
2015-16 18.9% 0.85 PPP 57.7
2016-17 14.3% 0.90 PPP 60.9

This is probably the second-most encouraging table for Gallinari. Last year, he was forced into a role as the number one scorer that devolved into isolations way too frequently. Isolations are very inefficient plays, and not only has Gallo increased the overall efficiency, he’s decreased the frequency by more than four percent. 18.9 percent is nearly one-fifth of all the possessions Gallo utilized in the 2015-16 season, so it’s great that he’s focusing his efforts on more efficient plays.


By decreasing isolations and increasing spot up attempts, Gallo has remade his overall game to be much more efficient and still remain incredibly valuable to Denver. No player on the Nuggets excels in as many ways as Gallo does, but what has really helped is his willingness to play without the ball in his hands. He still handles in the pick and roll and in isolations, but in spot ups, post ups, and transition, the team is working much more for him, passing the ball where it needs to be for the most efficient shot available.

I’m very impressed with how Gallo has changed his game to fit what the Nuggets are doing. Tailoring play style around a 21-year-old point-center must have been a tough pill to swallow, but the Rooster has been flexible, and it’s really paid off. With Gallo’s contract up in the offseason, Nuggets management must take a look at these numbers (along with other factors such as injury history) to determine the price they want to pay to retain Gallo’s services. Based on how he’s played since January 1st, the number should be pretty high.