The Rise of Danilo Gallinari
In July of 2007, the Orlando Magic changed the landscape of not only their team but of the NBA as a whole by signing Rashard Lewis to an absurd contract. While Lewis was always a decent 2nd option on some mediocre Seattle teams in the early part of the decade, his excellent shooting skills and ability to rebound a bit and create his own shot did not make up for his so-called matador defense. The Magic apparently loved this about Rashard and gave him a six year max contract worth $113 million. Today, the Washington Wizards bear that contract and it may take both the Magic and the Wizards a full decade to get over the Lewis contract, much like the Isaiah Thomas-led New York Knicks of the early 2000s. A player that may one day find himself in a similar situation is current 1st option the Denver Nuggets, Danilo Gallinari. Presently, Gallinari is in a contract year making around $4.2 million a year, which is a fantastic steal for the Nuggets. However, after this season, Danilo becomes a free agent without a team option.
Gallinari is one of the best pure shooters in the NBA and has a tall, lanky frame not too unlike Rashard Lewis. He has gradually become better at acquiring his own shot in traffic, just like Rashard, and is also a decent rebounder. Also like Lewis, he does not play very much defense. Growing up in Italy, Gallinari is very much a product of the European style of basketball. Current Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni recruited Gallinari and hoped to mold him into his prototypical SF/PF hybrid who is deadly spotting up from beyond the arc. When the Knicks had the chance to acquire Carmelo Anthony, who is arguably one of the most talented players in the league, for Gallinari and fillers, the Knicks could not resist the opportunity to begin creating their own “Big 3″ to rival Miami, Boston, the Lakers, and the Spurs. Gallinari plus fillers was a great deal for them, or so they thought. So far this year, though, it is the Denver Nuggets who have reaped the most benefits of the trade and the Knicks are reeling out of playoff contention.
Gallinari’s stats look nearly identical to previous seasons with one major difference: he is getting to the free throw line more easily. This means Gallinari’s aggression is gradually maturing and he actively wants to handle the scoring burden–a great sign. Gallinari is still just 23 years old, and at 6’10, he can guard–or at least pretend to guard–Small Forwards and some stretch Power Forwards. In the past two seasons, Gallinari’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) has increased dramatically, despite having a similar Usage Percentage and similar number of shot attempts. In the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, Gallinari’s PER was 14.8 and 15.7 respectively. This year he is at 20.1, right in the mix for one of the top 25 PERs in the league. Part of the reason is that his assist percentage has nearly doubled and he is turning the ball over less than before. He is also playing better defense statistically, lowering his defensive rating from 111 last year to 102 this year (for this number, lower is better!). If Gallinari continues to develop a little each season, by the time he is 27 or 28 and entering his prime he should surely be an All Star caliber player. However, much depends on the contract he gets. Will the Nuggets pay him what he deserves, which is probably anywhere between $9 million and $11 million, or will some team like New Orleans Hornets or Sacramento Kings attempt to poach him away with an enormous contract a la Rashard Lewis?
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