Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari were not supposed to gel this quickly.
Coming into the season there were questions of whether or not they’d gel at all, or at least get a chance to. The multifaceted duo started just nine games together a year earlier, and despite Gallinari appearing better than ever physically during the preseason, it was still difficult to predict how things would look when the lights turned on last week.
Through four games, the Harris-Gallinari combination is wildly exceeding expectations. They have each topped 20 points in the past three games (two wins) and both neared 20 in the opening night loss to Denver. Let’s face it, things got weird in that game and the Clippers failed to make a field goal for more than five minutes, so anything slightly better than a subterranean fourth quarter would have them flush with 20-point games. In the early going, the Clippers are one of only four duos in the league’s top 25 in points per game (the others: Stephen Curry-Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo-Khris Middleton, and Anthony Davis-Nikola Mirotic).
The scoring is to be expected, though. Both forwards have produced at or near 20 points per game before. It’s the other things Gallinari and Harris are doing that is so encouraging. Harris has two double-doubles and missed a third by one rebound against New Orleans. Gallinari is rebounding as well, pulling down seven per game. And they’ve both had a four-assist game.
It’s incredibly early. But if we are going to overreact to lineups and rotations in the first 10 days of the season then we should also celebrate the pairing of two uniquely skilled, lengthy forwards who could make the Clippers a tough out on most nights.
Prior to the season, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had different expectations for them. Towards Gallinari, it was a “if he’s healthy, you’ll see why we wanted him” mentality. Towards Harris, it was a bit loftier: “We had a little longer list for him this summer. I don’t know of anyone that worked harder than Tobias. We want him to get to the foul line a little bit more, more and more plays off the dribble and the attack, and just continue learning how to be a leader. Those are the next steps.”
Harris and Gallinari are taking those next steps together, and it’s making things easier for the entire roster. There’s a natural give and take with the two of them that goes beyond the ability to stretch the floor and create off the dribble. The Clippers for years have longed for efficient scorers who would play within the scheme and take what the offense gives them. That’s happening, regularly.
It also helps that Harris and Gallinari play hard. There was a play in the second half against Houston where Gallinari knocked a potential defensive rebound away from Clint Capela and kept a possession alive for the Clippers during a stretch when the Rockets were potentially making a run. The second-chance led to points. The Clippers won.
The “if” for Gallinari remains his health. He’s flashed borderline All-Star ability for years. That will be an uncertainty for the entirety of his career. The “if” for Harris has been whether or not he would make a “leap” this year, whether that yearly rise in scoring production and range would continue. So far, it seems like the ifs may soon diminish. It just wasn’t supposed to happen so soon.