Years in the NBA: 9
Weight: 225 lbs.
Key Stats: Scored 15.3 points per game with 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists in just 21 games for the Clippers in 2017-18. His shooting splits were: 39.8/32.4/93.1.
Contract Status: In the second year of a 3-year, $65 million contract signed with the Nuggets in the summer of 2017. He was subsequently traded to the Clippers upon signing.
For seemingly the eternity of the Clippers’ existence in Los Angeles, the team has scuffled to find a legitimate anchor at small forward. There were the potential stalwarts (Darius Miles and Corey Maggette). There were the perpetually disgruntled (Danny Manning and Caron Butler), the washed up (Dominique Wilkins), the castaways (Matt Barnes and Luc Mbah a Moute), the off-the-court issues (Al Thornton), and so on.
The sign-and-trade acquisition of the long-sought-after Gallinari was supposed to bolster the position like never before, giving the Clippers a versatile, 3-point shooting, above-average rebounding, creative player that could fit pliably between the 3 and 4.
After playing just 21 games in year one of a three-year deal, the expectations have been tempered quite a bit.
“My expectations are for him to be healthy,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “Unfortunately for most players, they have control over their health, but things happen and they get injured, so we need all our guys to be healthy. If Gallo (Gallinari) is healthy, you’ll know why we signed him, and people will be very happy with him.”
That’s the kind of “if” that should be all caps, bolded, italicized and perhaps added twice for emphasis. Gallinari has not played more than 63 games since returning from an ACL tear that cost him the better part of two full seasons. However, he returned from that injury four years ago. Since then he has been nagged by hand, shoulders, knees, and buttocks injuries. It’s as though we are listening to a macabre children’s tune. Last season, his 21 games in L.A. were the fewest he’s played since sitting out 19 months with the Nuggets while recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. To expect more than 50 or 60 games from a 30-year-old Gallinari could be a stretch.
Still, he could be the difference between the team winning 35-40 games and 45-50. A healthy Gallinari gives the Clippers a unique small-ball lineup as a stretch 5 surrounded by switchy wings. While he’s not going to be the centerpiece of Clamp City, he’ll be serviceable defensively and a focal point on offense.
That’s where Gallinari has, obviously, thrived before. His final two seasons in Denver, he put up more than 18.5 points per game and shot in the high 30 percent range from 3-point range. He’s a heady passer, can put the ball on the floor and should be playing with something to prove.
“We know what we can do,” Gallinari said. “We know how good we are. Especially myself, but all my teammates, we really don’t care what people say or what they say on the media. We know what we can do very well, and so we will do it. We will show it.
“I need to lead this team and bring this team to the highest level that this team can be, trying to reach the postseason, and that’s what we have in mind. That’s what I have in mind, that’s what my whole team has in mind. Like I said before, we know who we are and we’re going to show it.”
If Gallinari is on the floor for most of the season, he’ll likely also show all of the reasons he doesn’t belong the long list of Clippers small forward swings and misses. It’s just an incredibly big “if.”