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2017-18 Clippers Exit Interviews: Danilo Gallinari

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Gallo’s first season in L.A. would have been better if he’d played it.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Danilo Gallinari

Age: 29

Years in NBA: 9

Key Stats: 21 games played, 15.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game on 39.% from the field and 32.4% from deep.

2017-2018 Salary: $20,559,599

Future Contract Status: Two more fully guaranteed seasons at $21.6 and $22.6 million.

Summary:

Danilo Gallinari is an interesting sideplot, and in some ways a victim, of the Clippers’ recent upheaval. After the team traded Chris Paul last June, they quickly went to work to acquire multiple players to help fill the void. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Milos Teodosic all came on board to build an ensemble guard cast, but without CP3, the team would also need a major offensive upgrade at small forward. Enter Danilo Gallinari, one of the NBA’s top offensive forwards and one of the franchise’s highest-profile free agency signings ever.

Then, Gallinari broke his hand punching an opponent while playing for the Italian national team over the summer. Then, he missed an extended period of time with a glute injury. Then, Blake Griffin sprained his left MCL. Then, Gallinari injured his other glute, keeping him out once again for over a month. By the time he returned, Blake Griffin was a Detroit Piston.

And, for good measure, Gallinari suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right hand, essentially sidelining him for the remainder of the season. The result? Nearly a million dollars a game for the first-year Clipper, who made just 21 appearances and never really got an extended shot at being paired with Blake Griffin.

Strengths:

Danilo Gallinari’s abilities as a basketball player are relatively well-documented, as he’s been fairly consistent over the course of his career. Unfortunately, his offensive numbers were worse than underwhelming this season—normally one of the most efficient players in the league, he failed to break 40% from the field or 33% from deep, two basic benchmarks for competence. While we have to take everything with a grain of salt because his entire season-long body of work is tiny, there’s a little bit to gain from looking through the game logs.

In the Clippers’ early-season stretch, Gallinari clearly struggled to find his fit next to Blake Griffin. He played 9 games consecutively to start the year, shooting 35.5% from the field and 26% from deep, while averaging just 12.8 points per game. In a 7-game stretch from late January to early February—Tobas Harris’ first 7 games as a Clipper—Gallo looked more like himself, shooting 49% from the field and 43% from deep while averaging just over 20 points per game. If there’s cause for optimism, it’s in those numbers. Gallinari’s floor-spacing ability, willing and smart passing, and ability to get to the free throw line was integral to a balanced offensive attack that took the Clippers to a 5-2 record in that stretch, including a quality win in Boston. One big boost that Gallo brings is his ability to get to the free throw line: he averaged almost double the free throw attempts in the second stretch of games mentioned above when compared to the first, generating easy points and getting the Clippers out of sticky situations late in possessions.

Weaknesses:

Gallinari’s main weakness is obvious: he can’t be counted on to be on the floor. You never want to bash a guy for getting hurt, and obviously we all want Danilo to be healthy, but it’s necessary to acknowledge that he has consistently struggled to play 60 games in a season. While only playing 21 games is egregious, even by his standards, his standards aren’t very high. In his 8 NBA seasons, he broke 80 games just once—his second season, when he was 21 years old. He’s played more than 70 games just one other time, in the 2012-13 campaign that preceded him missing the full 2013-14 season with an ACL injury. Gallinari repeating his 2017-18 in 2018-19 would be catastrophic—but even optimistic guesses would realistically expect between 50 and 60 games played. That’s a long time to be missing a core piece of an ensemble offensive cast, and it influences off-season decision making: it would be irresponsible for the Clippers to enter another season with Wesley Johnson as the primary back-up at small forward if they want to compete for a playoff spot.

But beyond that, he has some limitations as a player that bear mentioning as well. He’s probably more suited for the power forward position than the small forward position as he approaches 30 and the NBA evolves, and while his defensive positioning tends to be solid, he’s slow-footed and doesn’t have much dynamic athleticism left. A lot of Gallinari’s drives end up as awkward 18-foot jumpshots after his first step gets him nowhere. And while he’s an able and willing passer within a system, his low assist numbers indicate that he isn’t doing a ton of creating for others. Fortunately, this seems to be a little bit of a better fit with Tobias Harris than Blake Griffin. While neither Tobias nor Blake is a true small forward either, Tobias is certainly closer to the center of the forward spectrum, allowing him and Danilo to switch defensive assignments on a night-to-night basis and space the floor for each others’ drives, playing off of each other offensively

Future with Clippers:

The only thing that’s safe to say when it comes to the Clippers is that nobody’s safe. If that wasn’t clear when the team opted to trade Chris Paul instead of offering him a five-year max contract, then it certainly became clear when they moved Blake Griffin this January, just months after inking him to a long-term deal of his own.

So, while players like DeAndre Jordan and Tobias Harris were crucial to the Clippers’ 2018 campaign, and someone like Patrick Beverley seems to be a locker room leader and a major piece of the core going forward, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see any of them moved this summer if the right deal comes up.

Gallinari, however, may be the safest on the team. It’s always incredibly difficult to trade players after injury-riddled seasons because their value can be so difficult to gauge. Is Danilo one of the NBA’s most efficient scoring combo forwards in his prime, or an injury-riddled behind-time-times wing who shot poorly last season and is owed massive salaries for the next two seasons? He’s either a major asset—the kind that the Clippers traded a first-round pick to acquire in a sign-and-trade last summer—or a dead-weight contract. It’s unlikely that teams will buy into him as a major asset at this point in time, and it would probably be foolish for the Clippers to sell on him as a dead-weight contract.

It seems likely to me that Gallinari returns next season, has a more average season (by his standards), and then becomes a much more valuable trade chip in the 2019 off-season or at the 2020 trade deadline, when he’ll be an efficient veteran weapon on an expiring contract.