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Is Danilo Gallinari the Most Underrated Player in the NBA?

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Danilo Gallinari is playing the best ball of his career at age 30 and is helping carry a scrappy Clippers team to the Western Conference playoffs. The surprising part? No one is talking about him.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

A lot was made of the biggest trade of the NBA trade deadline, when the Clippers decided they weren’t going to pay Tobias Harris this offseason and sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler and two beautiful first-round picks. What was consistently said about Tobias, in his departure from L.A., is that the Clips got rid of their best player to try to gun for more well-known stars this offseason and keep their draft pick. The media liked to say that the Clippers best player was Harris, and while the consensus was that it was a win-win for both teams involved, the Clippers were probably waving the white flag this season in dealing their best player and wanted to keep their draft pick this summer.

I don’t blame anyone for not being religious viewer of Clipper games before February of this season (ahem, only three nationally televised games ALL season) — but if you did, you probably were witnessing something different than what the national media was pushing. Yes, Tobias was the Clippers’ leading scorer and rebounder and was also second on the team in three-point percentage. He was also perhaps the most visible (or 2nd behind Lou Williams) name on the roster given his elevated play and chances at making the All-Star game in the West. However, any consistent viewer of Clipper games this season could see that it wasn’t Harris who was the Clippers’ rock or most important player. For the majority of the season, it’s been Danilo Gallinari. Although Lou Williams averages more points and comes up big in the clutch, the argument can be made that Gallo has been the most consistent player on this roster and perhaps the best player as well.

Some may be asking: “Huh?” “What?” Or maybe giving this a hearty “GTFO.” Well… let me explain my reasoning. Let’s start with the fact that Gallo is averaging career highs this season in points, rebounds, and field-goal and three-point percentage at age 30, coming off the second-most injured season of his career (and that’s saying something). Let’s also take into account Gallo’s offensive efficiency, where he is currently tied for fourth in the league in three-point percentage (43.8%), fourth in the league in free-throw percentage (90.5%), 11th in true shooting percentage (63.4%), and 15th in offensive box plus/minus (4.2). He’s also fifth in the entire league in offensive rating (124.9), top 20 in first quarter scoring (6.3 avg in 1st), top 20 in win shares per 48 minutes and has a net rating above All-Stars like: LeBron James, Ben Simmons, Kemba Walker, Karl-Anthony Towns and Blake Griffin to name a few. He has also posted his personal best total rebound rate (10.3 percent) in his career as well as his highest assist rate (12.1 percent) since 2012-13 and is ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo in real offensive plus/minus at 14th in the NBA.

He is achieving these numbers playing at the highest usage rate of his career (23.4) but also his lowest minute output in four years. Kinda crazy right? Want to hear something even wilder? Gallo, among all active players, is fifth in career offensive rating and 13th all-time in NBA history. He’s also 21st all-time in career turnover percentage. The dude can flat out score the ball at an efficient clip and is sure handed as they come.

Again, I get why Gallinari isn’t talked about much as one of the better forwards in the league. Even with the considerable amount of national press the Clippers have been getting recently, most of the conversation has centered around Lou, Harrell and Patrick Beverley. They are flashier and more in your face than a silent killer in Gallo. However… are we sure Gallinari isn’t the most underrated player in the NBA today? I mean we are talking about a guy who’s averaging 19.7 points and 6.7 rebounds a game on .462/.436/.906 splits on perhaps the most surprising team in the NBA — a team that could rise as high as fifth in the WEST — in the second biggest media market in the league. Yet, he rarely gets any love from the national press or talked about as an elite forward in this league. When you Google his name, you won’t find ESPN mentioning him when they discuss Harrell, Beverley or Lou (watch the clip below…no mention of Gallo).

You won’t see viral tweets of plays he makes or game winners. You won’t see him being interviewed by Fox Sports or Scott Van Pelt. You don’t see him getting involved with the rivalry of the other L.A. team. Heck, you don’t even see his name on lists when people talk about underrated players in the league. When I say underrated when it comes to Gallo, I mean it in the truest sense of the word. This man really does not get talked about at all. He just goes out and does his work in an efficient, silent manner and makes life difficult for opposing teams. While he does get paid like a star (making $21.5 million this season), he’s not a “brand name.” He’s a pros pro and silent killer and the Clippers have to be extremely thankful that he has maintained his health this season.

What L.A. has been able to do since the trade deadline has been a surprise to everyone. Most around the squad still believed that they are a playoff team, but the fact that they are within a few games of getting home court advantage in the West is pretty insane, to be honest. What this ascension, post-deadline, has proven is two things. One, the front office is full of magicians and wizards. Two, the offensive and defensive differences the Clips have made are really working. Like, really well. A lot of this has to do with the offensive variability of the starting five, the strengthening of an already solid bench and Gallinari’s exceptional play over the last month and a half.

In the last 15 games, Gallo is averaging 23.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on .505/.434/.906 splits. The Clippers have won 11 straight games that Danilo has played in. In those games, Gallo is posting an incredible 122.2 offensive rating and a plus-15.9 net rating. With DG now fully entrenched as the go-to option for the first five, the offense has flourished with a 113.1 offensive rating and 9.4 net rating. With Tobias as the number one option before, the Clippers had a tendency to get stagnant on offense for periods of time due to forcing the ball into Harris’ hands and having him try to create off the dribble (starting five with Harris had a -8.0 net rating). Tobias wasn’t a great mover off-ball and had a tendency to stand still instead of being an active cutter. In the paint, Harris’ finishing was a mixed-bag and while he is averaging a career-high in three-point percentage (41.3%), inconsistency from deep was also an issue. The beauty of Gallo’s game is that he doesn’t need the ball to be effective. He is an active slasher, good at finding open pockets around the arc when players are driving, can attract defensive attention on the perimeter that leaves the paint open for drives and can hit shots from anywhere. This prompts some confused defenses and a lot of points from everywhere for the Italian. When he does have the ball and doesn’t get space or gets clogged in the paint, his ability to find the open man is pretty spectacular as well.

Another aspect of his game that has really helped this team is the variety at which he can score. His nearly 7’0” size gives him the ability to shoot over almost anyone from anywhere. He can take guys one-on-one and finish at the rim or in the mid-range, nail deep threes with a guy in his face, he’s tricky to defend in the paint because he can use a multitude of head-fakes to get players in the air for fouls and he has become particularly adept at using a deadly setback to get open jumpers. He also is a good ballhandler for his size and is able to create a lot of space on pullup jumpers.

The way this dude is able to move at his size is lethal for defenses as Gallo is a true threat to score from anywhere on the floor. The offense of the starting five for L.A. is clicking at just the right time because of the fact that everyone can score effectively, pass and move without the ball. The stagnation that was once hobbling the squad before is really not there anymore, and Gallo being the type of guy who can score in every way and move without the ball helps tremendously.

The offense has been spectacular thus far for Gallinari, but let’s not sleep on his defense. This aspect of his game has probably been the most surprising for fans to see this season. His ability to defend multiple positions and play smart, consistent defense. Gallo really must have locked in this offseason because he came into the 2018-19 season looking like he’s in the best shape of his career and this hasn’t disappointed. He can truly defend 1-5 on the floor with his length, strength and agility. He has a definite knack for keeping opponents in front of him on D and if they do beat him, he has the length to contest a shot at the rim or anywhere on the floor. He is a smart defender as well. Along with Montrezl Harrell, Gallo is adept at taking charges and knowing when to jump to contest shots.

He doesn’t get caught in the air a lot (only averages 1.9 fouls per game) and makes life difficult inside — even for players bigger than him. Maybe Kevin Durant was onto something in 2013 when he said this about Gallo’s defense:

Any Clipper fan will tell you that Gallo is an incredibly effective two-way player who has been the rock for L.A. this season. While Bev is the vocal leader, Lou is the savior, and Trez is the spark-plug — Gallinari is Mr. Consistency. Clippers broadcaster Don McLean frequently stated before the season and at the beginning that if Gallo was healthy for 65 games this season, L.A. was a playoff team. This prophecy came true against the opinions of most, and I think it’s time for Gallo to get the respect and notice he deserves. Maybe with a strong playoff showing his name will finally shine, but for now, Clippers Nation is fine with him being our silent-yet-deadly secret.

Author’s Notes: All 2018-19 stats come from stats.nba.com. All career stats and rankings come from basketball-reference.com. Also, all stats are prior to the Bucks game Thursday night.