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2018-2019 Clippers Exit Interviews: Danilo Gallinari

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Danilo Gallinari had the best season of his career, and was a huge part of the Clippers’ success.

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Basic Information:

Name: Danilo Gallinari

Age: 30

Years in NBA: 11

Position: Power forward/small forward

Key Stats: In the regular season, averaged 19.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 30.3 minutes per game across 68 games, shooting 46.3/43.3/90.4 for a 63.3% TS.

2018-2019 Contract: $21,587,579

Future Contract Status: $22,615,559 (not fully guaranteed)

Summary:

Danilo Gallinari had the worst season of his career since his rookie campaign in 2017-2018, his first year with the Clippers. He was injured, looked out of shape and banged up even when he actually saw the court, and couldn’t shoot the ball. That all changed this year, much to the delight of Clippers’ fans, and Gallo’s bounceback might have been the single most important reason for the Clippers’ improvement from also-ran to legitimate playoff team.

Gallo started off the season scorching hot from deep, hitting over 47% of his threes in the first two months of the season. Most importantly, he also looked far quicker and more nimble than the season before on both ends of the court. He was able to leverage his shooting into hard closeouts and fouls, enabling him to march to the line quite frequently for a “non-star” player, and also utilized his smarts and improved quickness to play solid defense out on the perimeter. Gallo peaked for a bit in December, upping his scoring, rebounding, and assists while shooting better than ever, and keeping the team afloat while the rest of the roster fell back down to earth a bit.

In January, Gallo’s numbers fell off a cliff, as he flailed right along with the rest of the starting lineup, which completely fell apart going into the deadline. February was little better, as Gallo struggled to get acclimated to his new teammates, and shouldered the burden of bearing the responsibility of carrying the scoring load in the starting lineup with Tobias Harris in Philly. However, it all came together in March – the Clippers blazed through the competition, and Gallo was a huge part of that, putting together perhaps the best numbers of his career. In March, Gallo averaged 23.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists, all while shooting an absurd 52.1/45.3/89 for a 68.2% TS. It was a month of All-NBA caliber play from the Italian big man, and he seemed to be peaking going into the playoffs.

Unfortunately, Gallo, like so many other Clippers, struggled in the postseason against the Warriors. While the defending champions played great defense, Gallo also just missed a ton of looks he made all season. He couldn’t hit fadeaway looks over smaller defenders, bricked open threes, and got to the line far less frequently. The production was there – points, rebounds, assists – but the crowning jewel of Gallo’s game, the efficiency, was mostly gone. He did, however, contribute significantly to the Clippers’ heroic Game 2 comeback victory, and played decently in Games 5 and 6, even with some bad misses. Ultimately, even if it wasn’t a great series by Gallo, it ended up being an “ok” one, and the Clippers will take that. It was not the best way to end a wonderful season, but he went out fighting, and that’s what this Clippers team was all about.

Strengths:

Scoring efficiently is probably the best single ability to have in basketball, and Danilo Gallinari was one of the most efficient scorers in the entire NBA this season. He had the highest usage of his career, and responded by posting the best true shooting mark of his career to match. Gallo’s game is a perfect fit with the modern NBA – he takes a lot of threes, and gets to the line frequently. Best of all, he makes a good percentage of his threes, and is one of the best free throw shooters in the NBA. All that combines to make Gallo an incredibly valuable player on the offensive end, and impact stats (RPM, BPM) had him as one of the most positively impactful players in the NBA.

While Gallo now plays almost exclusively at power forward (or even center) compared to his earlier years as a small forward, he still possesses a size advantage over most of his defenders. This enables him to shoot over almost anyone he likely matches up against, a huge reason for his strong shooting numbers. Gallo’s excellent shooting plays right into his herky-jerky driving game: if defenders close out hard, he’s an expert at either drawing the foul or getting into the paint and drawing a shooting foul on the rotating help. Gallo’s improved health this year extended to his movement, as he was far more explosive attacking and finishing around the basket. He can still get up when need be, and had some pretty monstrous jams on rim protectors. Finally, Gallo is a solid passer, and is very good at kicking out of the post when doubled without turning it over. In general, his ability to not turn the ball over on significant usage is a huge plus.

Defensively, Danilo does not necessarily look like a stopper, but he’s a real positive on that end too. His height helps both in challenging shots on the perimeter as well as providing an obstacle at the rim, and he’s great at going straight up without fouling. Gallo’s big body also makes it difficult for smaller guys to get by him, especially considering how smart he is in positioning himself. Knowledge of where to be on defense is at least half the battle, and effort is a lot more. With both those things down, as well as decent tools, Gallinari is one of the more underrated defensive players in the NBA.

Weaknesses:

Before this season, Gallo’s big weakness was his injury history. He’s only played over 70 games twice in his career, and his high point of 81 games played was a decade ago. Even in a very healthy season, Gallo played just 68 games, which meant he missed 14 – a not inconsiderable amount. Additionally, he averaged a mere 30.3 minutes per game, which is rather low for a player of his caliber. The Clippers took measures to keep him healthy all year, and that meant keeping his minutes down even when tempted to play him more. The Clippers’ depth helped, but Gallo will probably never be a 34+ minute a game player again, at least over the course of a full season.

As a player, Gallo’s weaknesses are few, and not particularly glaring. He’s not great at creating his own shot in isolation, particularly when matched against other wings. Whatever quickness advantage he once had has dissipated with age and injuries, and he now prefers to post up rather than taking defenders off the dribble. Gallo can also be a ball-stopper on offense, preferring to size up his matchup rather than making quick decisions. This played negatively against the Warriors, as they forced him into tough looks and were able to recover to other players by the time he passed out. Defensively, Gallo is still very smart on the perimeter, and uses his size to great advantage, but he can’t really stick with top-tier guard or wing threats anymore. So, while he’s a plus overall on that end, he can be exploited in the wrong matchup.

Final Grade: A+

Danilo Gallinari’s season went better than almost any Clippers fan could have predicted or hoped for. He was healthy almost all season, he was able to play (relatively) big minutes without getting injured, and he put forth the best season of his career at age 30. He fit right into the Clippers’ new, tough, gritty mentality, and his terrific play on both ends was a stabilizing force throughout the season. Molto bene, Gallo.

Future with Clippers:

Gallo is on the books for the 2019-2020 season, but his hefty salary makes him an obstacle to the Clippers clearing a 2nd max free agent slot this summer. If the Clippers think they can land two guys, Gallo will probably have to be on the way out. On the other hand, if the Clippers just pick up one max player, Gallo would be a perfect fit to stay as the #2 guy.

After 2020, the future is even less certain. Gallo will be almost 32 at that point, and the Clippers will presumably be looking towards the future. However, regardless of what happens next, Gallinari’s 2019 season was one of the brightest spots in a very bright season, and it’s too bad he won’t get more recognition for it.