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Could the veteran forward reunite with the Nuggets?
The offseason is finally upon us with the conclusion of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Looking ahead, the Denver Nuggets are on the brink of making myriad important decisions pertaining to the roster, the most daunting of which is what to do in free agency.
Free agency will likely begin within a couple of weeks of the 2020 NBA Draft, which is set for Nov. 18.
The Nuggets have a fair amount of time to continue gathering intel on impending free agents, and there’s already one well-known veteran who Denver could sway to join their ranks.
Forward Danilo Gallinari, a member of the Nuggets from 2011 to 2017, recently admitted that winning a championship is more important to him than the financial details of future contracts (h/t Sportando).
Gallinari, 32-years-old, has had sizable career earnings. Coming off of a three-year, $64.8 million contract he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017, he’s made $135.5 million over the course of his 12-year career. He made $21.2 million in the 2019-20 season.
Should the formerly lottery pick be willing to take a significant pay cut, a reunion in Denver could be an intriguing way for Gallo to compete for an NBA title. The Nuggets will be able to offer Gallinari the full mid-level exception, something his representation may balk at long term but potentially consider on a short-term deal.
Would it make sense for Denver?
If Denver loses either Jerami Grant or Paul Millsap in free agency, Gallinari would be enticing as an offseason target. Able to play both forward positions, Gallinari would be a high-IQ, high-level scorer that only enhances the team’s chances of making it to the NBA Finals.
Frankly, I believe it’s likely that the Nuggets lose either one or both Grant and Millsap in free agency — which possibly puts players like Gallinari right in their crosshairs. Other scenarios that could make a deal between the two parties make sense would be Will Barton moving to shooting guard or Denver making a splash trade that thins out their forward depth.
One rotation configuration that could work with his signing sees Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Monte Morris, Grant, Barton, Gallinari as the primary players in it. Notably, this leads to Gallinari potentially replacing Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee in a shortened (or playoff) rotation.
The trade-off would seemingly be offense for defense, as Gallinari’s scoring average last season (18.7 points per game) dwarfed Craig’s (5.4 points per game). Fortunately for the Nuggets, Gallinari is a stout and intelligent defender whose performance on that side of the ball is underrated. He won’t be an elite defensive weapon, but he’s still capable.
Starter or second-unit?
Gallinari has been a starter in 566 of 636 career games and every game for the past five seasons; expecting him to want any less than that upon his arrival would be foolhardy.
On the one hand, it gives the Nuggets a seasoned veteran who brings the same leadership, toughness and savvy they would lose in the starting lineup with Millsap’s departure. In addition, Denver gets a potent scorer who knows how to play off of others.
Statistically, the numbers look kindly at Gallinari as a spot-up shooter. Making 40.5% of his threes, 30.5% of his shots were spot-up attempts in the 2019-20 regular season and he scored 1.12 points per possession on this play type; 67.6% of his field goals were assisted last season.
That bodes well in terms of having a cohesive offensive group, as does Gallinari having an average touch time of 2.5 seconds in 2019-20. Though not a high-assist player (1.9 assists per game last season), the ball doesn’t stick to his hands.
Of course, whether or not Gallinari starts (assuming that Grant returns) could be due to what Porter looks like rather than how he does. If Porter shows he’s had exponential growth defensively while continuing to hone his offensive skills and overall mindset, he could be in line to start regardless. Meanwhile, Grant has already shown just how strongly his defense and athleticism fits in with the starting unit, so Gallinari could be facing an even steeper climb there.
At least at the start.
If the money allows it, signing Gallinari would be a worthwhile venture for the Nuggets, and the vet should be welcomed back with open arms.
Adding a player like Gallinari, who is one of the league’s more potent scorers, also aids Denver because of the issues they’ve had generating offense at times. Fully integrating Porter certainly helps in that regard, but replacing one of their least-productive scorers in Craig with Gallinari would be optimal for the Nuggets. The team averaged 111.3 points per game in 2019-20 (19th in the NBA) and could use all of the explosiveness offensively that they can get.
There are concerns, such as what happens to Grant or Millsap with his signing. There aren’t too many players better than Gallinari that fit within their price range though, and due to the uncertainty surrounding their impending free agents, he could fill a position of need as well.
Is a Gallo reunion unlikely? Yes, but it would be fun and potentially fruitful to see it happen.