The Italian Rooster

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Brent Lewis, The Denver Post

Brent Lewis, The Denver Post

„Offensively, Gallinari puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense, creating his own shot time after time and making fantastic decisions with the ball in his hands. His slashing forays to the rim opened up Le Mans’s defense considerably and created numerous open looks for his teammates on the wing—resulting in a game-high 5 assists. He does a wonderful job keeping his man off balance on his heels with a series of jukes and shakes, never giving his defender any hint as to which direction he’ll slash until it’s basically too late. He uses screens exceptionally well and is constantly reading the defense—showing a mastery of picking optimal angles and never driving in a straight line thanks to his fluid body control. That’s why despite the fact that his first step isn’t prototypically explosive for an NBA small forward, he gets his shot almost whenever he wants—more so with his skills and smarts.“

This is a part of one of the numerous scouting reports about then Italian basketball prodigy Danilo Gallinari, written couple of weeks before the 2008 NBA draft. He was seen as a prototype of modern forward and that’s the reason why the Knicks selected him with the 6th pick, hoping that they’d finally hit the jackpot at the draft. Since the departure of Patrick Ewing in 2000, the Knicks were a laughingstock for the vast majority of the time.

Credit Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Credit Barton Silverman/The New York Times

But with signings of Mike D’Antoni and in-prime Amare Stoudemire as remarkable moves towards relevancy near the end of decade and additions of a couple of good players through drafts and free agency like Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler and Gallinari it looked like the Knicks were becoming a team to beat. But then they pulled typical Knicks move by pressing the red button with large DON’T TOUCH on it. Chasing another big-time star they’ve acquired premier scorer Carmelo Anthony, disbanding their promising young core by the way.

The price for Melo and aging Billups was a package consisting of Gallinari, Mozgov, Felton and Chandler. 5 years later it is clear that the Nuggets won that trade. Melo is a great player, but one big season (2012/13) surely wasn’t what the Knicks expected.

After gruesome ACL injury that forced Danilo to miss entire 2013/14 campaign, he had returned better than ever. Little indicators of what kind of excellence is Gallo capable of showing were his scoring barrages last season against Dallas (47 points), Orlando (40) and Lakers (27, with 7 three-pointers). It was obvious that Denver got its go-to scorer for the years to come.

The Italian has been playing at an All-Star level this season and only the tough competition prevented him from getting his first nod. For example, Gallinari is enjoying career-highs in points (19.5), rebounds (5.3), PER (19.2) and usage rate (23%, via basketball-reference.com). The Nuggets are scoring an astounding 120 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

The Best European Player in the NBA 15/16

He is arguably the best European player in the NBA at the moment. All-timers Nowitzki and Gasol are still rolling, but Danilo is currently a flag-bearer of Euro basketball. The best part is that, at the age of 27, Gallinari has yet to enter his true prime. Stats are only one part of somebody’s game, but the Nuggets’ star has shown significant progress in maturity and leadership fields. Watching how Gallo is playing is a pure joy. He’s fast, athletically gifted, with good length and effortless stroke.

His maneuverability and the ability to swiftly make tough decisions are uncanny. Guarding him is one of the toughest tasks for opposing defenders. Unlike some other up-and-comers, he’s not receiving not nearly as much of attention and acclamation, which makes him even more likable for die-hard basketball fans. Coach Malone is doing a decent job developing youngsters like Barton, Mudiay, and Jokić. The future seems bright for Denver.

However, it’s up to Gallinari whether or not would they quickly establish themselves among the Western conference playoff teams. This season was sacrificed for rebuilding and testing the abilities of aforementioned guys. A lot of good things happened for the franchise. There are many reasons to be optimistic.

If injury bug finally bypasses Gallinari, there are no obstacles for him to become Top 5 small forward in the game, even in the golden age for that position. He is not as versatile as James, not as gifted scorer as Durant, not as great defender as Leonard or as complete wing as George.

But Gallo has some qualities that these players are lacking – he’s better shooter than Lebron, better playmaker than Leonard, better at coercing free throws than Durant and he’s producing more win shares per 48 minutes than George. I’m not saying that he’s going to surpass this guys or become as great as they are, but it goes without a question that he’s capable of being the leader of his respective squad.

The Nuggets were already known for their spectacular forwards during franchise’s existence; from Ralph Simpson, David Thompson, Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe, Dale Ellis to Carmelo Anthony.

If you’re asking me, Danilo Gallinari is the next one.