Danilo Gallinari celebrates after he comes up with the loose ball that helped the Nuggets clinch a win over Golden State on Wednesday night. (Photo by Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)
Danilo Gallinari picked himself up off the Pepsi Center court and, for just a moment, let the cheers wash over him. He pounded his chest. He urged the crowd to get louder.
The Nuggets were on the verge of their biggest victory of the season, over defending champion Golden State on Wednesday night. Gallinari reveled in it. It was the most emotion he’d show the rest of the night. Because, getting jiggy in the post game press conference isn’t his thing.
But this is the most confident we’ve seen him in some time.
Probably in the last three seasons. And that made his display against Golden State, his career-high extending sixth straight game of 20 or more points (28 in total), apropos. Golden State is the opponent that so many insist three fateful years ago, had he been on the court instead of nursing a torn ACL, the Nuggets would have beaten in the first round of the playoffs. And the course of the franchise’s history would have been changed.
“I had a lot of dreams about it, trust me,” Gallinari said. “Especially as soon as I got injured. But dreams are not reality.”
But this is.
The turn of the year has brought with it a new Gallo.
He’s been a superhero version of himself, attacking the rim relentlessly and with purpose, rebounding at a higher level and making the plays required of a lead player. In January, Gallinari is averaging 26.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 44.8 percent shooting, 37 percent from the 3-point line and he’s getting to the line an astonishing 12.3 times per game (10.2 makes).
Contrast that with his previous 27 games: 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 38.9 percent shooting, 37 percent from the 3-point line and 6.7 free throws per game (6.0 makes).
“He’s been so impressive,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “While he was out with the ankle injury we had some great conversations. We talked about what we want to do with this team, how he needs to play. And to his credit it wasn’t just talk. He’s come out and followed up with his actions.”
The key to Gallinari’s resurgent play lies in one area: Decisiveness.
On the top is Gallinari’s shot chart in his last six games. On the bottom, his first 27 games. (via NBA)
He’s been a quick decision maker of late, letting his talent do the talking and not giving defenses a chance to dig in and attack him. He’s not pounding the dribble nearly as much before either making his move or moving the ball. According to NBA player tracking data, in the five games prior to Wednesday night he’d only had the ball for six or more seconds in a possession 9.8 percent of the time, and he had one game in which he never was on the ball that long.
In his previous 27 he was on the ball at least six seconds 15.9 percent of the time, and had those possessions in 22 of the 27 games.
Conversely, his touches that lasted two seconds or less had risen to 52.4 percent of the time, and in that time his effective field goal percentage was 61.2 percent. Before, that was just 46.7 percent of the time and his effective field goal percentage was 59 percent.
Gallinari’s possessions of seven or more dribbles dwindled to 6.1 percent, and all of that occurred in just two games. In the first 27 he dribbled the ball seven or more times in a possession 9.6 percent of the time in 20 of the 27 games.
And he’s finishing at the rim, not just looking to create contact. He’s made 60.5 percent of his shots at the rim in his last six, as opposed to just 47.2 percent in the other 27 games.
He got back into some of his previous ball-holding habits in the Nuggets’ win over Golden State, but the aggressiveness that accompanied it resulted in a steady march to the free throw line. His 19 trips to the line was one short of what Golden State had as a team, and his 17 makes were more than the Warriors had in total.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Gallinari said. “My body feels good and I’m pretty confident. So I think that I’m playing at a pretty good level. But hopefully I’m playing good and the team is winning. If I’m playing like this but the team doesn’t win, it doesn’t work for anybody.”