Since being drafted in 2008 forward Danilo Gallinari has been pegged as a cornerstone piece for the New York Knicks. His impressive play as a youngster in Italy (under the eye of his famed father Vittorio Gallinari) got the attention of North American scouts quickly while playing the circuit for various pro teams. Four years later and less than a month after Gallinari declared for the NBA draft the Knicks hired Mike D’Antoni as their head coach. D’Antoni had been a teammate of Gallinari’s father Vito and had roomed with him during their playing days. As a former player and coach in Europe D’Antoni seemed like the perfect fit Gallinari, who would need to adjust quickly both on and off the court. In that sense it wasn’t a shocker when the Knicks took a risk in selecting him with the sixth overall pick in the draft, but family ties aren’t what has Gallinari being pegged as one of the league’s top up and comers. It isn’t what got him into the NBA before he turned 20 years old either, being praised as a new-age Anfernee Hardaway come to help lift the sagging Knickerbockers.
After a rookie season mostly lost to a back injury and a second season spent regaining his foothold on the competition, Gallinari seems on track and poised for that next step in the big bright city. For the kid also known as “Gallo” – which translates to “Rooster” in Italian – this is his first real chance at being part of a future core in New York. For the Knicks, the past two years have largely been spent gearing up for the summer of LeBron leaving most of the roster rightfully uncertain about their length of stay in the Big Apple. Most would agree that Gallinari was not among the expected departures before he was sidelined as a rook but nobody knew how he would bounce back from the bulging disc in his back. Even when he returned to the court earlier than expected in January 2009 there remained doubts. Gallinari’s concerning injury left a gaping hole in the Knicks’ plan to rebuild and it was filled with question marks in his place. All fears were calmed and most of the question marks erased shortly into the 2009-10 season when he was named to the starting lineup just two games into the schedule. Over 81 games Gallinari played like a keeper averaging 15 points and five rebounds a night along with a 38% three-point shooting mark in his first full season.
“My goal is to try to be more constant than last year,” Gallinari told SWAY Sports. “Try to play every game the same, try to get the same aggressiveness.”
As finesse forward, Gallinari’s strength lies in his versatility. A solid stroke, sound playmaking hands and the length to be a defensive disruption still leave coaches and scouts drooling at his potential. “What if he becomes everything we thought he would? How dangerous would that be?” This season for Gallinari will go a long way in answering some of those “what if’s”, especially if the Knicks can push for a playoff spot among the notoriously weak bottom half of the eastern conference. If they do Gallinari will have to play a big part in getting them to compete.
D’Antoni and his staff have brought Gallinari along at an even pace, allowing him ample room for growing pains on some bad Knicks rosters. Now that the Knicks have secured a big name free agent and established some kind of direction Gallinari is expected to continue his rapid development. When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all passed on New York and Chris Paul became a fleeting pipe dream (for now) the team settled for biggie Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton at point guard. While Stoudemire’s all-star history and prized off-season acquisition status knocks Gallinari down in the pecking order as the most seasoned talent on the team, he will also help to open things up for “Gallo” with his strong running and post presence. Gallinari’s handles are nice enough to cut defenses and help finish plays and with stronger team post play this season he should have more room to create and shoot. At 6’10 and 225 pounds he can also take advantage of smaller guys on both ends of the floor.
“Amar’e is an all-star,” said Gallinari. “He’s one of the best players in the league with what he does. He’s been great for us being a leader and he’s been a great teammate. I’m really happy to play with him.”
Like a lot of young multi-tooled athletes Gallinari doesn’t do any one thing at an extremely high level yet, but shows all-star promise in many areas. The knock is that he doesn’t get inside enough for a young player and has been slow to get out of his comfort zone. D’Antoni and his point man Felton will have to continue to encourage that.
The Knicks started two rookies on opening night this season with forward Landry Fields and center Timofey Mozgov getting the call. Along with Gallinari and Felton that is a total of seven years experience, one less than Stoudemire’s eight campaigns. Next generation role players like Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas and Andy Rautins have eight years in combined. The youth movement is real in NY and in that sense Gallinari leads the charge.
“Experience is always for toward the end of the season and playoffs for sure,” said Gallinari. “But I don’t think you have to think about your age because we have experienced guys and young guys that know how to play basketball. I think we have the right mix.”
If Stoudemire represents success now, Gallinari takes that vision longer term. Of course, playing in New York is not without distractions and with help from D’Antoni Gallinari has managed to create a good foundation. He admits it was a challenge adjusting to American life but as his comfort level has grown so too has his game. Finding the balance comes along with the big expectations.
“Every time I get on the court I try to just think about the court,” said Gallinari. “I try to separate the two things. At the same time the relationships outside can help the relationship in the locker room and vice versa.”
Gallinari also has to deal with the ferocious media and rumor mill that exists in his market, a reality that can make any athlete’s head spin. With chatter about Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony’s wishes to become a Knick alive and well it seems the future changes everyday in Gotham. It is a common assumption that the Knicks would give up the farm to acquire a talent like Anthony but in the new NBA era of the “big three”, president Donnie Walsh and company seem determined keep Gallinari as part of any such combination being formed in New York.
Photo: icon SMI