The Nuggets need Danilo Gallinari for his sharp shooting, driving and size.
Starters Ty Lawson (five games), Arron Afflalo (four), Timofey Mozgov (12) and Danilo Gallinari (17) have all missed a significant amount of games. Backup Rudy Fernandez (19) is done for the season and needs back surgery.
Gallinari, who missed 13 games in February and early March due to a severe ankle injury, has been forced to sit out the last four Nuggets games after fracturing his left thumb against Dallas 10 days ago.
For Denver, he's the most significant starter to miss multiple games. The reasons are numerous.
Gallo's a scorer, solid passer, team player, runs the break and runs to get back on defense. Plus, his size makes him almost indefensible when he pulls up for a jumper and it allows him to rebound over smaller small forwards.
Let's take a closer look at why the Nuggets need Gallinari back for the playoffs—if Denver can hang on and make the postseason, that is.
First and foremost, Gallo is important because he can flat-out score.
The fourth-year professional fills up the basket and does it in a variety of ways.
Gallinari can pull up and knock down threes with ease. He struggled to find his stoke early in the season, but he had caught fire in recent months before breaking his thumb. He can hit mid-range jumpers as well.
But don't think he's limited to just shooting.
Gallo loves to drive the ball to the rim, but he's also deft at moving without the ball and running hard on the break.
At 15.2 points per, He's the second-leading scorer on the Nuggets. The team is 11-2 when he scores 20-plus points—proving just how key he is to their success.
Gallinari is the most gifted scorer in Denver, but he's anything but selfish.
He passes the ball very well for someone his size and he's ready to give up the rock if it means one of his teammates can score more easily.
Gallo's even been known to pass the ball back to a chasing teammate on a fast break, rewarding them for stealing the ball. His 2.6 assists per game make him fourth on the team, which exudes leadership.
When the best scorer wants to pass, everyone else must follow suit. Gallo leads by example.
He's not only team oriented on offense, the youngster gives great effort on the defensive end as well, using his length to poke away passes and affect opponents' shots.
At 6'10”, Gallinari is one of the most athletically gifted big men in the game.
In fact, his abilities—shooting the rock ridiculously well from beyond the arc and driving to the hoop—have some comparing him to the legendary Dirk Nowitzki.
While Gallo hasn't yet mastered the Dirk turnaround, he does have the shot in his repertoire and is improving on it all the time.
And Gallinari doesn't rest on a go-to shot, he scores in a vast variety of ways. His size helps him almost always have a clean look at the rim.
He understands he must rebound, and the Italian does well to put himself in position for loose balls, averaging 4.9 per game, sixth highest on the team.
Gallo also uses his size to frustrate opponents. He's usually three to five inches taller than they are. His feet are quick for a man of his stature and he utilizes that quickness to stay in font of other threes, putting his hands up to block shots.
When Gallinari plays, the Nuggets have one of the biggest front lines in the game with Mozgov (7'1")/McGee (7'0") and Kenneth Faried (6'9")/Al Harrington (6'9")—a size advantage they haven't enjoyed for years.
Gallinari's so big, George Karl can—and has—played him at the four when he wants to go to a smaller lineup. Gallo's versatility helps both his coach and teammates.
Gallinari loves to go to the iron to either flush down a dunk or throw a layup off the glass—he's one of the few Nuggets players to do so on a consistent basis.
Denver too often gets stuck in settling for jumpers instead of driving the lane for an easier shot.
Gallo does it every game, and when he does, he often gets fouled and goes to the charity stripe where he's an assassin (87.6 percent).
The Italian Stallion gallops down the floor with a reckless abandon while going to the rim. That makes him difficult to defend while driving.
Many have said the Nuggets can't compete because they don't have a star, yet Gallinari is their star in bloom.
He's the one player in the Mile High City that gets calls from the refs like a star—as is evidenced by his 5.7 free-throw attempts per game.
And Gallinari has that star potential. He thoroughly out-played his predecessor Carmelo Anthony by scoring 37 points, including 18-20 FT, and grabbing 11 rebounds in the Nuggets double overtime win over the Knicks in New York.
Gallo can pick and pop, drive and dunk, steal passes, out-run opponents on the break and run them down to block them from behind—he's got an all-around game that won't be denied, something very rare for someone his size.
In the 17 games he's missed this year, the Nuggets have gone a combined 8-9. They are 19-14 with him this season.
Denver is on a seven-game road trip which resumes tonight with a 5 p.m. MT tipoff against Toronto.
The Italian Stallion told the Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman he could be out for up to four weeks due to fracturing his left thumb.
That could put him back around April 20th—in time to play the last four regular season games as a tuneup before the playoffs.
Of course, that's assuming the Nuggets can put together consistent team play, something they've struggled to do since the Nene trade.
With newcomer JaVale McGee and Wilson Chandler re-joining the team last week—plus a ton of injuries including Gallo's—it's somewhat understandable why the Nuggets are searching for an identity of late.
But they don't have time to search much longer. There are only 16 games left on the shortened schedule and Denver is sitting in the eighth spot in the West at 27-23 overall.
It's time to win or stay home.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist, Rich is the Denver Broncos and CSU Rams Examiner and Kurtzman also writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey, and Mile High Hoops.
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