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Hawks find shooting, much more in Gallinari signing

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A full scouting report on the new addition.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of rumors, and days of the Atlanta Hawks being “linked” to seemingly nearly every free agent, word broke Friday evening that the Hawks and forward Danilo Gallinari reached a three-year agreement worth upwards of $61.5 million. Following Wednesday nights’ selections of Onyeka Okongwu and Skylar Mays, Atlanta was able to add some legitimate veteran talent on Friday evening.

The veteran brings offensive stability to the roster, and adds another established shot creator. Gallinari excels in most areas of the game offensively, and presents a welcome shooting stroke from deep. While he may present some challenges for the staff in terms of matching up defensively, his offense is at such a high level that it far outweighs his defensive drawbacks.

Age: 32
Height: 6’10
Weight: 233lb
Country: Italy
Draft: 2008, R1 Pick 6

Offense

Gallinari is, without question, instantly one of the best players on the roster, and someone who should garner significant usage. In 2018-19, he led the NBA in points per possession for among players with at least 1,000 possessions.

Per Basketball Reference, the 6’10 Italian forward posted a usage rate of 24.6% with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, and he hasn’t had a usage rate below 20% since the 2010-2011 season.

Shot Chart

Gallinari shoots a ton of above the break threes, which will be great for Atlanta’s spacing issues. The 11-year veteran has been one of the more reliable forwards offensively for the better part of a decade, and was as effective as ever for the Thunder last season.

While the usage rates vary, Gallinari excels in all areas of the game offensively. He may have the reputation of a spot-up shooter, spot-ups actually only accounted for 30.5% of his usage in 2019-20. So what else can he do exactly?

Post-Up

Gallinari’s second most popular area behind spotting up in terms of play type was posting up. His combination of size, strength and touch make him a touch cover in the post. His height and touch make him some sort of a diet Dirk Nowitzki when squaring up:

In this sequence, he’s able to use the screen action to get the matchup with James Harden for an easy post touch:

Gallinari isn’t quite at the dominant level in the post, but he’s very good and doesn’t force ill-advised shots when it’s not there.

Pick-and-roll

A nuance of Gallinari’s game some may not realize or appreciate is his capabilities as a pick-and-roll ball handler. This area accounted for 11% of his overall usage, and he was very effective across those 112 possessions.

At only 155 overall pick-and-roll ball handling possessions on the season, this was mainly something Oklahoma City used as a wrinkle as they had Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schröder to handle most of the initiation duties.

With Atlanta having a little less in the creation department, this could be an area where he expands usage, at least marginally, but we’ll have to wait and see if Lloyd Pierce and staff choose to deploy him in that role. For those wondering how Gallinari can co-exist offensively with Clint Capela and/or John Collins, these clips of him dishing to Adams as the roll man might provide some insight to how versatile Gallinari truly is on the offensive end.

The big man was naturally even better in screen action when utilized as a roll man, an area that accounted for 8% of his usage, where he ranked in the 94th percentile at his position.

Gallinari was 97th percentile in pick-and-pop (these plays accounted for 69% of his roll usage), scoring a ridiculous 84 points on 55 ‘pop’ possessions (53.8 FG%). His adjusted field goal percentage in pick-and-pop last season was 77%(!!).

While it’s not a large sample, Gallinari has great feel when slipping screens as well. The big man scored 26 points on 17 ‘slip’ possessions in PnR.

Playing next to a pick-and-roll maestro like Paul without a shed of doubt aided these numbers, but luckily he’s got another magician in Trae Young to manipulate defenses with in Atlanta. Whether he’s initiating the PnR with a big, or setting a screen for Young, he’s going to be a high-level pick-and-roll player.

Isolation

Isolation accounted for nearly 10% of Gallinari’s touches with Oklahoma City last season, and it was another area where he was very effective. His size, touch, and ability to shoot off movement make him a tough cover, even late in the shot clock:

A special shooting talent, Gallinari is able to shoot from multiple releases when needed. This will be vastly needed as Atlanta’s only other truly reliable late clock option at this point is Young.

When defenses close out too hard, Gallinari has the ability to put the ball on the floor, remain under control and finish in traffic. Look how easily he carves through the Houston Rockets undersized backline:

Gallinari still has the quickness and savvy to create separation from longer defenders. Here, he’s able to use a pull-up dribble and a head-fake to create room for the easy mid-range jumper:

Passing

Gallinari has never racked up gaudy assist numbers, but don’t let that fool you. He can absolutely see the floor. It’s interesting he hasn’t averaged more assists, as he looks very comfortable passing the basketball.

Here, he’s reading the defense and is able to fire the bullet pass inside for the easy score:

This time, he’s able to make the pass out of his shot (not always a great idea) to find a more open look for a teammate. He’s an unselfish teammate, always willing to make the extra pass for a better look.

This is a part of Gallinari’s game that doesn’t jump off the stat sheet, but he’s a very capable floor reader and typically delivers a decent ball.

Cutting

Gallinari isn’t typically in the cutter spot on the floor, as he’s usually spotting up, on the ball, or in the post, but he’s still a very aware cutter if the defense happens to lose sight of him:

Here, you’ll see more of a designed cut action. Gallinari’s size and touch makes him a lot to handle once he gets going downhill.

Gallinari is simply one of the most versatile forward options in the game today offensively, and the game evolving to being more shooting and scoring happy has only boosted his value. He should provide the versatility to help fully unlock Atlanta’s offense, similarly to how he helped Paul run things with the Thunder.

While lineup data can be a bit messy, Gallinari has a long track record of improving his team offensively while he’s on the floor.

Per Cleaning the Glass, Oklahoma City was +8.0 offensively when he was on the floor last season vs. when he was off the court, with the team ranking above the 97th percentile in PPP, eFG%, TOV% and FT rate. Having great teammates like Paul certainly aids these numbers, but luckily, as said before, he will have another pretty good point guard to play with in Atlanta.

Long story short, Gallinari is an elite offensive player that by all means should help carry Atlanta’s offense to new heights. He has versatility, size, and can create his own shot late in the clock. Likely the second option this season (whether John Collins is on the roster or not), Atlanta took a step in the right direction with the signing.

Overall offensive overview:

  • Great shooter
  • Excellent court vision, willing ball mover
  • High IQ player— great passer, cutter, and knows when to take what shots
  • Efficacy as both BH and roller in PnR

Defense

While the narrative on Gallinari’s defense is fairly negative, especially as he enters his 12th NBA season, Synergy actually graded him as an average defender last season. That should not necessarily mute any potential concerns about his mobility or how exactly the Hawks navigate defensive scheme with both him and Young set to play big minutes.

Gallinari has his limitations. He’s not someone who should really defend on the perimeter at all, unless it’s guarding another stretch big. He’s not a great defensive rebounder either, averaging just 4.9 rebounds per game for his career. He’s not a shot blocker, or a steals guy. He is a high IQ player, but doesn’t really have the lateral speed to compete at a high level defensively, especially at this stage of his career.

One area he has excelled at over the years is in not fouling. The big man ranked in the 100th percentile in foul%, and has been above the 96th percentile in this area in four of the last five seasons. So, while he may give up some buckets, at least he’s not compounding things by giving up free throw attempts and risking putting himself in foul trouble.

In the past couple seasons, Gallinari’s team has in fact faired much better defensively when he’s off the floor in terms of net rating.

Opponents scored 7.3 more points per 100 possessions with Gallinari on the floor vs. when he was on the bench last season. There are other factors in play, but at this point in his career, he is somewhat of a defensive liability.

On a team that has a presumably healthy Capela, his job should become a bit easier. If the Hawks mostly drop Capela, Gallinari won’t have to do hardly any rim protection and can matchup with fellow stretch 4s mostly. It would not be surprising if Atlanta experiments with some hybrid zones, but plenty of other roster moves need to happen before drilling into exactly how they might choose to play when the season opens up next month.

One crazy thing that did come up on the Synergy report was Gallinari grading as an excellent isolation defender in 2019-20. He was able to hold opponents to 62 points on 88 possessions.

Defensive overview:

  • Struggles with quicker forwards/wings, should be relegated to catch-and-shoot players if possible
  • Below-average rebounder
  • Among lowest foul rates in the league
  • Overall, he is a negative defensively at this point

Overall synopsis

Gallinari is unequivocally an elite offensive role player. He’s not at the level of the best players in the league, but in the role player tier, he’s about as good as it gets on that end. The versatility, the efficiency, and the IQ make him difficult to deal with, especially as a second or third option. He will make others around him better, he’s unselfish, and is invested in playing a winning brand of basketball. His experience should help his younger teammates adjust on the fly and gain trust in the coaching staff.

Defensively, he will however be another guy the staff has to mask. The Thunder were able to do it as evidenced by his average defensive grade, but they had a deep roster of versatile defenders last season. Atlanta’s roster is on the way to something similar, with Capela and No. 6 pick Okongwu representing plus interior defenders, and Collins being someone who can hold his own.

Gallinari knows the game and will compete to his ability on the defensive end, but certain matchups will just be too much to make up for in terms of speed and athleticism. With the frontcourt versatility Atlanta currently possesses, they should be able to come up with ways to keep Gallinari from being exposed in space.

In a vacuum, the Hawks added a really good offensive player to a team that drastically needed it after ranking last in the NBA in three-point percentage last season. Atlanta is certainly not done making moves, as free agency has only just begun. They will likely be looking for a backup point guard option, as well as additional shooting. Stay tuned.