Within a very short period of time, the Atlanta Hawks transformed their roster, adding established veteran talent to an up-and-coming group of young players. At the high end, the Hawks added Bogdan Bogdanovic — after the waiting game of an offer sheet — and Danilo Gallinari, with both players signing lucrative, multi-year contracts.
Bogdanovic’s fit with the Hawks is cleaner on paper, with a poorly kept secret that Atlanta was looking to upgrade on the wing with something of a mandate to improve in the short term. From there, Bogdanovic brings an impressive and varied skill set to the table, and the four-year investment (with a player option at the end) is more than reasonable for a player of his talent and pedigree. In the case of Gallinari, however, the addition brought nearly as many questions as answers.
The 32-year-old is one of the best offensive power forwards in the NBA, shooting the ball extremely well on the perimeter, attacking mismatches with effectiveness, keeping the offense moving as a passer and providing gravity in the form of spacing. At the same time, Gallinari is widely seen as a below-average defensive player and, at this stage in his lengthy career, he is primarily a power forward. Given that John Collins currently occupies that position in Atlanta, the first reaction of many — especially on a national level — was to speculate on the future of Collins with the Hawks.
In the days since then, however, Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk told a group of season-ticket holders that Gallinari was made aware of the team’s plans to deploy him in a reserve role. On Wednesday, Gallinari confirmed that understanding when asked if Schlenk’s public comments were indeed correct.
“It’s correct,” Gallinari said during his first media availability since joining the franchise. “One of the things I said before that excites me is the young guys that we got are very, very good and very talented, and I do believe in the young guys we’ve got. The young guys we’ve got are very, very good. If I didn’t believe in these young guys, I wouldn’t have picked the ATL. I really believe in the group that we’ve got. My focus since I’ve been playing basketball is winning. Whatever the coach wants me to do and needs me to do win, that’s what I’m going to do.’’
Gallinari’s belief in Atlanta’s young core is certainly encouraging and, given that he accepted the premise of a reserve role before signing, his actions back up his words. It should also be noted that Gallinari is a player with a mixed track record of durability and, while he remained healthy in Oklahoma City last season, that could be a product of load management. Gallinari appeared for fewer than 30 minutes per game with the Thunder and, with Collins and others on board in Atlanta, that relatively limited deployment — including the potential to rest on some back-to-back sets — might be the plan for the talented forward as he ages with his new team.
One of the pillars of Atlanta’s offseason was also an investment in older players with leadership pedigree, headlined by Gallinari and Rajon Rondo. While Gallinari told the media that he is “not a guy that screams,” he spoke of leading by example and indicated that he believes one-on-one conversations “help the most” when trying to facilitate his knowledge to younger players.
While the on-court fit with Collins may be a challenge on the defensive end in particular, Gallinari spoke glowingly of the young big man, and indicated a desire to both play with him and aid in his development.
“I can definitely help him a lot,” Gallinari said of Collins. “I think he’s incredibly talented, offensively and defensively. He’s an amazing athlete, too. If you can combine all of those things together, be efficient on the court, only sky’s the limit. I’m definitely looking forward to playing with him and helping him out.”
Beyond just Collins, Gallinari is also embracing the chance to bring his steady hand to the proceedings. He also expressed that “being able to help these young guys develop” is something he is looking forward to, as well as something he enjoyed at previous stops.
‘’When you are a veteran and speak to a lot of these young players, teach them a lot of things, it’s amazing to me the way they are able to translate that to the court,” Gallinari said. “If they listen and do what you say, they are going to get better game by game.’’
Specific rotational decisions will be interesting to monitor, with Lloyd Pierce and his staff suddenly facing the (very) good “problem” of almost having too many quality options. Much ink will be spilled — including in this space — on the additions and how they will work together, but Gallinari, Bogdanovic, Pierce, Schlenk and others are saying all of the right things.
Gallinari opens up a number of lanes for Atlanta on the court. He forms a potentially deadly pick-and-pop duo with Trae Young, provides Pierce and the staff with another potential shot creator for the second unit, and presents another offensive threat that every NBA opponent will respect when he’s on the floor.
In the end, though, Gallinari is in Atlanta to bring a combination of on-court weaponry and off-court leadership. When prompted on his individual goals for the upcoming season, Gallinari said the “only goal” he has is “to win as many games as possible.” Given that the Hawks are marching forward with a plainly stated objective to reach the playoffs and potentially create havoc in the postseason, Gallinari seems to fit in and, if nothing else, he is a well-respected presence that is also quite effective when he steps onto the hardwood.