If the Milwaukee Bucks are able to woo big man Danilo Gallinari, he would be a tremendous offensive fit alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Welcome to the first edition of Bucks Film Room Fridays where every Friday I’ll take a deep dive into the film and analytics of a play, a player or a strategy related to the Milwaukee Bucks. To tip this series off, let’s look at one of the biggest fish in free agency, Danilo Gallinari, and his fit with the Bucks.
Until recently, Gallinari would’ve been priced way out of the Bucks’ range. And he probably still is. However, when an interviewer asked him if playing for a championship is more important than a contract at Italy’s Festival dello Sport, he responded, “Yes. At this time, yes. I’m not 20 anymore.”
That could potentially open the door for Milwaukee to squeeze their toe into contract negotiations. After all, they’re one of the few teams who fit into the category of a surefire championship contender heading into 2021. The difficult aspect will be the money. The biggest contract the Bucks can offer is the mid-level exception, worth around $9.7 million. That’s a huge pay cut for Gallinari who made $22.6 million last year and could easily get something north of $10 million in this year’s free agency.
If the Bucks have a sliver of hope they should plunge headfirst into negotiations and prioritize Gallinari at all costs. Let’s breakdown what makes him such a good fit in Milwaukee.
After spending most of his first nine seasons in the NBA playing forward (specifically, small forward), he’s adapted with the league over the last three years and is spending much more time at the 4. According to Cleaning the Glass, 98 percent of his minutes came at the 4 last year (with the other two percent coming at center), 95 percent of his minutes the year before and 69 percent of his time in 2017-18.
This may initially seem counterintuitive for the Bucks’ big free agent acquisition to play the same position as their best player who already doesn’t get time on the court. However, Gallinari could either bump Giannis Antetokounmpo to the 5 or slide down to the 3 and allow them to play a jumbo lineup that includes Brook Lopez, Antetokounmpo, Gallinari and Khris Middleton together. The versatility of his addition is magical.
There are likely a lot of changes in store for Milwaukee and regardless of which direction they go, Gallinari would fit seamlessly into their plans. His versatility to play multiple positions would allow Milwaukee to adapt on the fly as they’re re-loading their roster this offseason.
Gallinari’s three-point percentage stands out above all else. And that’s great news considering half of all his attempts came from behind the arc last season. He’s a career 38 percent shooter from downtown, but made greater than 40 percent of his attempts in each of his last two seasons. And it’s not just the percentage, it’s how he gets the job done that’s enticing.
At 6-foot-10 with a solid wingspan, he has the height and length to shoot over defenders, especially in today’s smaller NBA. This allows him to size up the rim, take his time and fire away from downtown even when a man is in his face. His 41.8 percent success rate on threes when a defender is within 2-4 feet of him or playing “tight” defense according to NBA.com shows he can knock down contested shots, a valuable skill to say the least.
As he catches the pass on the left wing, Ben McLemore closes the gap, slides in close and raises his left hand high over his head to contest any potential shot. None of that matters for Gallinari as he takes his time and casually rises and fires over McLemore to splash the three. Yak yak!
As a team, the Bucks took the fourth-most catch-and-shoot threes a season ago–something that fits perfectly into Gallinari’s game. There were only 17 players to attempt at least five catch-and-shoot threes per game in 2019-20 with Gallinari taking 5.5 per game (more than any other Buck). Among those players, he ranked fifth in percentage at 41.8.
With the Thunder running a pick-and-roll at the top of the key, Gallinari spots up in the weakside corner while his man, Jayson Tatum, ponders between helping his teammates defend the basket and sticking close to his elite shooting assignment. When Tatum ultimately decides to prioritize rim defense it allows Chris Paul to find Gallinari open for an easy three points.
Spending more time as a big man, Gallinari is a monster in pick-and-pop situations. He’s wide enough to set a solid screen to free up the ball-handler, and a gifted enough shooter to slide behind the arc and knock down the shot when the ball comes his way. The Thunder used him in a myriad of on-ball screens, something the Bucks could easily borrow from.
In the first play above, Gallinari sets a basic ball-screen for Chris Paul who drags the help defender below the elbow before dishing a nifty behind the back pass to a wide-open Gallinari at the top of the key. In the next clip, both Gallinari and Nerlens Noel set drag screens before Gallinari pops behind the arc and Noel dives straight to the rim. All three defenders involved immediately sink into the paint to protect the hoop, leaving our guy open for three points once again. In the final sequence, Gallinari begins the action by going into a dribble handoff with Paul on the left wing. Paul takes the rock and runs off a second pick from Steven Adams, who subsequently barrels toward the basket. You guessed it! Once more it results in a far-too-easy splash behind the line.
Gallinari was hyper-efficient as a roll man in the pick-and-roll in 2019-20, ranking in the 94th percentile among scorers thanks to his insane 71.7 percent effective field goal percentage on such plays. Milwaukee could use him similar to the above clips, with Giannis Antetokounmpo acting in Noel and Adams’ steed. Antetokounmpo is the most fearsome rim-scorer in the world and would certainly draw all the ire and attention of opposing defenses, freeing Gallinari for open shots on open shots on open shots.
Gallinari’s defense won’t be winning any awards anytime soon, and the Thunder were a much worse defensive team with him on the court last year, but he’s not a complete liability either. He does a nice job moving his feet and guarding without fouling. He also has the size to defend three positions if need be, however, he’s best used to defend slower-footed power forwards.
That creates a conundrum for the Bucks, especially if he’s going to share the court with Antetokounmpo whose primary defensive responsibilities these last two years under Mike Budenholzer have been to exclusively guard power forwards, opening him up to roam the court and protect the rim.
Budenholzer is likely re-evaluating his entire defensive scheme after it failed in two consecutive postseasons. This could mean a different role for the newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year, opening up the possibility Gallinari could fit better alongside him.
Milwaukee could also try Gallinari on offensively challenged small forwards if they want to roll with a big lineup. That’s part of the beauty of signing Gallinari, as the Bucks could choose whether they want to reconstruct their roster around jumbo-sized players or employ the small-ball strategy more frequently.
The last category we’re going to take a look at is rebounding. As a forward, Gallinari is a below-average rebounder, but as a big man he’s straight horrible. He grabbed 17.3 percent of opponent’s misses in 2018-19 (48th percentile among bigs) and 16.3 percent (39th percentile) last year–the top two marks of his career. He typically hovers around the 13 percent mark.
Part of the reason for Gallinari’s recent surge in defensive rebounding is the time he’s spent defending bigs who are typically closer to the basket. The good news for the Bucks is all Gallinari has to do is box out his man and watch Antetokounmpo do the rest.
The good news is his teams have been marginally better at rebounding when he’s on the floor just about every year of his career. This shouldn’t be too much of a worry for Milwaukee, as they have one of the best rebounders in the NBA as well as a plethora of guards who can also help in this area.