Although it will change this summer, the truth is I’ve never been to Italy. My grandmother, whose maiden name is Amistadi, is a phenomenal cook, but she’s never made me a meatball, pasta or pizza in my life. I took two semesters of the language, but I can barely muster the words for “I like basketball.”
Nevertheless, my heritage is my heritage, and I’ve always been the one to pull for the Italian guy playing basketball. I was thrilled to see Davide Moretti have such a strong season shooting the ball for Texas Tech. I was disappointed Federico Mussini’s tenure at St. John’s ended in a fizzle. I always hoped Nikola Akele would develop into more of an impact guy at URI.
While the college player cycle always churns, and many of the top guys end up back in Italy, the pros, Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari, have been producing consistently for over a decade in the NBA.
Last year, Belinelli was scorching, taking full advantage of veteran status on a grimy Atlanta Hawks roster. After being cut loose, he made his way to Philadelphia, where he kept up a sensational season, averaging a career high 13.5 points per game on 38.5 percent from three, his specialty.
But that is what Belinelli is and always has been, a sniping mercenary for hire. His countryman Gallinari is the one with the good stuff, the star potential.
Now in his 11th season, Gallo hasn’t always been able to showcase his skill. He played 81 games his second season, but it has been downhill from there. He is at 68 games this year, his first time breaking 65 games since 2012-2013. Often injured, he has earned a reputation as a medical liability.
When he’s on the court, like he was this year, he can play, however. For a Los Angeles Clippers team that has traded their best player, Blake Griffin then Tobias Harris, two years in a row, the positional scarcity created at forward has allowed him to thrive; to the surprise of many, that has made the Clippers a viable competitor in the Western Conference.
They earned the No. 8 seed, but it was a compact race where just weeks ago they were as high as No. 5. Gallinari missing the stretch run with an ankle injury hurt, but before then it was his production helping them rise.
Gallinari had 19.5 points per game, a career high, and 6.2 rebounds per game, also a career high. His 43.4 3-point percentage and 55.5 effective goal percentage both fall behind his rookie season shooting numbers, but he was only playing 14.7 minutes per game and shooting 2.6 threes a contest. His 46.3 field goal percentage this year is still a personal high, and his per 36 minutes stats are career bests.
In a league that values it more and more, his 3-point percentage is fifth in the league among qualifiers.
You can pick your poison when it comes to the advanced metrics. His true shooting percentage of 63.5 percent is a career best and No. 10 in the league. His PER is 21 (15 is average) and his first time breaking the 20 threshold. Win Shares (8.1), Win Shares per 48 (.191), VORP (2.5) and all the Box Plus-Minus numbers are career bests, some of them not particularly close.
Per Cleaning the Glass, he has taken 19 percent of his field goals as long two’s, statistically the lowest expected value shot in basketball in most cases. However, he is posting his most efficient season to date. Some shooters get by just hiding in the corners and taking the shorter distance deep ball on a kickout. Gallo has been a lights out shooter this year, with only two percent of his field goal attempts coming in the corner. He shoots 44 percent on non-corner threes per Cleaning the Glass, 96th percentile for his position.
He has had plenty of nicks and injury dustups this year. It seems to just be part of his nature. But extended time on the court has allowed him to show his worth. He was a fringe All Start candidate this year, and maybe would’ve been in the Eastern Conference. His name is at least honorable mention when it comes to All NBA teams. He has always been a good player, but this year he was elite.
The Clippers were beaten 121-104 by the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors. Gallinari had a decent 15 points and eight rebounds while going three of six from 3-point range. But he was just one of eight on other field goals, and they will need him to be better to have any semblance of a chance. He has shown this season the heights he can reach, but even if he falls short, it was molto buono of a year for my man Danilo.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.