After progressing through one of the best six-month spans in recent NBA history, the Boston Celtics are certain that they have a championship core. Still, there is work to be done to get over the hump and bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy once again. Most of that work comes in two areas: internally through the development and improvement of their best players, and small tweaks around the core that add different weapons into the mix.
Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens worked to address the latter with a few moves around the margins that give the Celtics added depth and new pieces to play with. One of the more consequential additions is veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, a sweet-shooting Italian with a track record of NBA success and win-now impact as an aging bench player.
Last season, Gallinari shot 47.1% on corner 3-pointers, an incredibly high number. Yes, the main value in bringing a veteran like him aboard is the consistency of his 3-point shooting, a valued trait around Boston’s many star wings. CelticsBlog’s Adam Taylor already wrote an important review of his value as a spot-up threat.
But what makes Gallinari underrated — both in terms of his fit with this team and his overall reputation league-wide — is his role as an offensive creator, even at his age. According to Synergy Sports play type data, 17% of Gallinari’s offense last season came from post-ups. Adding another wing who is able to score down here is important, and Gallinari is certainly able to drain jumpers in the mid-post area.
Standing 6’10”, he loves to use his size advantage on switches against smaller wings or guards. Gallo knows how to play and is crafty as a veteran, slipping screens with ball handlers to force switches; he was masterful at getting point guards onto him when he’d screen for Trae Young. Watch the way he screens and positions himself in a way to force a switch.
Gallo would then take the small into the post and thrive on this Dirk Nowitzki-esque one-legged fadeaway that is quite literally impossible to stop. In his introductory press conference, he mentioned loving Larry Bird growing up. You can see why.
The underrated part of Gallo’s game is and always has been his passing. Against a switching defense or a smaller player, Gallinari can be an offensive hub down low. He created 1.2 points per possession (PPP) for teammates when posting up. If he’s making enough jumpers or exploiting mismatches to his advantage, he can make the right read to involve another Celtics teammate so an open shooter or cutter gets a lick.
The way Gallinari can be more of a creation hub on Boston’s second unit gets understated in many ways. He found value in Atlanta when surrounded by shooters and playing with a smaller guard. The Celtics have very few smaller players on their roster, though Gallo’s ability to force switches and then make post reads could pair nicely with Payton Pritchard off the bench. It also gives the Celtics another option to create in a supersized lineup when he plays with the main group and prevents opponents from hiding their smallest guy on the so-called shooting threat.
In minutes where Gallinari plays with guys like Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, his pick-and-pop prowess can come in handy. Last season, Gallinari was an exceptional 11-24 (45.8%) on no-dribble jumpers out of the pick-and-pop. His reputation as a deadeye shooter doesn’t just come from standing around the 3-point line and waiting for kick-outs... he’s really functional in ways that open up the playbook.
The middle pick-and-pop is an NBA staple against sagging bigs, and Gallinari had success here when he’d play the 5. Because the Celtics have other bigs like Al Horford (37.8% on corner 3-pointers) and Grant Williams (46.8%) that can space the floor at spots other than the top of the key, head coach Ime Udoka can tinker with the spots his guys play on the floor without changing lineups around too much.
Those lineup options are clear for Udoka with a four-man frontcourt rotation existing of Grant, Al, Gallo, and Robert Williams. Put Gallo with Timelord and it will provide defensive rim protection while he’s slower at the 4 and more spacing around Williams rolling to the rim. Gallo and Al can be interchangeable offensive pieces, a good deal of creation among them and both shoot it well. Grant and Gallo are interchangeable, allowing Gallo to play the 5 where his pick-and-pop becomes even more lethal.
As players age they have a tendency to begin to guard up the lineup, relying on their strength while quickness becomes fleeting. We’ve seen such a change in Gallinari. According to Basketball Reference, he played 29% of his minutes in Atlanta at the 5, something he’d never done more than 2% of the time in a single season prior to joining the Hawks.
The advanced metrics to Gallinari’s time in Atlanta were pretty positive despite the change and the porous defense he brought to the 5. What Boston brings to the table to help him is two veteran defenders with different but positive impacts in Horford and Robert Williams. We’d expect to see Gallinari play with one of those two more often than not.
Adding a veteran shooter was paramount for the Celtics, and Gallinari remains one of the most underrated players across the league despite his age and waning athleticism. Shot-making around the stars is always valued, and Gallinari knows how to provide that in any type of role possible. But he is much more than just a shooter, and we’re really excited to see how he impacts Boston’s second unit in those areas offensively.