NBA PM: Do the Nuggets Have Their Star?
In the moments before the Denver Nuggets’ 115-93 road win over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, Denver coach George Karl told HOOPSWORLD’s Bill Ingram something that might surprise a few NBA fans: Fourth-year forward Danilo Gallinari has “star potential” and the success of the Nuggets might ultimately depend on him taking “the next step.”
Not everyone has noticed that the biggest “get” for Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade has been a solid 15 ppg scorer since 2009-2010 and he’s a career 37.5% 3-point shooter. In fact, Gallinari is the top-returning scorer from last year’s squad, which also lost Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Gary Forbes.
What’s surprising about Gallinari, an affable player who comes from a small Italian town near Milan, is that he’s finally embracing a leadership role. He was always too young or perhaps felt insecure about his English when he came on with the Knicks. But for a team that’s trying to cope with the loss of five rotation players, Gallinari has become one of the most confident, positive voices in Denver’s locker room.
“We’re not scared of anybody,” Gallinari told HOOPSWORLD. “We got a guy called Birdman (Chris Andersen – who jumped into the interview momentarily), I think that everybody knows him and so we think that we are not scared of anybody. We’re a deep team and we’re a young team, so we definitely aren’t scared of anybody.
“We have a really good feeling,” he continued. “We’ve been working really hard, so I think that the team and all the guys are ready to go have fun this season.”
But the NBA is only fun when you’re winning. A failure to recapture the chemistry the Nuggets displayed over the final two months of last year’s regular season would kill any positive momentum.
And given the abbreviated preseason and compressed schedule, everyone’s team chemistry is under the magnifying glass. Teams that have it can run off to a fast start, while teams that don’t might not have enough time to recover.
“I was here last year,” said Gallinari, who had 15 points and seven boards to help the Nuggets upset the defending champion Mavericks. “I had the chance to play and to be an important player in the playoffs, so I already know what I can do and coach (George) Karl knows what I can do. But it’s great to have some rookies and new players and also have the guys who played here already last year, for us to play together.”
Of course, to play together, some guys have to step into spotlight. Karl has previously stated that this team doesn’t have a superstar yet, and Gallinari is in no rush to put himself in that category. But in his own, mild-mannered, good-natured way, Gallinari has what it takes to become a major star in this league.
He’s selfless, unconcerned with personal accolades and he’s never satisfied with where his game is. Gallinari has quietly improved his defense—something many scouts wrote off as impossible when he arrived in New York—and flatly rejects any praise that would separate him from his teammates. Maybe Gallinari can be a major factor in this league simply because he does shun superstardom?
“I know I have an important role on this team, probably more then last year,” he said. “I played a really good second half last year, so I know what I can do. I don’t know about being an All Star. I don’t want to think about that. I just want to think about winning and being an important player who plays a lot of minutes. I just want to be important on this team.”
As short as Gallinari is when discussing his personal basketball ambitions, he can be quite verbose on the topic of team goals. Gallinari takes little comfort in the Nuggets’ 19-7 stretch at the end of last season. Instead, he’s still focused on getting ejected from last year’s playoffs in five games by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It’s not enough to be as good as last year—which many think the Nuggets will struggle to do. For Gallinari, the challenge is to take that next step as a team, not just personally.
“The first thought that I have is about last year,” Gallinari concluded. “We could’ve played a better series against Oklahoma City and could have made it to the second round. So this year we definitely want to go forward and take another step and go at least as far as the second round. That’s our goal so I’m concentrating on that. From my side, I had good stats last year. But I want to improve a little bit more on my assists so I’ll have a little bit more assists on my stats. All the rest is fine.”
Nobody, not even Gallinari, is arguing that he’s a superstar yet. Gallinari doesn’t even seem concerned with the thought of it. But for Denver to find away to improve against the odds, he might have to reluctantly embrace the reality that he’s the best scorer on a playoff-caliber team. And in the NBA, that’s enough to make you a star.
What is Houston Capable of?
The Houston Rockets didn’t evoke any memories of 1995 while losing in Orlando to the Magic on Monday night. But to listen to swingman Terrence Williams’ take on things, opposing teams should take notice of what the Rockets did and didn’t do in the season opener.
“The good things about are mistakes are that they’re things that you can correct in practice,” Williams told HOOPSWORLD’s Steve Kyler. “As far as if it’s a loose ball, back door, a easy rebound, something like that, we can correct that.”
The Rockets didn’t shoot well against the Magic (43.9% from the field, 22.2% from 3-point range) and both Kyle Lowry and Jeff Adrien picked up too many stupid fouls, but again, all of that is easily correctable.
Perhaps the biggest flub the Rockets had on Monday was produced by Houston’s top scorer from a season ago, Kevin Martin, who finished with four points on one-of-10 shooting from the field.
“The great thing about this game and the great part about Kevin is that everybody knows he can score 30 points any night,” Williams said. “So, for us to lose like that and for him to shoot whatever he shot, now imagine the games he’s on, and there’ll be a lot of them out of the 66 games. And I think those will be wins. That’s the thing about that is, we played well and our best scorer had an off game. Everybody’s gonna have off games. You’re not gonna score 30 points every game out of 66 games. We’ll take that. He’s already established in this league so there’s nothing to even talk to him about or go to him about. He’s grown, he’s smart, he knows what he has to do.”
Obviously the compressed season is too short to sit back and hope that Martin corrects himself and Williams isn’t saying that the Rockets aren’t flawed. He just knows that everyone is in the same situation, and at the very least, the Houston players know many of the answers to their problems.
“It’s either sink or swim with games this close,” Williams said. “You hope that there’s not going to be injuries and try to go from there but to be in the first game, only 17 days in is kind of hard, it’s kind of hard to assess the season. But we got to all get on the same page fast because the games (are) coming back to back after each other.”
Check Out: Celtics at HEAT
The Miami HEAT didn’t look invincible against the Dallas Mavericks, but they definitely remain one of the favorites to win the NBA Finals.
Of course, the Boston Celtics would still like to put themselves in that category, but Paul Pierce’s heel injury isn’t helping their chances. He’s doubtful for tonight’s 8 p.m. game from Miami and his replacement, recently signed Mickael Pietrus, will need about 10 days to strengthen his knee coach Doc Rivers said.
Maybe this isn’t quite an Eastern Conference Finals preview without Pierce or Pietrus, but this is definitely the first of what could be many important battles between these two teams this year.
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