Back on Jan. 11, I listened to The Dunker Spot and thought long
and hard about this insight from Steve Jones Jr.:
On that date, the Boston Celtics had a 20-21 record and were
tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference standings with the New York
Knicks. A couple of weeks later, everything started to change for a
squad that would go on to reach Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Yet, I noticed a similar pattern
during Boston's second-round playoff series. The Golden State
Warriors were content to help off perimeter shooters in the Finals
as well, putting their defensive focus on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen
Brown's drives to the basket.
Grant Williams, Al Horford, Marcus Smart and (later) Derrick
White could catch fire all they wanted, but defenses didn't respect
them in the winter, and they still didn't respect them in the NBA
Finals. If Boston wants to draw help away from its primary
initiators, it needs off-ball pests that opponents cannot afford to
According to several reports, the Celtics plan to sign Danilo
Gallinari when he clears waivers after being bought out by the San
Antonio Spurs. The rumored deal is for two years and $13 million,
making him a value addition using the taxpayer mid-level
Gallinari has a clear objective: To be that pest.
Second Spectrum categorizes a "wide open" shot as an attempt
with no defender within 6 feet of the shooter. Here's a look at how
frequently the Celtics' complementary shooters attempted wide-open
threes in the regular season (playoffs in parentheses). At the end,
I added Gallinari's regular-season numbers with the Hawks.
(Note: Mobile users scroll right to view the full
||Freq. of Wide-Open
Look at that far right column. Gallinari was covered much more
frequently than any other Celtic (except Pritchard in the
postseason) while playing for an Atlanta Hawks team with several
proven perimeter threats.
Defenses don't want Gallinari getting open looks. They will keep
tabs on him and try to impede his shot. And not only is Gallinari a
career 38.2% marksman from long-range, but his shot diet feels like
an elixir for Boston's young stars.
In the first, second and fourth clips here, you see Trae Young
either draw wing defenders over to help or draw full-on
double-teams. Gallinari is perched one pass away as an easy outlet.
His range is apparent, and he's unbothered by late contests.
Gallinari historically launches tons of these above-the-break
threes, and he's been efficient from that zone throughout most of
Opposing defenses planted a target on Tatum whenever he drove to
the basket in the playoffs. In this video series below, watch how
defenders are cheating to the nail or helping off the strong-side
corners. It doesn't matter who the nearest shooting outlet is; they
perceived Tatum as the primary threat and lived with the
If Gallinari is positioned one pass away from Tatum on these
drives, opponents have to change their calculus.
The montage centered on Tatum because he is the centerpiece of
Boston's offense. Gallinari won't always share the floor with him,
but the advantages remain the same whether it's Brown, Smart, White
or Malcolm Brogdon driving that
basketball. Having that shooter one pass over makes the
defender pause just a smidge longer and keeps those driving lanes
just a tad wider. And if the defense doesn't adjust, Gallinari
makes them pay.
No, Gallinari does not buzz around the perimeter like Stephen
Curry or Duncan Robinson. But he's a proven sharpshooter who moves
well enough to be a weapon for Ime Udoka unlike anyone else on the
roster. As a well-built 6-foot-10 forward, Gallinari is also big
enough to be used occasionally as a screener and on pick-and-pop
He's even a solid post-up scorer; per Second Spectrum,
Gallinari's 56.1% clip on shots out of a post touch ranked ninth
out of 68 NBA players to log at least 30 such attempts last
However, as past Celtics have shown, three-point firepower alone
won't prop a player up in this rotation. Gallinari has two
questionable areas worth addressing up front.
First: What happens when the defense effectively contests
Gallinari has a soft spot for the mid-range pull-up off a
Age has sapped much of his downhill speed, and he didn't play
with the same level of physicality driving last year. Gallinari too
often settles for these undesirable shots. In fairness, he can
knock these down when in rhythm, and has hovered in the low-40s
with his long mid-range field goal percentage in recent seasons,
per Cleaning the Glass.
But he's rarely attacking closeouts to get to the rim, and isn't
a particularly proficient passer. In that last clip, he misses an
easy kick-out to an open De'Andre Hunter. Boston creates advantages
when its perimeter players attack open space and make the right
play — shot or pass. Williams, for example, grew leaps and bounds
driving out of the corners last season. Gallinari will need to
exhibit similar traits to maintain the offensive flow.
An even larger hurdle will be Gallinari's defense. In polite
terms, it's not a natural fit.
The 33-year-old was a target in Atlanta. He's just severely
limited in his mobility. Gallinari works as hard as he can with his
foot speed, but once a defender gets his weight going backward,
it's over. He doesn't have the length or bounce to recover, or even
be a deterrent when contesting shots.
Because he can't use his size effectively, Gallinari often
struggles to navigate screens. He's generally got a solid grasp of
positioning and awareness, but smaller lapses become magnified with
his limited athletic tools. Gallinari is a lot like Pritchard in
the sense that their physical makeup sets the standard of technique
and focus so much higher.
Barring mass injuries, the Celtics will bring Gallinari off the
bench, keeping him out of the scopes of today's top NBA scorers who
he faced in the above reel. However, "hiding" players on defense is
far easier said than done — no matter their playing time. Udoka
will need to find coverages that keep Gallinari away from the ball,
and Gallinari will need to sync up with the communicative,
quick-thinking requirements of playing in Boston's
We've seen past players get off to slow shooting starts, fail to
keep up on defense and disappear from the rotation. Aaron Nesmith
and Juan Hernangomez faded during the regular season, and even
Pritchard was hanging onto minutes by a thread during the Finals.
Gallinari must meet a certain threshold on defense to keep himself
afloat in the rotation.
But if he can do that, he's not just a necessary perimeter
presence — Gallinari could hold a cure-all for Boston's