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Danilo Gallinari and Blake Griffin Are About to Start a Beautiful, Bucket-Getting Friendship

The Clippers get a long-coveted player whose play last season may officially signal the beginning of the Point Blake era in Los Angeles

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The new-look Clippers are starting to take shape, with Danilo Gallinari agreeing to terms on a three-year, $65 million contract as part of a three-team sign-and-trade on Tuesday that would send Gallo to L.A., Paul Millsap to Denver, and Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, and a future first-rounder to Atlanta. The trade has been OK’d by all three teams and will likely be announced once the moratorium is lifted, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore.

Millsap’s agreement to join the Nuggets was already formalized, and the Hawks are essentially bystanders holding their nose as they shovel frozen peas into their gullet, all for another future draft asset to help in their teardown. The news here is that Gallinari is finally playing for the Clippers. The organization had been admiring Gallo from afar for some time now, notably before last season’s trade deadline, when it was rumored to be a suitor for his services as Los Angeles looked to shore up its talent at the 3 and 4. It would’ve been easy to envision Doc Rivers slotting Gallinari into the snakebit small forward slot in the Clippers’ time-tested starting lineup, the Achilles’ heel that stuck out like a baboon’s ass for the entirety of the Chris Paul era. Now with Blake Griffin running the show, Gallinari will find himself in a familiar situation serving as an offensive Swiss army knife for one of the best passing big men in the NBA.

After a disappointing start last season, Gallinari became one of the most efficient scorers in the league once the Nuggets came to their senses and made Nikola Jokic a full-time starter on December 15. Lineups that included both Gallinari and Jokic outscored teams by 8.2 points per 100 possessions, the best net rating of the Nuggets’ 20 most commonly used tandems.

Signing Gallinari is one of the surest signs that the Clippers will finally allow Griffin the freedom to be their lead facilitator, and the coaching staff can use the burgeoning chemistry that Jokic and Gallo developed last season as a North Star. It’s not difficult to imagine Griffin and Gallinari connecting on some tricky shit like this on the regular:

The Nuggets used their 6-foot-10 center as the offensive fulcrum from the top of the arc, which inherently created mismatch opportunities below. And Gallo feasted in every which way. According to the numbers from Synergy, Gallinari was — at least — in the league’s 82nd percentile as a scorer in six different play types (pick-and-roll ball handler, pick-and-roll roll man, post-up, spot-up, cuts, off-screen), and was in the 75th percentile in isolations. The Nuggets became League Pass darlings due to their joyous, share-economy offense, but Gallinari’s performance still largely fell under the radar. If you haven’t been keeping track at home, Gallo has a higher scoring average (18.8 points per game) than incoming Nugget Paul Millsap (17.5) over the past two seasons.

This is some pie-in-the-sky praise doled out to the Clippers’ new dynamic duo that, should history hold firm, will be on the court for only around 60 games. Blake and Gallo have some of the most unfortunate injury histories in the NBA, but with three seasons of at least 80 games played under Blake’s belt, he at least knows what a healthy year looks like. Gallinari has been in the league for nine seasons, and he’s played at least 80 games in only one of them. He sat out the entire 2013–14 season recovering from reconstructive ACL surgery, and all the damage he’s sustained in the lower extremities has compromised much of his mobility. Gallinari was never a freak athlete, but in his earlier years, he was a smart, committed defender whose long strides and in-your-face tenacity seemed to catch opponents by surprise. All the leftover juice he has these days is reserved for his explosive offense; and, while Gallo still has his wits, his diminished lateral mobility means he’s more prone to give up on plays, which was par for the course in Denver, home of the league’s second-worst defense.

Still, there’s a lot to like about this union. The Clippers sneakily have some of the best offensive players in the league (Griffin, Gallinari, Lou Williams) who complement each other’s games exceedingly well. If the new core can stay healthy, this team is still a playoff contender in a Western Conference that will likely see its most competitive season since 2013–14, when you needed 49 wins just to make it as an 8-seed. That’s a huge, fate-of-the-franchise-level if.