Danilo Gallinari (a.k.a. The Rooster) was drafted No. 6 overall in 2008 by the Knicks, the first pick of Donnie Walsh's rebuilding effort. This move was met with mixed reactions and was criticized by some who thought combo guards Eric Gordon and Jerryd Bayless would have been a better pick. When he was limited to only 28 games last year due to a back problem, many felt that the Knicks failed by not doing their homework on the 21-year old Italian.
Sidenote: Gallinari's nickname is Gallo which in Italian translates into the Rooster, thus The Rooster
Fast forward to the Knicks game last night against the Denver Nuggets. Before the game Gallinari asked head coach Mike D'Antoni if he could defend Nuggets superstar, Carmelo Anthony. When questioned by reporters why he made the request Gallinari responded with this:
"I like to play against the best because that's the only way to improve. It's a part of learning. It's a part of trying to understand where I am and what I have to do get to that level and what they have more than me. I like the challenge."
That's what you want to hear from a guy you're hoping becomes a star in the NBA. Many believe that Gallinari has been a poor defender, a belief that lacks a credible foundation. Gallo has been an above average defender for the team as noted by Basketball Prospectus' Bradford Doolittle.
Last night Gallinari got off to a slow start, with only four points in the first half on 1-6 shooting. While Gallinari is a good defensive player he does not, at this point, have the capability to slow down a player as strong and quick as Carmelo who had 36 points on the night.
What was great to see as a Knicks fan though was Gallinari rising to the challenge and leading the Knicks, along with some fortuitous calls from the officials, to a victory. In the third quarter he responded to some verbal jabs and 12 points from Anthony, who looked unstoppable last night, with 17 points and some trash talk of his own. He added 7 more in the fourth quarter, hit a pair of free throws that iced the game and finished with a team high 28 points.
That's what you want to see from a player who's the centerpiece of your core. Being brash is one thing, but elevating your game and holding your own when faced up against one of the game's premier scorers who's looking to embarrass and humble you, that's quite another.
It was nice to hear Anthony praise his performance after the game saying, "(Gallinari's) gotten a lot better since he entered the league. I think he's coming along big time." He also told Alan Hahn of Newsday, "I told him I was watching him from afar. I love what he's doing. Keep ballin'." That's high praise from a top-5 player in the league and a sign of the immense progress he's made since coming from Italy last year.
Gallinari has shown the ability to become a viable No. 2 and leader on a contending team with his development as a three point shooter, to a player with the ability to score in a variety of ways and create for others. With the development of other young players on the team like point guard Toney Douglas (24) and forward Wilson Chandler (22), the Knicks do have enough young talent to possibly attract a major free agent.
Prying Lebron away from Cleveland may end up being a pipe dream, but with plenty of cap space, enough money to buy draft picks and a rapidly developing young core, the future looks bright.