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NBA Sunday: Gallinari, Nuggets Set For Bounce-Back Season

After two knee operations and missing the entire 2013-14 NBA season, Danilo Gallinari is set to return and help the Denver Nuggets fight for a Playoff run this upcoming season.

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With Return Of Gallinari, Denver Nuggets Primed For Bounce-Back Season

On April 4, 2013, Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari suffered an ACL tear in his left knee. It was a tough blow for the Nuggets who won 55 regular season games and were one of the most potent offensive teams in the league in the 2012-13 season. Without Gallinari, the Nuggets fell to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the Playoffs in six games.

Gallinari initially underwent a procedure called the “healing response,” which was developed and performed by renowned orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman. Dr. Steadman utilized this procedure, rather than a complete repair of the ACL, because Gallinari’s ACL was not completely ruptured, but severely compromised. The healing response is an “arthroscopic procedure (that) involves making three to 10 small ‘microfracture’ holes in the bone at the femoral origin of the injured ACL.” This creates a blood clot that should reattach the ligament to the bone. The upside to the procedure is a quicker recovery, while the downside is it only has a 77 percent success rate. Gallinari was not part of that 77 percent, and eventually required a complete ACL reconstruction on January 21, 2014, which cost him all of last season. Gallinari missing the entire season, along with a multitude of other injuries to his teammates, caused the Nuggets to miss the Playoffs, finishing with a 36-46 record.

Now, in an interview with Sportando, Gallinari says he is physically ready to play, and is preparing for his return this upcoming season.

“I feel great. I am ready to return seven months after my last knee surgery. I had a few contact practices in Milan,” Gallinari said. “Now I have to re-gain confidence and be ready. I will need to be patient because after more than a year without basketball you have to work also on the mental aspect. But I want to be a better player than before the injury.”

This statement echoes what Gallinari told Basketball Insiders at Adidas Eurocamp earlier this offseason regarding the benefits of rehabbing from the knee injury and becoming a better player.

“I think that I am much better because you have the chance to focus on other things on the basketball court and maybe when you are playing you don’t do that much, but I think that that part has always been in my nature, always been in my repertoire, so I’ve been feeling pretty good with that,” Gallinari said. “But you have the chance to improve in some part of the game, not just the game, but some part of the body that you didn’t work before. I had the chance to know the knees, both knees a little bit better, to work on the muscles that I didn’t even know that I had those muscles before, so you have the chance to know your body better.”

So, what does Gallinari potentially bring back to the Nuggets this upcoming season? When healthy, Gallinari is one of the most versatile forwards in the league; a good enough ball-handler to play the small forward position as a point forward, and big enough to play the power forward position as a stretch-four. In the 2012-13 NBA season, Gallinari averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and shot 37.3 percent from three-point range in 71 games played. His ability to stretch the floor, run in transition, handle the ball and solid passing ability will be a huge addition to the Nuggets who run a fast-paced (ranked third in the league last season in pace), spread out offensive system.

Gallinari is especially important to the Nuggets as their other small forward, Wilson Chandler, has struggled with injuries throughout his career, only managing to play in eight, 43, and 62 games in the last three seasons. However, Chandler is another talented and versatile forward, who, when healthy, is able to stretch the floor, and play both forward positions at times. Having both Gallinari and Chandler play at a high level would be a big boost for a Denver team that relied heavily on Randy Foye, Evan Fournier, and Quincy Miller for production from the wing last season.

Along with Gallinari and Chandler, the Nuggets are bringing back Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson (recovering from ACL surgery), Timofey Mozgov, Randy Foye, Kenneth Faried, and Nate Robinson (also recovering from ACL surgery). McGee, Hickson, and Mozgov makeup a big part of the Nugget’s frontcourt, and will need to have a big year collectively. McGee missed all but five games last season because of a stress fracture in his leg that required season-ending surgery. McGee is one of the most athletic centers in the NBA, and at age 26, needs to make the jump from an occasional difference-maker to fulltime defensive anchor like DeAndre Jordan did for the Los Angeles Clippers. Hickson is another Nugget who is currently recovering from ACL surgery, but is set to be healthy by training camp. Hickson averaged 11.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in his first season with the Nuggets, and could be a big part of a potential Nuggets Playoff run next season. And Mozgov will need to continue being a dependable option at center, especially if McGee or Hickson are at all limited, or miss time because of their injuries.

But as important as players like McGee, Hickson, or Mozgov are, the Nugget’s most important players are Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. Lawson is one of the most underrated point guards in the league, and is the engine that runs the Nuggets offensive attack. Last season, Lawson averaged 17.6 points, 8.8 assists (tied for second in the league), 1.6 steals, and shot 35.6 percent from three-point range. Lawson, is one of the fastest players in the league, which makes Faried an ideal teammate at power forward as he is one of the best big men in the league in transition. Faried is having a very impressive summer with Team USA, earning high praise from head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who earlier this week called Faried “the biggest and best surprise (for Team USA) and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us.” Faried continues to rapidly improve, building off his strong second half of last season, and will be a big reason why the Nuggets will be in the Playoff mix this upcoming season.

In addition to the aforementioned returning players, the Nuggets are bringing in shooting guard Arron Afflalo for the second time after trading Evan Fournier and the rights to Roy Devyn Marble (56th pick in the 2014 Draft) to the Orlando Magic earlier this offseason. Afflalo is a big addition to this team as he is one of the most underrated two-guards in the league and is another player who can spread the floor and play in an up-tempo system. Last season, in 73 games played with Orlando, Afflalo averaged, 18.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and shot 42.7 percent from the three-point line. With top-level three point shooting, and solid defensive capabilities, Afflalo is a big pick up for the Nuggets, and a significant upgrade in the starting lineup over Foye from last season. Afflalo arguably should have been an Eastern Conference All-Star last season, and is looking to take that next step next season with the Nuggets.

A potential starting unit of Lawson, Afflalo, Gallinari, Faried and McGee is formidable, and is backed up by proven veterans like Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Hickson and Mozgov. This is a talented, and deep team that should be in the playoff picture next season, despite the fact that next season there could be up to twelve Western Conference teams who have a legitimate shot of making the Playoffs.

Health is always the great equalizer (as the Nuggets found out last season with roughly 170 combined games missed), but with (hopefully) a fully recovered Gallinari, a deep roster, and a year of experience playing under coach Shaw, the Nuggets should be in the Playoff mix next season.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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