Last night’s game against the Rockets was only the latest debacle in a season that seems like it may be quickly careening over a cliff. The Knicks are making it about as difficult as they can for fans to remain patient and positive (though I’m not writing anyone off yet — it’s much too early for that for a team with so many new players).
I’m trying to resist the urge to rip all my hair out while I wait (and pray) for the players to figure this thing out but it’s hard not to notice how many Knicks seem to deliberately play away from their strengths. Dan broke this notion down at length as it applies to Wilson Chandler but the same criticisms can be leveled against Toney Douglas, Anthony Randolph, Ray Felton and even Amar’e. The players continually try to do the things they like to do but don’t do well instead of doing the things they are good at that would actually help the team win games if they focused on doing only those things. It’s like in Major League II when Willie Mays Hayes suddenly decided that he was a power hitter. It’s worse than just unproductive. It’s counterproductive.
Up until the past couple games, Gallo had been a particularly egregious example of this syndrome. Upon entering the league, someone labeled him a shooter and since then he’s been all too content to fire away from the perimeter without incorporating the other parts of his game that made him such a compelling prospect coming out of Italy to begin with. Before he arrived stateside, scouting reports of his game always treated his shooting as afterthought. Is he a good shooter? Most definitely, very good even. But where’s the impressive court vision and playmaking we saw on those grainy Youtube vids? What about the midrange shooting? Seems those abilities have been lost in an endless barrage of threes.
Even more interesting, despite Gallo’s maddening tendency to pop from anywhere, covered or not, he has proved astonishingly effective at drawing fouls on the NBA level. Pretty much any time he puts the ball on the floor and heads towards the rim, the whistle blows and he finds himself at the foul line. That’s an amazing skill (his best NBA skill by far) and one that should be cultivated and exploited to the greatest extent possible.
If Gallo needs inspiration he needn’t look any further than Kevin Martin, the Houston Rockets’ lithe shooting guard who torched the Knicks yesterday for 28 points (8-18 FGs, 3-7 3FGs, 9-11 FTs). Martin’s also a guy that’s perceived mainly as a long range bomber but it’s not nearly the most effective part of his offensive repertoire. Even better, he knows it! Does Martin take a lot of 3s? Sure does, more than 5 a game. But he uses that very good, but not spectacular perimeter touch and an incredible head fake as a tool that sets up the real bread and butter of his game: getting fouled. He’s not especially quick for a SG and he’s certainly not strong but Martin, all 185 lbs of him(soaking wet, maybe), shoots 9 FTs(!!) a game and makes 8 of those. He’s averaging 24 points this season on just 15 shots. That’s just about as efficient as you can be. His true shooting percentage this season is 63.8. That kind of efficiency can usually only be found in elite big men.
Now to be fair, lately Gallinari’s been better at taking advantage of this perviously underutilized strength. On the season he’s averaging 5 FTs a contest–good for second on the team–and he’s attempted 9 in each of the last 3 games. And in those games he’s scored 15 points on 9 shots, 25 points on 17 shots and 14 on 7, respectively. But, recent developments notwithstanding, he still has a maddening tendency to fall in love with the long ball (especially after he sees one go in) and too many times he spends stretches of the game settling for tough jumpers and then disappears altogether if they stop falling. That’s just not acceptable for a player capable of getting to the line so frequently and easily as he. His foul shots should be a staple of the Knicks arsenal. Right now, on the nights he actually stays aggressive, it’s little more than a pleasant surprise.
The day Gallinari finally realizes the value of being a foul magnet will be the day he finally fulfills the vast potential as a scorer many of us see when we watch him play. A guy that gets fouled every time he drives the lane and can make open threes really doesn’t have such a tough road to hoe to get 20 points. And an efficient 20 at that. That’s Gallo. He just doesn’t know it.
To this point in his career Gallinari’s thought of himself as a shooter who can drive a little but that’s ass backwards. Don’t get me wrong. Gallo’s ability to drain threes is essential to his overall success. But only to the extent that it sets up his true strength: getting fouled. Maybe he’s finally starting to get it but, if not, someone should lock him in the film room, strap him to a chair, tape his eyes back, and make him watch reels of Kevin Martin. Because he definitely gets it.