Posts Tagged ‘Danilo Gallinari’

Gallinari seeks return to All-Star-level form

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On April 4, 2013, when Danilo Gallinari drove past Dirk Nowitzki and planted his left foot just above the restricted circle, he figured he was going up for layup or maybe a dunk, and on his way to another big game — the basket would have given him 11 points with more than four minutes left in the second quarter — while putting the Denver Nuggets on course for an 18th consecutive home win.

At the time, the 6-foot-10 forward was averaging career highs of 16.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg, and was shooting the 3-ball at a 37.3-percent clip. The Nuggets, under coach George Karl, were 52-24, third in the Western Conference standings and top-four in the NBA in offensive efficiency with the postseason just two weeks away.

But when Gallinari planted his left foot, he never made it off the ground. His knee buckled. He immediately grasped it with both hands and hopped to the baseline and dropped to the floor. Soon he would be helped up and would disappear into the darkness of the tunnel. Gallinari has not been seen in uniform since.

So much has changed. Karl was fired and Brian Shaw was hired. Gallinari missed all of last season following surgery and the Nuggets, besieged by a slew of other injuries, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the year before drafting Carmelo Anthony.

After extensive rehab, Gallinari, 26, is excited to make his return. He expects to play in the Nuggets’ first preseason game at the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 6. In an interview with NBA.com on Thursday, he said he anticipates a quick return to his pre-injury level of play that he says was deserving of a spot on the 2013 All-Star team.

“I was playing very well,” Gallinari said. “I thought at that point right before the All-Star Game, I should have been called for the All-Star Game […] because we were one of the best teams in the league, and so I think you have to call, you have to call somebody from the Nuggets to represent a great franchise and a franchise that was doing very good. I thought that me and Ty Lawson, we were the two that could have, should have been called for the All-Star game. So I thought I was right at that level, and so my goal is to get back at that level, if not better.”

Gallinari said he believes he has conquered the challenging psychological aspects of returning from an injury of this magnitude. Physically, he said he is happy with how the knee has responded as he’s incrementally increased his workload. He said he will be close to participating in all aspects of practice when training camp opens next week.

“I’m not at the same level that I left basketball because I haven’t played a game in a while,” Gallinari said. “The more I will play games the better I will feel. I’m very excited. I think I will be ready for the first game of the preseason; we are very close. Everybody is very excited. We all cannot wait to start this season.”

Blogtable: Up-and-comer in the West

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown


> Which team has made the biggest offseason leap in the West? How high can they go?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Did San Antonio sweep the sidewalks and trim the hedges outside the AT&T Center? Winner! That’s plenty of improvement for the champs. … OK, I’ll play along. I would say Denver given the return to health of key guys (JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson), the emergence for Team USA of Kenneth Faried and the addition of Arron Afflalo. But the Nuggets overachieved through their setbacks last season, in my view, so their improvement might not be easily discerned in the standings. That’s why I’ll go with the trendy pick, New Orleans. Health matters to the Pelicans, too, and a crunch-time front line with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik protecting the rim could be as good as gargoyles on the glass, swatting away shots.

Anthony Davis' gold medal turn may pay dividends this season in New Orleans. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Anthony Davis’ gold medal turn at the World Cup may pay dividends this season in New Orleans. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’ve got an eye on the Mavericks. The addition of two Chandlers — Tyson and Parsons — could make them a threat. I don’t see Dallas as a championship contender, but if all breaks right the Mavs could make a run at a top four seed.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Mavericks added the most talent with center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons around Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. I really liked bringing in steady vet Jameer Nelson to run the point, eliminating them leaning heavily on Raymond Felton as a starter. That’s three new starters, which could mean some initial growing pains, but all these players are team-oriented, so it shouldn’t be too tough. They added some interesting depth with Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson. They’ll miss Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, but both players are well past their primes. If they stay healthy, Dallas could push for a top-four spot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Nuggets or Pelicans. Denver won 36 games last season and now expects to get Danilo Gallinari back after he missed all 2013-14, JaVale McGee back after all of five appearances, and adds Arron Afflalo in trade and first-round picks Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. That’s the possibility of three new starters and the certainty of much better depth. That’s worth the 12-14 extra wins it will take to make the playoffs. New Orleans won 34 and now not only gets Anthony Davis fast-tracking to stardom, but also Omer Asik next to him at center. Good luck scoring inside on the Pels. One of the keys is what they get from Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson coming off injuries.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Dallas has the potential to be a top-four team in the West with the additions it’s made. The Mavs already had an elite offense, which should be enhanced by the addition of Chandler Parsons. And Tyson Chandler and Al-Farouq Aminu should help them get back to being an above-average defensive team again. Rick Carlisle is a great coach, these guys gave the Spurs a scare in the first round, and Dirk Nowitzki still has some gas in the tank.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: While I didn’t agree with all of the moves they made, there’s no question the Dallas Mavericks were the most fearless and aggressive outfit in the Western Conference during the offseason. Bringing back Tyson Chandler. Snatching Chandler Parsons. And doing it all while making sure Dirk Nowitzki remained on board and believing in the resurrection plan. That’s a master class on how to stay true to your core superstar while changing nearly everything else around him (not named Monta Ellis). The Mavericks will go as far as the new pieces will allow Dirk and Monta to go as the offensive catalysts for this bunch. No offense to Parsons, but the Mavericks didn’t need another superstar. They needed another role player with superstar potential willing to sacrifice all of his ambitions for the greater good, right now. I think they definitely put themselves back into the playoff mix in the Western Conference and somewhere far north of the No. 8 seed they earned last year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I really like what Dallas did this summer. As Mark Cuban pointed out yesterday, they’ve picked up six players who started for other teams last season. They got a rim protector in Tyson Chandler, they got wing scoring in Chandler Parsons, two point guards in Felton and Nelson, and they add all those guys to a core that already included Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. And having Rick Carlisle on the sideline is a pretty good way to bring them all together. Last year they were a lower playoff seed that in the first round gave San Antonio their toughest postseason test. This just feels like one of those teams people forget about … until it’s too late.

Optimism continues to rise in Denver


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about the USA win over Mexico

So, yeah, Kenneth Faried. He’s everywhere for Team USA, finishing on the break, crashing the boards, pounding away with typical bottomless energy, and emerging as the NBA player whose reputation has benefited most from the FIBA World Cup.

This is a step forward for Faried, even with the disclaimer that the event once known as the world championships does not automatically translate to NBA play, not when the international game is different and now when roles are much different for some national teams than they will be starting in late-September. That makes it an obvious step forward for the Nuggets back home as the latest in a series of offseason boosts, and that makes Denver more intriguing than before.

Maybe even playoff intriguing. Faried will be better for his time with Team USA and the positive performance will become an injection of confidence and energy, if that’s possible. Danilo Gallinari is encouraged about being ready for Day 1 of training camp and a full regular-season schedule, save perhaps avoiding back-to-backs early, in the return from two surgeries on his left knee and all 2013-14 on the sidelines. Arron Afflalo was added in a steal of a trade that sent Evan Fournier and a second-round pick to the Magic. JaVale McGee should be back after missing all but five games last season with a fractured left leg. No. 16 pick Jusuf Nurkic was the second-best center prospect in the 2014 draft, after the injured Joel Embiid, and No. 19 pick Gary Harris could crack the rotation as a rookie.

The Nuggets go from 36-46 and missing the playoffs by 13 games to opening training camp in a few weeks with the possibility of essentially three new starters, and veteran starters at that: Afflalo at shooting guard, Gallinari at small forward and McGee at center. There is the uncertainty of Gallinari and McGee because of injuries — and of McGee because it’s JaVale McGee — but it’s easy to see Denver in the conversation with Phoenix and New Orleans as Western Conference teams pushing into the playoffs.

There’s an extra 13 wins to be cobbled together from Gallinari at small forward plus Afflalo and some Harris at shooting guard plus McGee and some Nurkic at center. That’s in addition to the carryover starters, Faried at power forward and Ty Lawson at point guard, plus Randy Foye, in the opening lineup at shooting guard last season but likely bound for a reserve role now, and Wilson Chandler in the same situation at small forward and J.J. Hickson at center.

“I think at every position we’re pretty deep,” Lawson told NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan last month. “At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told (coach Brian Shaw), I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.”

Small forward is the specific watch, and not just with Gallinari’s recovery. Draft night changed that. The Nuggets traded the No. 11 pick to the Bulls for 16 and 19, taking Denver out of contention for Doug McDermott in a double-down of the bet that Gallo would have a full recovery. McDermott would have been for the same position and the projected help for a team that had just finished 19th in the league in shooting. Chicago took McDermott with the selection instead. If he plays to expectations and Gallinari never gets all the way back, June 26, 2014, becomes a haunting memory.

It’s easy to see the Nuggets’ logic, though. They got a lot deeper and, with the Afflalo deal the same day, a lot stronger with Nurkic, needing to now address how a center not known for mobility will fit into the up-tempo game of Lawson and Faried. Nurkic was a candidate for the lottery and Denver got him at a position that has lacked stability for years, plus potential help at shooting guard with Harris. And if Gallinari does make it back, the decision looks even better.

Lawson: ‘People are probably going to sleep on us’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ty Lawson made his presence felt in Denver’s best plays last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – NBA schedules haven’t been out long, but Ty Lawson has already been studying up on the Denver Nuggets’ first month.

“We’ve got the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, We got OKC twice,” Lawson said. “Our first month is crazy so I was like, ‘coach, we’ve both got to be ready coming in, we’ve got to all be focused when we get in there [to training camp].”

Lawson didn’t mention two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first month and the Phoenix Suns in the powerful Western Conference.

“I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent,” Lawson said.

Oh yeah, add a pair against the Kings in the opening month, too.

Throw in a game against the healthy New Orleans Pelicans and that’s 12 of the Nuggets’ first 16 games.

“When it first came out,” Lawson said of the schedule, “I checked and was like, ‘man!’

The Nuggets’ explosive point guard has been working hard during the offseason in Los Angeles. He will soon make his way back to Denver and begin working out with teammates as the countdown to the start of training camp officially begins. This particularly excites the ever-improving Lawson, one of the more under-talked-about point guards in a conference overflowing with All-Star candidates at the position, because it’s been a long time since he’s played with a few of them.

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: You and Kenneth Faried both had strong seasons in Shaw’s first year despite all the injuries. Was it important for you two to set the tone in a transition year?

Lawson: I think so. We found ourselves, especially Kenneth. He found out he can score in the post, run the floor and also his decision-making after getting the rebound and taking it downcourt and able to make the right pass, the right decision. I think it was a positive on both ends and I think it’s going to help for this year coming up.

NBA.com: As a team leader, do you keep up with your teammates during the offseason?

Lawson: Definitely. JaVale’s in L.A., so I see him and we talk all the time. I stay in touch basically with everybody, making sure everybody is getting their work in and that they’re ready for this year because we can make a lot noise.

NBA.com: Speaking of McGee, he signed the big contract, but his season ended five games into it due to injury. Even then he had not earned a significant role under Shaw and he has yet to be able to rid himself of the perception of having a low basketball IQ. Do you really believe he can begin to elevate his game and be a significant contributor?

Lawson: I can see that he’s taking a more serious approach. When he was at Washington he was just about, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m 7-foot, I’m playing.’ But now he’s really actually trying to get better. You can see that. When he’s working out and he misses a jump hook or something he actually gets mad.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.

NBA.com: You already mentioned how tough the schedule is the opening month. Overall, how do you see the West shaping up?

Lawson: The West is going to be crazy. Everybody got better. Houston may have slipped a little bit, but I feel like you’ve got to be ready to go every night against the West. There’s not going to be any slouch teams. I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent. You’ve got to be ready to play in the West, there’s not going to be any easy games like last year where you knew you were going to win that game. It’s not going to be that easy, any team can beat you in the West.

NBA.com: Some feared you might not be as effective in Shaw’s more halfcourt-focused offense as opposed to Karl’s full-throttle approach. You still managed to thrive. Where do you want to take your game next season?

Lawson: I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.

In West, who slides out and sneaks in?


VIDEO: What are the Spurs’ chances of repeating next season?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In our Wednesday Blogtable, the NBA.com staff agreed — with the lone exception of esteemed colleague Aldo Avinante in the Philippines office — that the Los Angeles Lakers, even with the return of a bullish Kobe Bryant, will not make the playoffs.

This seemed like a pretty easy call. Carlos Boozer and Swaggy P. just don’t scream Showtime. Meanwhile, the Western Conference threatens to be more ferocious this season than last.

But what if the question had asked if the Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs? Or if the New Orleans Pelicans with ascending star Anthony Davis can break through? Or if a Ricky Rubio-Andrew Wiggins combo can end the Minnesota Timberwolves’ long postseason drought? Or if the don’t-sleep-on-the-Denver-Nuggets, with Danilo GallinariJaVale McGee (don’t laugh) and others coming back from injury, plus the return of near-All-Star Arron Afflalo, can climb the ladder? Sorry Kings fans, but I’m leaving out the (maturing?) DeMarcus Cousins and Co. in this discussion.

Would any of these teams have lessened the majority of naysayers?

Perhaps not.

For one team to sneak in, one must slide out.

The regular season in the West might only be good for a reshuffling of last season’s top eight. An argument can be made that among those eight only Houston came out of the summer weakened, and even then some contend that swapping of Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza will aid the Rockets’ lacking perimeter defense and thus make it a better overall outfit.

The Spurs return their championship squad in full to attack the task of repeating for the first time in the everlasting Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era. Oklahoma City will welcome a full season of a fully healthy Russell Westbrook. The Clippers are pumped to play for an energetic new owner. The talented Trail Blazers added veteran depth.

At positions six through eight, Golden State is free of last season’s distractions, the Grizzlies cleaned out the front office and solidified coach Dave Joerger. The Mavericks stole offensive flamethrower Parsons from Houston and added defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

So which of those teams possibly falls out? (more…)

Gallinari hopes to be ready for camp

TREVISO, Italy –An upbeat Danilo Gallinari, speaking while attending the last of the three days of the adidas Eurocamp at the La Ghirada Sports Complex, says his knee rehab is going so well he could be on the court for the start of Nuggets training camp

Gallinari is still recovering from two operations on his left knee that has sidelined him for more than a year and remains 2 1/2 months away from his next rehabilitation benchmark. He said he is ahead of schedule in being able to run and jump without limits in June — after surgery in January that marked the second procedure on the knee within nine months.

Next, he plans to join the Italian national team for seven to 10 days of practices, but not games, in mid-August.

Those would be his first full workouts, free of restrictions, and become a major progress report. If there are no setbacks in his native Italy, and the scheduled visit with his doctor in late August in Colorado goes well, Gallinari is hopeful of being cleared for Day 1 of Nuggets camp and the chance to play in exhibition games.

It is far enough in the distance, though, and enough hurdles remain that Gallinari cannot say with any certainty he will be ready by the end of September. Besides, he’s about the last person who needs to be reminded how tenuous the recovery can be. Gallinari was about eight months into the comeback from surgery to repair a torn cartilage suffered April 3, 2013, when it was determined, before Gallinari had returned to the court, that a second operation would be needed to reconstruct a ligament in the same knee.

“I think training camp is realistic,” he said. “It’s something that we really talked about with the doctor. It’s something that we really want to achieve and we believe is going to be possible.”

Gallinari has not played in 14 months. His return, whenever it happens, would be an emotional lift and, depending on his play, potentially a practical boost for a team that will also add the No. 11 pick heading into the second season under coach Brian Shaw.

“I’m not feeling any pressure,” Gallinari said. “The only thing that I’m feeling is that fire that I have inside right now. I never had it before in my career. When you cannot do what you love for more than one year, it’s like I was saying to the Italian media, it’s like, I don’t know, a mom that doesn’t see her son for more than one year. When you see him, it’s one of the best feelings ever. That’s what I feel right now.

“I think it’s going to change a little bit my mental approach. I’m going to be more aggressive. I think it’s going to help my leadership. I’m going to ready and very focused on the goals we have as a team. It’s something that is going to be in my mind every day. I don’t want nobody to stop me from winning.”


VIDEO: Danilo Gallinari showed Nuggets.com how his rehab was coming along in May

Gallinari’s Second Surgery A Blow


VIDEO: Danilo Gallinari scored 22 points in a victory over the Bucks last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Denver Nuggets’ roller-coaster season took a severe nosedive Tuesday with the team announcing that 3-point shooting forward Danilo Gallinari will miss the rest of the season after undergoing a second surgery on his left knee in nine months.

Gallinari tore his ACL during a game on April 4 against the Dallas Mavericks and had surgery on April 30. Gallinari was initially hopeful of returning to the team during the first half of the season, but he has not been able to play at all. Nuggets general manager and vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained why:

“It was recently determined that the procedure that Danilo underwent on his knee this past summer was insufficient,” Connelly said in a statement. “Danilo’s knee required that he undergo reconstruction of the ACL, which was successfully completed earlier this morning.”

The Nuggets’ second-leading scorer last season and one of its top 3-point gunners, Gallinari’s loss is a blow to the middling Nuggets’ playoff chances under first-year coach Brian Shaw.

“It’s disappointing,” Shaw told the Denver Post. “The fact that we know how hard he worked rehabbing over the last few months to try to get back for this season. We feel for him, and know how tough a situation that is to deal with.”

Gallinari, 25, is the second player this season to experience a setback after the initial knee surgery, joining Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook, who had surgery in late April to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He’s also undergone two arthroscopic procedures in the last three months due to related issues. Westbrook’s situation, however, is not as serious as Gallinari’s and he is expected to return to the Thunder’s lineup around the All-Star break.

That won’t be the case for the 6-foot-10 Gallinari, who would have been starting his third full season with Denver and his sixth in the league. He posted career highs in points (16.2 ppg) and rebounds (5.2 ppg) and shot 37.3 percent from the 3-point line.

Without him this season, Denver’s offense ranks 11th in the league and its 3-point shooting percentage ranks 15th. The team has fluctuated between extremes, riding extending losing and winning streaks to a 20-20 record. Now they know Gallinari won’t be riding in to help bring a bit of consistency to the second half of the season.

“Knowing Danilo’s drive and work ethic, we look forward to a full recovery and a healthy return to the court next season,” Connelly said.

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors pursuing Hinrich? | Gasol tunes out trade chatter | Wallace lays into Celtics after loss | Nuggets could save money on Gallinari | Horford opens up on goals, season

No. 1: Report: Warriors may be interested in Hinrich — With last night’s victory in Milwaukee, the Golden State Warriors have been the hottest team in the league and are riding a 10-game win streak. But, as our own John Schuhmann pointed out in a conversation with GameTime on Monday night, all is not perfect, roster-wise, in Oakland. In particular, the Warriors are playing point guard Steph Curry and small forward/point forward Andre Iguodala an awful lot simply because the team has yet to find a capable backup playmaker. That may lend some credence to the report from USA Today‘s Sam Amick, who writes that Golden State could be interested in working a trade for Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich:

When news broke late Monday night that the Chicago Bulls had broken up their championship-contending core by trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the proverbial blood was in the water almost immediately.

Rival executives had been waiting and wondering whether the Bulls would have to go this route, to opt for Plan B because of Derrick Rose‘s second season-ending injury by finally succumbing to the league’s collective bargaining agreement by way of a money-saving deal. And so they did, taking on Andrew Bynum‘s contract for the right to waive him and sneak under the luxury tax that is so much more punitive than it has been in the past. The Bulls landed three draft picks in the trade as well (a first and two seconds) but the strong message had been sent that the Bulls’ shop may finally be open for business.

Bulls fans, players and most certainly coach Tom Thibodeau may be in mourning today, as Deng was a fan favorite and this is as tough as NBA decisions come. But this is welcome news for everyone else around the league.

So, what’s next? We shall see.

While forward Carlos Boozer could be waived via the league’s amnesty clause during the offseason as yet another way to clear the Bulls’ books, it appears point guard Kirk Hinrich will be drawing the most immediate interest when it comes to the Bulls’ possible next move. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors are among teams that had been showing serious interest in Hinrich long before the Deng trade. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because trade talks are typically private.

Even with the Warriors’ current nine-game winning streak, they remain on the lookout for a point guard to play behind Stephen Curry. While small forward Andre Iguodala spends ample time as a playmaking point-forward and veteran Toney Douglas provides spot minutes, this is the void that was created when Jarrett Jack left for Cleveland as a free agent last July. Hinrich is certainly not the only possible solution on the Warriors’ radar, as they remain in the mix for Denver point guard Andre Miller as well.

***

No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol not sweating trade talks — Before Andrew Bynum was traded to the Chicago Bulls early Tuesday morning (and, whom the Bulls cut a day later), his name was most closely linked with his former teammate in Los Angeles, Pau Gasol. For weeks, Gasol had to listen as his name was bandied about in the rumors for Bynum. But it wasn’t the first time Gasol has been in trade rumors since joining the Lakers and even though he dodged a bullet this time, Gasol is doing what he can to not worry about trade rumors, writes our own Jeff Caplan:

Monday for Gasol was D-day. The deadline for Cleveland to trade Bynum was ticking down with one false alarm already doused. For the Lakers, Monday meant a practice at the team’s training facility in El Segundo followed by a flight to Dallas where they would play the Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Tick. Tock.

Gasol tried to make it feel like any other day, but it was impossible to totally shake the odd feeling of not knowing if he would join his teammates on the flight to Dallas, or make arrangements to catch one to Cleveland.

“I packed my bags like I was going on the plane and doing my job, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Gasol said. “But you know, the thought crossed my mind, obviously. I came into practice like any other day. If something would have happened, somebody would have come to me or called me and told me, ‘Look it’s done.’ “

Nothing.

The Lakers’ charter departed LAX at 2 p.m. Pacific Time and arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 7 p.m. local time. The team then bused to the hotel. Still nothing.

“Pretty quiet, pretty calm,” Gasol said, describing how the day was unfolding.

Tick. Tock.

Then, about 15 minutes before midnight Central Time, Twitter erupted with news of a major trade. An All-Star forward was headed to Cleveland in exchange for Bynum and Draft picks. Only it was the Chicago Bull’s Luol Deng, a regular in the rumor mill, but a something of a stunner to be the one going to the Cavaliers at the midnight hour.

“I was up,” Gasol said. “I guess that was kind of the confirmation that it didn’t involve me. At that point I thought that nothing was going to happen either way for anyone, but I guess it did, and now obviously, I’m glad I continue to be a Laker.

“It felt like it was pretty much done at times and that’s the way the media put it out or leaked it,” Gasol said. “It feels good to survive, I guess, and live to fight another day. That’s what they say, right? I’d like to continue to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

“I don’t really know how it really played out. I don’t know what was the reason that it didn’t happen, I don’t know that,” Gasol said. “So I know there are probably going to be other rumors and potential trades coming up, but I can’t really worry about it. I just need to continue what I’ve been doing, which is come in, be ready to play and focus on what I need to do as a player for myself and my teammates.”

***

No. 3: Wallace lays into Celtics after loss to Nuggets — Small forward Gerald Wallace is the second-oldest player on the Celtics and seems determined to leave a lasting impression on Boston’s young core no matter what. Throughout the season, he’s been one of the most vocal members of the team — particularly when Boston isn’t giving a full effort — and was none too happy last night after the Celtics got waxed by the Nuggets in Denver, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Gerald Wallace has emerged as the Celtics’ voice of reason and biggest critic in his first season in Boston and once again he challenged the team following its embarrassing 129-98 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Denver canned 14 3-pointers, attempted 38 free throws and led by 22 points at halftime.The Celtics allowed 103 points through the first three quarters and looked discouraged and lethargic throughout the night.

“I’m very surprised. Right now, we’re the team that’s all talk,” he said. “We talk about how we want to get better. We talk about things we need to do to get better. It’s easy to go out and practice and do it. Practice doesn’t really apply to anything with making yourself better. When they turn them lights on, when it really counts, when it’s about the team and making the team better and trying to win as a team, we don’t do it.”

Jared Sullinger‘s evening exemplified that of his team. He was called for two flagrant fouls in a 23-second span and was ejected in the third quarter. Sullinger now has five flagrant points and would serve a 1-game suspension with his next flagrant 1 foul.

“Hey, Denver was doing everything the right way, so everything was going their way,” Wallace said. “The way we played, the way we play as a team, the things that we do, we don’t deserve to get the calls they got. They got them. Jared’s first (flagrant) was 50-50 and the second one, I’ve seen that play done 50 times, that’s my first time ever seen it called a flagrant foul. Everything was going their way, so why should get the benefit of the doubt? We’re not playing worth a crap anyway.”

The Celtics have dropped eight of nine games and have allowed 248 points in the past two games. Wallace said he is done with team meetings and gatherings to figure out the issue.

“Like I said, guys gotta look in the mirror man. It’s gotta be the individual. It’s gotta be timeout for I and what I can do to help us win?” he said. “What can I do to help the team win? What can I come out on the court and provide to make our team better? Right now it’s too much of ‘I,’ too many guys trying to do it on their own and in this league, that’s hard to do.”

Finally, Wallace said the Celtics have all the right answers in the locker room but they don’t translate to the court.

“We done met, we done talked, we done did everything, we done argued, fussed, complained, moaned, everything you can do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter in here. It matters out there on the court. And until we can take all the talk and everything that we say in here and apply it to out on the court, it’s useless, it’s basically like talking to the wall.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

No. 5: Nuggets could save some money on Gallinari — Denver continues to wait for do-it-all forward Danilo Gallinari to return to the lineup. While there’s no timetable on his return, Gallinari is working out more and more as he continues to rehab his knee injury suffered late last season. The Nuggets would no doubt love to see him in the lineup again, but while he’s out, he could potentially save the team from paying some of his salary, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

As Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari continues to work toward a return from a knee injury, his time missed is approaching a level for which the team will get some of his money covered.

The magic number is 41. If Gallinari misses 41 consecutive regular-season games — and this goes back to last season — an NBA insurance policy will pay for part of his salary per game in every contest after that.

Gallinari has missed 40 consecutive regular-season games, dating to the final six games of last season, as he rehabs a left ACL injury. Starting Saturday in the Nuggets’ home game against Orlando, the insurance policy pays for 50 percent of his base salary per game, meaning the Nuggets will get about $61,800 covered each night he does not play until he returns. Gallinari is making more than $10 million this season, the second of a four-year contract.

“I don’t know how close he is or not,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “Obviously he would be a welcomed addition, but I’ll save my excitement for when it gets really, really close (to his return), whenever that is.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After several players were waived on Tuesday afternoon, there are roughly 20 roster spots open league-wide … Magic big man Nikola Vucevic has a concussion and is likely out for a week … The Rockets are reportedly trying to trade forward Donatas Motiejunas … Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets have received a $5.25 million disabled player exception for Brook Lopez

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: The Jazz’s Derrick Favors gives us a nice in-game demonstration of what the phrase “going up strong” looks like with this two-handed and-one mash on Kevin Durant


VIDEO: Derrick Favors dunks over the Thunder’s Kevin Durant

Hickson’s Flexibility Vital To Hot Nuggets


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson finishes off the Randy Foye lob with force

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA hands out end-of-year awards for just about everything, so why not an MAP award?

Most Adaptable Player.

If such an honor existed, the Denver Nuggets’ 6-foot-9 starting center J.J. Hickson would (again) be a leading candidate. While undersized for the position, he played it all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers and had a breakout year offensively, averaging a double-double (12.7 ppg and 10.4 rpg).

A free agent in the offseason, he signed with Denver where the talented-but yet-to-put-it-all-together 7-footer JaVale McGee was hyped as the starting center and 7-foot-1 free-agent Timofey Mozgov re-signed, too. That meant the bruising, 242-pound Hickson could return to his more natural position of power forward, albeit behind entrenched starter Kenneth Faried, and get back to battling guys more his size.

Here’s what Hickson told me back in February about playing center for the Blazers and what it meant for his impending free agency:

“The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team, and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the ‘5’ to help us get wins.”

In July, Hickson, 25, signed a three-year, $16.1 million contract with the Nuggets. Five games into the season, McGee went down with a stress fracture to his leg and remains out indefinitely. First-year coach Brian Shaw could have picked Mozgov as the traditional choice to start in Shaw’s inside-first offense. But Shaw chose Hickson.

“Some things never change it feels like,” Hickson said of starting at center again. “History does tend to repeat itself at times. I’m doing whatever it takes to win games and if it means playing center, that’s what I’ll do.”

Hickson said Shaw came to him and simply told him, “You’re starting at center.”

“Ever since that day, I accepted the challenge,” Hickson said.

Since Hickson took over at center, the Nuggets (13-8) have won 12 of 16 games following a rough 1-4 start that had critics of the franchise’s sudden overhaul — specifically the firing of longtime coach George Karl — shouting told-you-so.

Hickson is averaging 10.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. He’s produced five double-doubles in his last 16 games — including an 18-point, 19-rebound effort against Oklahoma City — plus six more games with at least eight rebounds. As the starting center, he’s averaging 12.1 ppg on 51.9 percent shooting and 8.5 rpg in 25.6 mpg.

Without All-Star-caliber point guard Ty Lawson in the lineup the last two games due to a hamstring injury, the Nuggets won both to finish their six-game all-Eastern Conference road swing 4-2. Hickson combined for 21 points on 50 percent shooting and 18 rebounds in the two games while essentially splitting time with Mozgov.

“After every game, every practice I feel we’re jelling more and more and we trust each other more on the court,” Hickson said prior to the trip. “We’re playing together, we’re having fun, we’re learning how to close out games. Just the camaraderie amongst each other is great.”

Initially, Hickson’s signing in Denver seemed curious because it seemed to mean his accepting a bench role behind Faried. But the Nuggets needed additional frontline toughness and Hickson is happy to deliver. He won’t earn votes for the All-Defensive team, but he’s also not the turnstile the advanced stats crowd makes him out to be. Part of it is simply that Hickson is undersized and out of position practically every game.

Until McGee returns, Hickson is likely to continue to start in the middle. And even then, it’s not like McGee was tearing it up before his injury. Shaw saw fit to play McGee just 15.8 mpg as the starter, fewer minutes than even Karl — hardly McGee’s biggest fan — could stand bringing him off the bench.

When McGee eventually does work himself back into the starting lineup, it will at least provide the opportunity for Hickson to return to power forward. Not that he won’t keep fighting to stay in the starting lineup, no matter the position.

“I’d be lying if I said I came here to play backup, but that’s competition,” Hickson said. “That’s still to be determined and we’ll cross that road when we get there.”

Until then, Hickson will just keep adapting.