What Gallinari’s ACL Tear Means For Championship-Hungry Denver

Kevin Ware’s injury has set a new standard for gore in basketball. So it was hardly stomach-turning to see Danilo Gallinari’s left knee bend slightly inward while making an almost uncontested drive to the basket against the Mavericks Thursday night. What was tougher to stomach was the Denver Nuggets’ contender hopes seemingly go out the window at the pace of their high-octane play. This past Friday it was confirmed that Gallinari had a torn ACL. That means he has a long, spirit-testing recovery ahead of him that will not include playing with his teammates in the playoffs.

Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari
Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari is helped off the court after injuring his knee during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks at the Pepsi Center Chris Humphreys USA TODAY Sports

This after the internet community was feeling all warm inside when seeing the Nuggets comradery on full display.

For many reasons, the NBA have embraced the Denver Nuggets with open arms. In an era where one of the game’s most imposing physical specimens ever has to partner with two other top-15 players to win some hardware, the all-for-one, one-for-all approach of the Nuggets is contagious. They play hard, fast, and interwoven. The only way to keep up is to keep up, and that’s when they beat you.

Earlier this season, I wrote about how Denver’s 15-game win streak didn’t come close to revealing how good they were, and that still holds partly true. But Gallinari’s season-ending injury, and Ty Lawson’s potential health concerns in the playoffs, might end up doing them in. The only bright spot has been Evan Fournier’s play as he’s stepped up in Lawson’s absence, but the roadblocks in front of Denver seem to be insurmountable.

The six best lineups for Denver include Gallinari (per nba.com’s advanced stats), so missing him will be tough. Being without the 24-year-old would mean that Denver would also have to do without 16.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.5 APG. Not easy numbers to make up. The question has risen plenty as to who a no-star team would turn to in crunch time for scoring, and Gallinari was one of those many options. Without him, Denver must turn to Iggy, Chandler, a crafty Andre Miller, a hopefully speedy enough Lawson, and an equal-parts speedy and crafty Corey Brewer down the stretch. Five major backup options doesn’t seem like a horror scenario.

In fact, Brewer and Chandler might hold the key to the Nuggets’ success if they hope to make a deep playoff run. As I mentioned before, Gallinari was in most of Denver’s best lineups, but some of Denver’s most efficiently offensive five-man lineups have included Brewer and Chandler in them. When accounting for lineups that have played at least 35 minutes together for the Nuggets, Brewer and Chandler are in both lineups with the best field-goal shooting percentage (62.3 FG%, 54.9 FG%). When playing more minutes, the team’s collective percentage seems to fall, but they improve at a per-minute pace over the team’s best lineup in many categories.

No. 1 Lineup: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufus, & Ty Lawson (797 Minutes Played):

2.13 PPM, .949 RPM, .515 APM, .173 STLPM, .136 BLKPM, .308 TOPM

No. 8 Lineup: Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee, & Andre Miller (130 Minutes Played):

2.03 PPM, .969 RPM, .576 APM, .261 STLPM, .207 BLKPM, .407 TOPM

I adjusted the stats to a per-minute ratio because a per-game slice would be swayed in the favor of the lineups allowed more minutes on the court. And that would be lineup No. 1, since it’s played the most minutes this year. Of course, this isn’t a perfect indicator of Corey and Wilson’s potential success covering for GallinariI still think the Nuggets will be hurt by his absenceit just goes to show that the Nuggets might not be as hurt as one might first think.

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