MIAMI – Did Heat fans get a glimpse of the future on Sunday?
Denver’s 6-foot-10 wing man, Danilo Gallinari, who dropped 29 on Miami in the Nuggets’ win, is expected to decline his $16.1 million player option this summer and become a free agent. He likely will be second best player at his position behind Utah’s Gordon Hayward.
But is he a viable option if the Heat cannot sign Hayward?
Gallinari, 28, is having his second best scoring season, averaging 17.7 points, a bit under the 19.5 points he averaged in 2015-16. Both years he averaged a little more than five rebounds and two assists per game.
This season though has been his best from the floor since his rookie year with the Knicks, shooting 43.9 percent, 38.4 on threes.
Although those scoring/shooting numbers are not as good as the 6-8 Hayward’s (21.7 ppg, 46.3 percent from the floor, 38.9 on threes), Gallinari defense has been a bit better, holding the players he covers to 41.6 percent, 3.2 percent below their average, compared to Hayward’s minus 2.5.
Defense, though, is neither players’ strong suit, and certainly the weakness in Gallinari’s game. And Denver is one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
If Miami signs Gallinari as the small forward, it would then have to upgrade the defense at power forward, where Luke Babbitt is not expected to return as the starter.
Gallinari can be a matchup nightmare with his size. Just look at Sunday when the Heat were forced to guard him with 6-4 Rodney McGruder for much of game. Gallinari would just rise and shoot over the pesky McGrude. He was 11-of-19 from the floor, 3-of-7 threes.
Gallinari’s strength is his catch-and-shoot game and he can also get to the line, averaging 6.2 free throws per game (Goran Dragic leads the Heat with 5.1 per game). And Gallinari takes advantage of those trips making 90.2 percent of his free throws. The Heat are last in the league at 70.4 percent.
The other downside is Gallinari’s injury history. He averaged 56 games the last two season and has played 59 this year, missing time with a groin strain and a knee injury.
While nobody is saying Gallinari is a better option than the 27-year-old Hayward, he may be a nice second option, especially considering that many believe if Hayward leaves Utah he may prefer to play for his old Butler University coach, Boston’s Brad Stevens.
And Gallinari would be cheaper. While Hayward is expected to receive a max contract starting at $31 million a year, Gallinari likely is in the $20-25 million a year range.
With somewhere around $40 million to spend this summer, the Heat must decide if they want to use at least half of that on what could be the second best wing player on the market.