Associated Press

Danilo Gallinari on his summer: “I would love to reach an agreement to remain in Denver”

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Danilo Gallinari can get buckets as a four who can space the floor — he averaged 18.2 points per game for the Nuggets last season, shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s a solid defender. The rooster has real value in today’s NBA, if he could just stay healthy.

That value is why he will opt-out and hit the free agent market this summer. A number of teams are expected to express interest in Gallo, but he said in a recent interview with BlitzTV, Gallinari said that he wants to remain with the Nuggets. (Via Sportando)

Gallo has a $16.1 million player option for next season that he is not expected to pick. Gallinari will opt out of his contract to test free agency but his goal is to sign a new deal with the Nuggets.

“The relationship between me, the city and the organization is great. This is the reason why I would love to reach an agreement to remain in Denver. I love it here. And I would love to remain with the Nuggets” Gallinari said.

The Nuggets will want him, Denver was +8.2 points per 100 when Gallinari and Nikola Jokic were paired, with the offense clicking at a ridiculous 116.7 points per 100 possessions. However, the Nuggets also need to get players who will upgrade the defense this summer, and they know that big paydays are coming in a couple of years for Jokic and Gary Harris. How much are they willing to commit to Gallinari, and could another team come in over the top and snag him?

The Nuggets have a number in mind, but a team with cap space could see Gallinari on the move. That said, all things being equal, he could be back in Denver next summer, it all comes down to what the market dictates.

Five out: NBA entering era of 3-point-shooting centers

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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In 2014, the Atlanta Hawks snuck into the playoffs with a 38-44 record. Their reward? A matchup with the top-seeded Indiana Pacers, who boasted the NBA’s best defense.

Roy Hibbert, a mountain of a center, anchored Indiana’s defense by using his 7-foot-2, 270-pound frame to wall off the paint.

On the other hand, Atlanta’s starting center, Al Horford, suffered a season-ending injury in December. The Hawks rotated three replacements: Pero Antic, Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon. Ayon suffered his own season-ending injury in February, leaving Atlanta to choose between a past-his-prime, but veteran, Brand and Antic, a 31-year-old rookie who liked to shoot 3-pointers but converted them at a below-average clip.

The Hawks started Antic – and told him to bomb away.

"Even though Pero wasn’t a great 3-point shooter, we told him to shoot it, because we needed Hibbert out of there," said Kenny Atkinson, who was then a Hawks assistant coach. "That was the only way we were going to score.

"We had to take some risk."

Antic hoisted 42 3s in 170 minutes – the highest rate ever in a postseason by someone who started all his team’s games at center. But he made just 7-of-42, a dreary 17%.

Yet, the scheme worked anyway.

Antic pulled Hibbert from the paint, scrambling the Pacers. Hibbert was lost on the perimeter, and his teammates didn’t know how to play without an elite rim protector behind them. Indiana was on tilt, and its offense collapsed as everyone bore the weight of new defensive challenges.

Atlanta outscored the Pacers by 30 with Antic on the court and got outscored by 37 otherwise. Though the Hawks lost the series in seven games, they pushed the Pacers far more than anyone anticipated.

"That was kind of a little bit of an epiphany," Atkinson said. "This can help. This can help draw a great rim protector away from the rim."

The stretch-five revolution was underway.

Atkinson and the Hawks, coached by Mike Budenholzer, had become full believers. The next year, Horford shot and made more 3-pointers than he did in his first seven years combined. The following year, he again trumped his growing career totals – and he wasn’t alone. The shift spread beyond Atlanta by then.

Anthony Davis also shot and made more 3-pointers last season than he had in the rest of his career combined. So did DeMarcus Cousins, who topped his new career totals again this year. Marc Gasol and Nikola Vucevic did it this year, too.

But perhaps the biggest domino to fall was Brook Lopez.

Atkinson became the Nets’ head coach this season and inherited Lopez, an archetypical center who made just 3-of-31 3-pointers in his first eight seasons. In his first year under Atkinson, Lopez has made 134-of-386 3-pointers (35%).

If Lopez can shoot 3s, what is the limit?

We’re progressing toward finding out.

Centers made 1,479 3-pointers this season – more than double any other year, more than the last four years combined, more than the first 17 years of the 3-point arc combined.

Here are number the of 3-pointers made (orange) and attempted (blue) per game by centers, as classified by Basketball-Reference:

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Season 3P 3PA 3P/G 3PA/G 3P%
2017 1479 4183 1.20 3.40 35%
2016 544 1662 0.44 1.35 33%
2015 331 1020 0.27 0.83 32%
2014 429 1310 0.35 1.07 33%
2013 118 485 0.10 0.39 24%
2012 115 443 0.12 0.45 26%
2011 176 588 0.14 0.48 30%
2010 481 1463 0.39 1.19 33%
2009 368 1080 0.30 0.88 34%
2008 500 1519 0.41 1.23 33%
2007 305 945 0.25 0.77 32%
2006 64 301 0.05 0.24 21%
2005 253 785 0.21 0.64 32%
2004 150 559 0.13 0.47 27%
2003 150 497 0.13 0.42 30%
2002 317 896 0.27 0.75 35%
2001 86 364 0.07 0.31 24%
2000 100 382 0.08 0.32 26%
1999 44 199 0.06 0.27 22%
1998 128 535 0.11 0.45 24%
1997 219 686 0.18 0.58 32%
1996 148 528 0.12 0.44 28%
1995 247 799 0.22 0.72 31%
1994 74 339 0.07 0.31 22%
1993 91 353 0.08 0.32 26%
1992 101 396 0.09 0.36 26%
1991 117 504 0.11 0.46 23%
1990 197 677 0.18 0.61 29%
1989 170 607 0.17 0.59 28%
1988 34 191 0.04 0.20 18%
1987 12 101 0.01 0.11 12%
1986 16 129 0.02 0.14 12%
1985 11 129 0.01 0.14 9%
1984 21 147 0.02 0.16 14%
1983 18 139 0.02 0.15 13%
1982 22 112 0.02 0.12 20%
1981 14 88 0.01 0.09 16%
1980 10 95 0.01 0.11 11%

For the first time in history, the average NBA game featured a center making a 3-pointer. But the opening weekend of the playoffs sent the trend into overdrive.

In eight Game 1s, centers combined to shoot 12-for-16 on 3-pointers (75%).

That doesn’t even count all the time teams used players listed at forward, like Serge Ibaka and Draymond Green, at center – a strategy that becomes much more popular this time of year. Teams have embraced small ball more quickly than positional designations can keep up.

"A stretch five," said Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, who implored Marc Gasol to become one, "is a serious luxury."

Enjoy it while it lasts.

It wasn’t long ago that stretch fours were a novelty. Teams had to create special game plans to defend them, because they popped up on the schedule so irregularly. Now, it’s a change of pace when a team starts two traditional interior bigs.

Stretch fives are the new frontier.

Coaches are quick to point out how much trouble opposing 3-point-shooting centers cause, but not every team has developed its own. As long as the former remains true, the latter will change.

The current crop of high-volume stretch fives all have their own origin stories. Davis started shooting 3s under Alvin Gentry, who saw the value of a playmaking center while coaching Draymond Green with the Warriors. Cousins didn’t like being labeled a center and wanted to expand his game. Gasol listened to Fizdale, who was a Heat assistant when Miami – due to injury – learned the value of small ball and then turned Chris Bosh into a center. Vucevic played for Frank Vogel, who coached that Pacers team torched by Antic.

Eventually, there won’t be anything special about a center who shoots 3-pointers. It’ll be the norm.

To be fair, it was hardly unpresented pre-Antic. Mehmet Okur, who retired in 2012 is the all-time leader in 3-pointers by a center (460). Channing Frye set the single-season record for 3-pointers per game by a center (2.1) in 2010, when he played for Gentry’s Suns. That broke the record by Al Harrington for the 2008 Warriors (1.9).*

*Counting only seasons players were listed as centers by Basketball-Reference

That 2010 Phoenix team, coached by Gentry, was still running Mike D’Antoni’s spread scheme. Harrington was primarily a forward during his career, but then-Golden State coach Don Nelson frequently used him at center.

D’Antoni and Nelson were seen as mad scientists, bending basketball into an unholy style. But they were actually visionaries not appreciated in their time.

Stretch fives have not become conventional, but they’re no longer such a rarity. Nine centers made more than one 3-pointer per game this season. No more than three had done that in any other year.

Here’s every center ever to average more than one 3-pointer per game:

image

Other players could join their ranks next season.

Big forwards who already shoot plenty of 3s, like Ibaka and Kristaps Porzingis, could soon be primarily centers. Young stretch fives like Myles Turner could take more 3s in bigger roles. Centers with established mid-range games – like Robin Lopez, Brook’s twin brother – could venture beyond the arc.

There’s so much incentive to experiment.

It’s not just the added value of a more efficient shot than a long two. It’s not even just the value of generally spacing the floor.

It’s that centers are often the best rim protectors, so there’s exponentially more value in a stretch five pulling an opposing center from the paint than a stretch four pulling an opposing power forward from the paint.

Stretching the floor has enhanced existing skills for these centers, too. Getting the ball on the perimeter with the threat of shooting has made Brook Lopez an even more effective driver. Gasol can survey the floor from beyond the arc, with a defender pressed closed to him rather than disrupting the passing lanes, and zip dimes from even more angles.

Lopez has embraced his new skill dutifully, though he didn’t want to talk much about himself late in Brooklyn’s awful season. Gasol has unleashed his 3-point shooting with joyous flair – at least once he got going.

"He laughed at first because I told him I want him shooting four a game, and he thought I was joking," Fizdale said. "But as you can see it’s not a joke."

Gasol came close, finishing with 3.6 3-point attempts per game. But there’s always next year.

The stretch-five revolution has just begun.

Three things to watch: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors

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1. The return of Jusuf Nurkic
Nurkic has been the catalyst for the strong second half of the season that catapulted the Portland Trail Blazers past rivals Denver, Dallas, and Sacramento for the 8th seed in the West. In his time in Portland, Nurkic Fever has run hot thanks to his passing, shooting, and defensive ability.

Portland desperately needed a player like Nurkic, and to hit on him after trading away Mason Plumlee was a godsend. But Nurkic had a non-displaced fracture in his leg in March and we’re still waiting to see if and when he will return. The Blazers need him to run their full offense against Golden State.

2. How Golden State contains Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum
Role players aside, Portland doesn’t win much without Lillard or McCollum hitting, and usually it needs to be both. That’s changed a little bit lately with Lillard finally looking explosive during the final third of the season.

Last year in the playoffs, teams trapped Lillard and McCollum extensively as a way to get the ball out of their hands and to force turnovers. Golden State should be good enough at that, but the plan for the Blazers is to try to counterpunch by having Evan Turner handle the ball. Portland won’t win without big games from these guys, and how the Warriors plan for them could make the difference between a sweep and an extended series.

3. Kevin Durant‘s readiness
Durant has been back but hasn’t quite looked himself yet. The Warriors could take the Portland series “easy” by going slow, pacing him, and saving him and the rest of their stars for future rounds. Golden State is a Finals favorite once again, so that might be the smart move.

Then again, the playoffs are all about cohesiveness at the right time, so perhaps this is a good series to ramp up Durant’s load? Either way, we’ll learn a lot about how to project the Warriors moving forward by seeing how they handle Durant’s return, and what the former MVP looks like against the Blazers.

Nuggets narrowly miss playoffs, but find cornerstone in Nikola Jokic

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DENVER (AP) Nikola Jokic had absolutely no clue about his final stats until an assistant coach informed him a day after the season ended. No idea whatsoever. Not his points (16.7). Not his rebounds (9.8). Not his assists (4.9).

The Denver Nuggets big man preferred not knowing, so he didn’t get hung up on numbers.

That sort of focus might’ve worked wonders for the youthful Nuggets down the stretch as they narrowly lost out to Portland for the final playoff spot in the West.

“The playoff (chase) was too much pressure for us,” Jokic said Thursday after the team missed the postseason for a fourth straight season. “Every game, it’s like, `Oh, the playoffs – if we lose this, we’re not going to make the playoffs.’… Just play the game as normal.”

Still, the Nuggets (40-42) improved by seven games over a season ago. This despite using 32 different lineups and finishing 3-12 in games where they were behind by one or tied in the final minute, according to research on NBA.com.

“For us to make the run we did, with all the injuries we had, all the young players we were playing, was remarkable,” said coach Michael Malone , whose team was eliminated from playoff contention Sunday on Russell Westbrook‘s long 3-pointer at the buzzer in Oklahoma City’s win.

Even more, the Nuggets found the centerpiece to build around in Jokic , who recorded six triple-doubles. General manager Tim Connelly said the 6-foot-10 Serbian is on the brink of becoming a transcendent player.

First, though, some rest.

Jokic’s exhausted after a long season on the heels of helping his country earn a silver medal at the Rio Olympics last summer.

“I’m going to take this break,” said Jokic, a second-round pick in 2014 whose standout play made it possible to trade bruiser Jusuf Nurkic to the Blazers for Mason Plumlee in February. “It’s going to be nice for me.”

Danilo Gallinari certainly likes the direction the team is headed, especially given the emergence of Jokic, sharp-shooting rookie Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

“One of the positive things, for example, is the talent and the number of young guys that we have,” Gallinari said. “They are very good players and it’s something the franchise can build on.”

Whether Gallinari sticks around in Denver for next season is a different story. He could opt out of his deal and explore free agency.

“It’s not time right now to make the decision,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in 2011. “Right now, it’s time to digest the fact we were not able to accomplish the goal (of the playoffs) that I had, that we had, at the beginning of the season.

“After that, it’s time to go on vacation for a little bit, rest the body.”

Here are some takeaways from Denver’s season:

DESERVING HONOR: Murray believes he belongs on the all-rookie team after being one of Denver’s top outside threats. “I feel like I’m one of the better rookies in the class,” said Murray, the seventh overall pick out of Kentucky. “Got a chance to prove it.”

MILE HIGH LOVE: While the lure of testing free agency is attractive to Gallinari, so is returning to a city he loves. “I have a house here. After my career, Denver is going to be my city. It’s very tough for me to leave. We’ll see,” Gallinari said.

LEARNING LESSON: After missing time with lower back pain, point guard Emmanuel Mudiay found it difficult to get minutes. The seventh overall pick in 2015 turned in several strong games down the stretch after being demoted. “I became a better player,” Mudiay said. “Not saying I want to miss games, but when I did miss games, sit back and watch and look … see what you can do better.”

UP AND DOWN: Harris developed into a pivotal player after being bothered by a strained groin early, and then a foot injury. He averaged 14.9 points. “Gary’s ascension has kind of been understated,” Connelly said. “He really turned into a special player at the two-guard.”

ABILITY TO CHANGE: The Nuggets were all about going with a big lineup at the start of the season. After the emergence of Jokic, they switched gears and ran things through him. “He’s got a lot of unique tools,” Connelly said. “Offensively, he almost plays a near-perfect brand of basketball.”

More AP NBA: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

2017 PBT Awards: Most Improved Player

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
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Kurt Helin

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. Rudy Gobert, Jazz

3. Isaiah Thomas, Celtics

While we expected improvement out of the Greek Freak this year, his trajectory skyrocketed to All-Star/All-NBA level player when he was made a point-forward by Jason Kidd. He ran away with this award for me. Rudy Gobert’s offensive game made a huge leap this season, and Isaiah Thomas’ offensive improvement — when everyone knew he would be the guy with the ball — kept him ahead of Kemba Walker and other deserving candidates.

Note: Helin has an official ballot this year.

Dan Feldman

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. Rudy Gobert, Jazz

3. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Giannis Antetokounmpo should run away with this award. There are only two (invalid) reasons not to pick him: He was overrated last year, and he was so good, so quickly to begin this season, it’s easy to forget he hasn’t long been elite.

Rudy Gobert (far more effective offensively, somehow even better defensively) and Nikola Jokic (easing into an offensive focal point while improving efficiency) add to a relatively star-studded cast of candidates that also includes Isaiah Thomas, Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook. Another player who didn’t draw All-Star consideration for this award but also deserves mention: Myles Turner.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

3. Myles Turner, Pacers

Giannis beats out Jokic here for me simply because of the jump he’s made while playing heavy minutes. This is the third year Antetokounmpo has been a starter, yet somehow he’s added 8.5 points, 1.5 assists, 1.4 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks per-100 to his production. That’s more impressive than Jokic, who is wildly exciting and great as a full-time starter, but who hasn’t made the same contextual leap. Myles Turner gets a nod here for me too because of the gap at the No. 3 spot and because of his steadying offensive game.