When the Knicks take the court against the Bulls for Monday's Martin Luther King Day matinee, they'll have an unfamiliar face in the lineup. First-round pick Danilo Gallinari, unseen since a brief cameo in the season's first two games, returned to the court on Saturday night against the Sixers.
Gallinari, a 20-year old who played in Italy before getting drafted, was expected to provide scoring when the Knicks selected him sixth overall in June, to a chorus of boos from Knicks fans, but a back injury turned the first two and a half months of his rookie season into a waste. He wasted no time trying to provide those points. He travelled on his first touch and then stroked a three-pointer for his first NBA field goal. He kept pushing and tried a reverse layup on the next trip down court. The ball went up and came down without hitting anything, but, all in all, it was a good night for the rookie.
He played most of the fourth, hit another three, and looked like a player with something to contribute going forward. Mike D'Antoni, a former Italian Leaguer himself, said Gallinari is already the best shooter on the team.
"He was our best shooter when he wasn't playing. The guy could really, really shoot. I'm just excited about having a 6-10 guy who can shoot and knows the game."
It's an exciting addition, especially if the Knicks can figure out how to make the best use of his skills. When Chris Duhon is on the court and the ball skips around, Gallinari should thrive, but when Nate Robinson and Al Harrington are hogging the rock it will be hard for the rookie to do anything useful. Yet another reason why the Knicks need to immediately cut ties with Stephon Marbury and bring a real backup point guard to the Garden.
At some point soon the Knicks are going to have to figure out what they are planning for the rest of this season. They are still in the mix for the playoffs, but it's hard to argue that making the playoffs as an eighth seed is better than developing Gallinari down the stretch. If he turns out to be the player D'Antoni and Donnie Walsh envisioned, he could be a big part of luring LeBron James and/or others in 2010 and that's a much bigger value than a brief trip to the postseason.