PARIS - The comparisons have been made before by people who relate Danilo Gallinari's potential to that of perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. After his first experience of live action with him as a teammate, Amar'e Stoudemire, who has gone up against Nowitzki many times during his career in the Western Conference, sees it, too.
"He reminds me of Dirk a lot," Stoudemire said. "Right now, I think at this point in time, he's at that same level as Dirk at the same age, if not better."
Stoudemire may have been caught up in a bit of hyperbole, or maybe it's really just talent recognizing talent in the 22-year-old Italian forward, who is the closest thing Stoudemire has to a wingman on this young Knicks roster.
"There's a lot of similarities in their game," Stoudemire said, "but I think Danilo is on a great pace right now."
Nowitzki has set the bar high. When he was 22 in the 2000-01 season, his third in the NBA, he had a breakout season with 21.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots in 38.1 minutes per game. But perhaps the most important stat attached to his name was that his personal success resulted in a 53-win season for the Mavericks and his first trip to the playoffs.
In Sunday's 125-113 exhibition win over AJ Milano, Gallinari - who also is in his third season and looking to reach the playoffs for the first time in his career - showed he can be that kind of go-to player to carry the team when it needs him. He made important baskets at key moments of the game and finished with 24 points in 32 minutes.
"There was a moment we were relaxing too much and we were down, and I thought I had to help the team as much as I could," Gallinari said.
Mike D'Antoni has designated Stoudemire and point guard Raymond Felton as the co-captains, but he has pushed Gallinari to be more assertive on the floor - with and without the ball - and take on a leadership role despite his age. Said Gallinari, "It's a role I'm ready for."
It's a role the Knicks need him to fill if they're going to contend in the much-improved Eastern Conference. It's a role he has to prove he can fill if he hopes to stave off the Carmelo Anthony trade debate for as long as Anthony remains in Denver.
The best-case scenario would be to sign Anthony as a free agent next summer and join his talents with Stoudemire and Gallinari. But Anthony would prefer to be traded so he can sign a full max extension before the current collective-bargaining agreement expires. And Gallinari, as the Knicks' most valuable asset, appears certain to go in return.
Notes & quotes: Ronny Turiaf is a native of Martinique, an overseas region of France, and went to high school in Paris. He will start at center again Wednesday against the Timberwolves. But D'Antoni said that spot is open and Russian rookie Timofey Mozgov could be the favorite. "I think he can play,'' he said . . . In the wake of the State Department's terror warning to travelers in Europe, the Knicks have extra security with them at the arena and the hotel, but although the players were instructed to be aware of their surroundings, they were not told to avoid sightseeing. "Nothing out of the ordinary, just standard procedure," D'Antoni said. "We're just going to do what's right."
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