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Gallinari tapping into potential in Denver

Denver Nuggets' Danilo Gallinari, left, drives around San

Denver Nuggets' Danilo Gallinari, left, drives around San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard during the second half of an NBA game. (Jan. 7, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

In his fourth season, Danilo Gallinari's speed of development certainly won't blow anybody away. A 6-10 small forward that was supposed to be able to shoot from anywhere, draw fouls and occasionally create off the dribble, he has yet to shoot better than 45 percent for a season -- including a regression in shooting percentage each of his first three seasons. And, his average has always hovered around 15 points per game.

Looking at his career track, though, signs point to 2011-12 being a breakout season.

The sixth overall pick in 2008, Gallinari was limited to 28 games his rookie season due to injuries. He endured growing pains his first full season in 2009-10, and was then dealt from the Knicks to the Nuggets last year, another injury-riddled campaign.

So, as far as progression goes, it's fair to look at 2011-12 as somewhere between Gallinari's second and third seasons in the league.

Since Jan. 1, Gallinari has backed up the idea of a breakout season. He has scored at least 20 points in five of his last seven games, shooting 53.3 percent from the field. In fact, in his last four games, he is 32-for-56 from the field (57.1 percent) and 10-for-22 from three (45.5 percent).

At this point, the sample size is still small. But in a 66-game season, Gallinari is averaging career highs in points and field goal percentage one-sixth of the way through.

His 2011-12 player efficiency rating (20.6) is well ahead of his career rating (15.4). He has the same true shooting percentage (a mark that weighs three-pointers, free throws and two-pointers accordingly) as Kevin Durant (59.4 percent), and his efficient field goal percentage (measuring just two-pointers and three-pointers) is up from 2010-11, despite an abysmal early couple of games from three. (Gallinari missed 24 of his first 28 three-point attempts this year.)

Look even deeper, and the numbers continue to jump out at you. Gallinari's value-added and estimated wins added, according to John Hollinger's stats, are fourth in the league among small forwards, behind three guys named LeBron, Durant and Melo.

Most importantly, Gallinari is both healthy and the featured option on a playoff contending team in the Western Conference.

It's not at all bullish to expect Gallinari to be among the league's premier scoring small forwards by season's end. And a restricted free agent next offseason, he's playing his way into a nice payday.

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