Why Danilo Gallinari Is Worth the Risk in Fantasy Basketball

Currently undervalued in Yahoo and ESPN leagues, Gallinari could be a sneaky mid-round value in 2015-16.

Danilo Gallinari is the definition of a high-risk, high-reward pick in fantasy hoops drafts these days.

After ranking consistently between 45th and 52nd in nine-category leagues in his four seasons spanning 2009 to 2013, Gallo tore his ACL at the end of the 2012-13 regular season and hasn't been a reliable asset since. 

Gallinari missed the entirety of the 2013-14 season because of the injury (and how it was poorly handled). He returned for the 2014-15 campaign but struggled to find his shot in the first half, only then to tear the meniscus in his other knee in December. He returned from the subsequent minor surgery a month later but never played in the second game of a back-to-back set for the rest of the year.

Overall, he finished the season with only 59 games played (27 starts) and the lowest minute (24.2) and scoring (12.4) averages since his rookie season.

Gallinari still managed to finish last season as the 80th-ranked player in nine-category leagues on a per-game basis, albeit with an unspectacular stat line. His 12.4 points, 1.8 three-pointers, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.0 turnover, 40.1% shooting from the floor, and 89.5% from the free throw line weren't exactly eye-catching, but the triples, success at the charity stripe, and low turnovers buoyed his value over the season as a whole.

So, the guy has two bad knees and season-long numbers that are barely worth talking about. Why are we here promoting his sleeper status for next season? 

Because of everything he has done since his last operation.

Here's a breakdown of Gallinari's numbers before and after the surgery to repair his meniscus tear, complete with his nine-category rank from each period:

Pre-op 24 18.8 7.8 1.1 3.0 1.1 0.5 0.3 36.0% 87.9% 0.7 204th
Post-op 35 27.8 15.7 2.3 4.2 1.6 1.0 0.4 41.6% 90.2% 1.2 41st

Gallinari may have struggled mightily in the early season, as he made his way back from a 19-month absence, but he was a fantasy stud after coming back from his mid-season operation. If you focused solely on his numbers after the All-Star break, more specifically, your interest might be piqued even more:

Post AS 24 31.2 18.6 2.8 4.8 1.9 1.3 0.5 44.3% 89.1% 1.3 11th

That's right, Danilo Gallinari was a first-round value in nine-category fantasy leagues after the All-Star break last season. He had numbers during that time that rivalled those of Jimmy Butler, just with better threes and slightly fewer rebounds and assists. 

A late-season surge like that would normally result in comparable projections for the following season, yet Yahoo has his current O-Rank at 128, while ESPN is projecting him at 95 in their leagues. The injury history discount is somewhat understandable, but if he stays relatively healthy, Gallo has a chance to be a draft-day steal for 2015-16. Even with all the ups and downs of last season's return, he outranked both of those projections for the season as a whole and played like the mid-round value he's always been in the season's second half. 

And there are plenty of other signs pointing up for Gallinari's stock this year. The Nuggets shipped out Ty Lawson this offseason and re-upped Gallo to a new two-year, $34 million extension, making it pretty clear that he's the center of their rebuilding effort. Meanwhile, he's been lighting up EuroBasket this summer playing for Italy, averaging 18.5 points, 1.2 triples, and 6.8 rebounds per contest, while shooting a blazing 57.7% from the field and 89.8% from the line (and playing in six games in eight days, no less). He's reporting that his legs and knees feel great, and his inspired play is saying the same thing. Not to mention, he's still only 27 years old.

So yes, a guy with Gallinari's injury history presents some risk in fantasy drafts, but the reward that comes with his upside when healthy is simply too big to ignore. It's hard to pick him at the beginning of the middle rounds in standard leagues like we used to, but he's creeping into a solid pick near the end of the middle rounds and has a chance to be an absolute draft-day steal if he slips into the later rounds.

This is a wakeup call. Cock-a-doodle-doo. Don't sleep on "The Rooster".