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OKC Thunder: Will Danilo Gallinari's good health continue?

The Clippers traded Danilo Gallinari to the Thunder last summer, and Gallinari arrived in OKC with two reputations: great shooter, injury-prone.

In the previous seven seasons, Gallinari had played in 319 of a possible 574 regular-season games. He hadn’t reached 70 games in a season since 2012-13. For his career, Gallinari had missed 353 games and played in 549.

But before the NBA season was suspended March 11, Gallinari’s durability was a pleasant surprise. OKC had fashioned a 40-24 record, and Gallinari was a big reason why. His 19.2 points a game is a fraction behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s team-leading 19.3, and Gallinari’s .409 3-point percentage is better than his career percentage.

And the best number on Gallinari’s stat line has been 55 – that’s games played. He’s missed just nine games, and most of them were the result of load management, the new NBA term for resting pivotal players. Billy Donovan did a good job of keeping Gallinari healthy and rested.

Five of Gallinari’s missed games were simply resting him on the second night of back-to-back games. In late December, Gallinari missed four straight games with a sore ankle.

When the NBA season resumes – probably in mid-to-late July – Gallinari will be central to the Thunder’s hopes of playoff success. He should be well-rested. But how much can the Thunder count on continued Gallinari health?

The Thunder has 16 regular-season games remaining, but the NBA apparently is undecided on whether to go straight to the playoffs. Eliminating the rest of the regular season would cost franchises some much-needed television revenue but would also eliminate virtually half the logistics of restarting a season during this coronavirus pandemic, since only 16 of the 30 teams would be involved.

If the regular season is played, the Thunder would need to count on Gallinari for most of those 16 games, plus a playoff series and perhaps beyond. If it’s straight playoffs, Gallinari’s mission would be much shorter. No more than 14 games unless the Thunder staged a mighty playoff upset. So that’s anywhere from 15-30 games.

By mid-July, the NBA will have gone more than four months without a game. That’s a virtual off-season length for teams that make the NBA Finals. In some ways, this reboot will be like starting a season.

I went back and looked at Gallinari’s career, wondering how many of his injuries came early in seasons. If Gallinari showed a history of being hurt down the stretch, that’s a good sign for OKC. If Gallinari showed a history of early-season problems, that’s a warning.

The answer is, it’s mixed. But there’s reason for optimism.

In 2018-19 with the Clippers, Gallinari played in the first 15 games, missed one game, then played in 28 straight. The Thunder would take that.

In 2017-18, Gallinari played in the first nine games, then missed 14 straight, played in two and then missed 25 straight. Not good.

In 2016-17, Gallinari played in the first 14 games, missed three, then played in 31 straight. Good.

In 2015-16, Gallinari played in the first 27 games, missed six straight, then played in 26 straight. Not bad.

In 2014-15, coming off a season in which he missed the entire year with a knee injury, Gallinari played in the first 21 games, missed three, played three, then missed 15.

So who knows? But in general, Gallinari has missed more games deeper into a season than earlier in a season. Some of that is natural. No reason to push a guy deeper in a season, when the games often mean less.

Only four of Gallinari’s previous 11 NBA teams made the playoffs, but he hasn’t missed a playoff game other than the season in which he was sidelined, 2013-14.

Gallinari is 31 and turns 32 on August 8, when the Thunder would like to be still playing. That’s the age where availability often becomes less, not more. But there appears to at least some optimism that the Thunder’s good Gallinari fortune could continue.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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