Knicks grab Gallinari with 6th pick

June 26, 2008 7:41:03 PM PDT
The New York Knicks made Danilo Gallinari the first major addition to what they hope is a new, successful era with Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni as braintrust, taking the Italian teenager with the sixth pick in the NBA draft Thursday night.The 19-year-old forward led his team, Armani Jeans of Milan, with 17.5 points per game and averaged 5.7 rebounds. Even so, testy Knicks fans at the Theater at Madison Square Garden aggressively booed the pick when it was announced, perhaps remembering past draft stumbles by their team.

"I'd be more worried if they're booing him next year," D'Antoni said. "But I don't think that'll happen."

The new Knicks coach said he sees Gallinari, listed at 6-foot-8 by the NBA, as a power forward who is also "a 3-point shooter, runner, ballhandler, passer."

"Hopefully someone will teach him how to play defense," D'Antoni said, joking about his reputation as a coach who doesn't stress defense.

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Gallinari was the third Italian player drafted by an NBA team in three years. The Toronto Raptors took Andrea Bargnani with the top pick in 2006, and Marco Belinelli was chosen 18th by the Golden State Warriors last year.

Neither has yet to develop into a star, and Gallinari seems capable of outshining them. In addition to the teen's versatile repertoire of offensive skills, Knicks officials were impressed to see that Armani Jeans made sure to get him the ball in crunch time.

"We're very happy to have this young man," Walsh said. "Even though he's 19 he's been a pro for a while."

D'Antoni, who played pro ball in Italy with Gallinari's father Vittorio, said the connection had nothing to do with the pick. He cited the teenager's success in a professional league, as well as his hard-to-find combination of size and skill, as major factors in the choice.

"He's a boy, and he's playing with men," D'Antonio said.

Gallinari won't be a teenager by the time he first takes the floor at Madison Square Garden. He turns 20 on Aug. 8, and by then the Knicks hope he's added some muscle to what they said is a 225-pound frame (he's listed by the league at 210).

"He can pass, he can shoot, he can take the ball to the hole," D'Antoni said. "He just knows how to play. You just can't teach that stuff."

Although the Knicks needed a point guard and several were available at the sixth spot, the organization needs an infusion of talent everywhere, especially as it transitions to D'Antoni's entertaining, offense-first style.

In Phoenix, he won at least 54 games each of the last four seasons and earned coach of the year honors in 2005. His system helped Steve Nash win two MVP awards and made the Suns one of the league's most exciting teams.

D'Antoni's career record is 267-172 in parts of six seasons with Phoenix and Denver. He also coached Benetton Treviso to the 2002 Italian League championship.

Knicks fans, already an impatient bunch, recently endured an especially repellent season that began with a federal jury finding that MSG and former Knicks coach and president Isiah Thomas sexually harassed a former employee and ended in the Knicks' seventh straight losing season, a 23-59 effort.

Despite all the lottery finishes, the Knicks haven't made much headway in recent drafts.

The Knicks took Wilson Chandler 23rd overall last year, and he averaged 7.3 points in nearly 20 minutes. The two 2006 picks, Renaldo Balkman (20) and Mardy Collins (29) averaged 3.4 and 3.2 points. Nate Robinson and David Lee, selected in 2005, are contributors.

New York would have had top-10 picks in the last two drafts, but both went to Chicago as payment in the Eddy Curry trade.

Before the draft started, fans chanted "O.J. Mayo! O.J. Mayo!"

when they showed him up on a video screen about 10 minutes before proceedings got underway. A few minutes later, they showed Gallinari on the board and fans booed. They booed again when Minnesota took Mayo with the third pick and reached maximum decibels when the Knicks made their selection.

"It's part of the game, all the players have got to hear this," Gallinari said. "Not every time can you hear good things, it's normal."