Marco Belinelli is preparing for his first season as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, and there is no doubt he can thrive with his new team during the 2013-14 campaign.
Belinelli is far from a complete player, but the Spurs find ways to overshadow weaknesses by playing a complete team game. The trick for Belinelli next season is returning to shooting excellence while continuing to improve other areas of his game.
Belinelli is essentially replacing now-departed sharpshooter Gary Neal, and he can certainly be an upgrade as an off-the-bench guard.
Take Advantage of His Point Guard
The six-year pro is a career 38.7 percent three-point shooter, but Belinelli hit peak efficiency in 2010-11, connecting on 41.4 percent of his trifecta attempts. Since then, however, Belinelli has dropped to 37.7 percent and 35.7 percent marks during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, respectively.
The biggest change this year for Belinelli, though, is that Tony Parker is the point guard.
Despite the steady drop in three-point percentage, Belinelli shot that impressive 41.4 percent, which ranked top 20 in the league, a few seasons ago.
His point guard that season, you ask? Well, you may have heard of him. His name is Chris Paul.
Belinelli, especially due to Parker's facilitating prowess, will have more chances to knock down open jumpers.
Since he is no longer one of the top scoring options—as he was forced to be in Chicago—Belinelli can find "his" spot and, along with Danny Green, constantly add three points to the Spurs' score. And so, if history is any indication, Belinelli's shooting percentage will definitely improve this season.
Be More Than a One-Dimensional Scorer
Belinelli will certainly have the chance to spot up behind the arc, but he does more than stand and wait for three-point attempts.
Gary Neal may be a better pure shooter than Belinelli, but Neal was one-dimensional because he was not a fantastic ball-handler for San Antonio. Neal certainly could find open teammates, but he was neither a true distributing point guard nor an off-the-dribble shooter.
Ultimately, Neal experienced some difficulty creating his own shot, but Belinelli can drive the lane and aggressively finish at the rim. Another area in which Belinelli improves the Spurs concerns off-ball movement, because he can create a clean look at the basket instead of relying on quick passing to get open shots.
Both players clearly know how to score, but the biggest difference is the way Belinelli and Neal do it. The following videos show Belinelli abusing Gerald Wallace and the Brooklyn Nets and Neal lighting up the scorebook against the Heat during the NBA Finals.
Neal dropped 24 points in Game 3, hitting jumpers from all over, but he managed a meager 12 points over the series' final three games. Neal shot just 2-for-8 from three-point land during that time frame.
Conversely, Belinelli's 24-point game was a mixture of three-point shots, layups and movement-created jumpers. In 12 playoff appearances, he made 46.7 of his two-point attempts and tallied 11.1 points on 41.1 percent shooting, so attacking the rim is something the Italian must continue to do.
Granted, Belinelli did convert on only 34.0 percent of his trifecta attempts, but Neal made a fractionally higher 34.8 percent of his shots.
If Marco can continue to improve his shot selection, he will see a spike in his overall field-goal percentage with the Spurs.
Keep Improving on Defense
Defensively speaking, Belinelli has struggled at times throughout his career.
Even though the Spurs are not asking him to be Bruce Bowen or even Kawhi Leonard, Belinelli cannot allow himself to be a liability on defense. Belinelli's career defensive rating, available on Basketball Reference, is currently 110—or, in other words, not that good.
Last season, however, his stats improved greatly as a defender. According to 82games.com, Belinelli held opposing point guards to a 9.6 PER (player efficiency rating) and shooting guards to a 12.3 PER. Considering Neal allowed 15.5 and 13.0 PERs to PGs and SGs, respectively, Belinelli's numbers are a welcomed sight.
Belinelli told Yahoo! Sports Italia (h/t Project Spurs) that he recognizes he can still make improvements to his game: "I'm aware that I have to work and improve myself on many aspects...I am 27 years old and I'm still not a complete player: I should care for so many things on defense, without neglecting the shot and the development of the left hand."
Of course, Belinelli now has the opportunity to play under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich, one of the best coaches in NBA history. A defensive-minded leader, Popovich can keep Belinelli focused on improving an essential part of the game.
And if Pop manages to find a bright new lightbulb in Marco's head, Belinelli will most definitely thrive with the Spurs on both ends of the floor.
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