Marco Belinelli, it's time for you to step up and prove your worth.
According to Dan McCarney of Spurs Nation, the sharpshooting 2-guard was offered more money than the $5.6 million he's receiving over the course of a two-year contract with the San Antonio Spurs, but he declined the more-lucrative offers in favor of playing with the better team.
Well, now he gets to prove that he made the right decision.
Manu Ginobili, who was in the midst of a bit of a renaissance season, went down during the third quarter of a battle between the Spurs and Houston Rockets on Jan. 28. And unfortunately, the injury isn't exactly minor.
The official site of the Spurs announced that the Argentine shooting guard will miss the next three to four weeks, and as CBS Sports' Matt Moore makes clear, it's by no means the only injury that Gregg Popovich has to deal with:
Spurs announce Manu out 3-4 weeks with strained hamstring. Now out Manu, Green, Kawhi, and Splitter.— Matt Moore CBS (@MattMooreCBS) January 29, 2014
Ginobili was averaging 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, and he was doing so while shooting 45 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from downtown. Rumors of his demise that surfaced during last year's postseason were clearly overblown, as he's quite valuable to the Spurs' cause.
B/R's Tyler Conway elaborates on that point with the following:
In the event of a long-term absence, the rotation of Patty Mills, Cory Joseph and Marco Belinelli will have to step up. The Spurs are averaging 114.1 points per 100 possessions with Ginobili on the floor compared to 103.1 when he's on the bench, per NBA.com. Some of that has to do with which lineups Ginobili plays with, but suffice it to say San Antonio will be in need of a scoring punch in the interim.
The team also allows 3.1 more points per 100 possessions when Ginobili is on the court, thereby minimizing some of his impact. However, the overall effect is still quite clear, as San Antonio is much better with the bald-spotted shooting guard on the court.
Someone is going to have to make up for the lost impact, and that someone needs to be Belinelli.
The first-year Spur is averaging 10.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, all of which leave him trailing Ginobili. But he also shoots the ball with quite a bit more efficiency.
Belinelli has knocked down 50.7 percent of his looks from the field and 46.7 percent from beyond the arc, which makes him one of the more impressive shooters in the entire NBA. Only Kendall Marshall and Matt Bonner have better numbers from beyond the arc, and the 27-year-old shooting guard is right near the top of the leaderboard in effective field-goal percentage, per Basketball-Reference:
- DeAndre Jordan, 64.5
- Andrew Bogut, 64.0
- Kyle Korver, 62.8
- LeBron James, 62.0
- Marco Belinelli, 60.1
His most impressive performance of the season came during a Jan. 2 game against the Los Angeles Lakers, even though the Spurs dropped the contest.
During that outing, Belinelli exploded for 32 points on only 16 shots, and he also recorded five rebounds and two dimes. To put that in perspective, he's one of only 16 players this season to put up those scoring figures in a single game, and not one man has done so twice.
It would be foolish to expect more outings like that to pop up on a consistent basis, but the occasional scoring explosion wouldn't exactly come by surprise. Belinelli is a potent shooter, after all.
All of a sudden, the Italian guard is going to be counted on as a primary source of offense, and that's when he usually thrives, as he's a rhythm-based player who needs to be involved in order to be effective. With Danny Green, Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard all out, the points have to come from somewhere on the wings, and Belinelli is the obvious solution.
Plus, let's not forget that the Spurs have made a habit out of turning role players into quality contributors.
At this point, I'd be confident in Popovich's coaching abilities if he were trotting out a lineup that featured Tim Duncan, four different clones of Chris Smith and absolutely no one on the bench. So long as everyone understands the San Antonio system—which they tend to before getting boatloads of playing time—there's a good chance that the Spurs come out on top.
As ESPN's David Thorpe (subscription required) wrote, "It is not a coincidence that the Spurs have rehabbed the careers of Gary Neal and Danny Green and now Belinelli, though that should not take any credit away from the incredible season he has enjoyed thus far."
Not a coincidence at all, in fact.
All San Antonio typically has to do is plug in the new player and watch him thrive, and that's exactly what will happen with the Italian 2-guard. Between the devastatingly effective combination of Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford, the Spurs enjoy this luxury that so few NBA teams can typically boast.
Can the Spurs survive all of these injury woes and remain elite?
"It’s a little bit crazy because we (Belinelli and Ginobili) are going to play together on a big (NBA) team. I would like to be like him," the replacement told McCarney before the start of the 2013-14 season, "I’m going to look at him like a dad. I think he’s going to help me a lot this year, and that’s good for me."
Now the Spurs really do need him to be just like the injured shooting guard.
If you're one of those fantasy basketball players, go pick up Belinelli. If you're a fan of the Spurs, fear not as you wait for the injury imp to leave San Antonio alone.
And if you're a fan of a different competitive team in the Western Conference, fear. Fear a lot.
Just as you've trained yourself to do whenever the Spurs are involved.