You know that Seinfeld when George lies about being handicapped to get the job, and when they later find out that he’s not, they can’t fire him because he’s under contract so they lock him out of his office? Something similar could be done for Marco Belinelli. I’m joking, of course, I love Marco.
Raise your hand if you weren’t just a little bit excited when we got him here for Devean George. It was like getting something for nothing, and you hoped that with a set role in Toronto, he’d be able to find his groove and turn into the consistent scorer that he was rumoured to be. The belief was that trading Delfino away wasn’t going to be an issue because we had acquired a younger player, a better shooter, and arguably, a better athlete. They both could play the point in spots, and although Delfino had proven to be a better defender, you hoped Marco would carve himself a niche with the Raptors and perhaps become as good, if not better, a defender than Delfino.
None of that happened. Maybe it’s because he was gifted the role off of the bench in training camp and didn’t have to work hard enough for it. We saw the same problem a year ago with Jamario Moon, when a guy walks into training camp knowing he’s guaranteed minutes, a certain complacency comes into play. Look no further than Hedo Turkoglu for another example. Belinelli was Triano’s choice as the first bech wing ahead of Antoine Wright and Sonny Weems; Triano had rewarded Colangelo’s faith in the man he’d been pursuing for over a year, and initially it looked like there was something to it.
Watching Belinelli knock down a nice jumper off of a curl makes you warm and fuzzy, but when on the next possession he unleashes a bad-angle, one-legged, fadeaway, with a mouthguard hanging out, that earlier feeling is quickly reversed. But wait, as a naive fan you hope that he can get it together and grasp the concept of a good shot and a bad shot. Maybe the coach can sit him down and say, “Hey, Marco. That first shot, very good. The second one, not so much. Got it?”. No such luck. I’m not absolving the player here, but it must be said that the man received very little in terms of instruction of how to “fix” his game, and as a result we see moments of great talent followed by sequences of blunder. As a 23 year old getting choppy playing time, his game needs tweaking to attain consistency. Case in point, the Lakers game.
Belinelli drops 15 points on 4-5FG to spark the Raptors to a win over the Lakers, some of those shots are pretty wild but they go in. In next day’s practice, Jay Triano is asked if he ever gives instruction to Marco Belinelli about his shooting choice and mechanics. He said:
He’s a guy who finds ways to avoid contact, or make contact sometimes, leaning in and shooting. Some of us have talked that he’s a better shooter leaning than he is going straight up and down. He just seems to have a knack of getting to the rim and knowing how to get it in there and make some tough shots….It’s a scorer’s skill, it’s a shooter’s touch.
Nobody shoots better leaning in than straight up. Watch the whole interview, Triano has no issue with Belinelli’s shot-selection whatsoever. So as Belinellii was soaking in the praise the next day and reporters kept asking him silly questions, like if he thinks of the geometry when he rises for a shot, somebody finally stepped up and asked if a coach has ever tried to tell him to control his shooting mechanics. Belinelli said:
No, I don’t think so, no.
Therein lies the problem for me. We always give Bargnani the benefit of the doubt at age 23, but here we are not even bothering correcting Belinelli’s shot-selection and shooting mechanics. There is no way a player with his limited NBA experience can just take what he’s learned in Europe, and not correct it so that it works in the NBA. Maybe there’s a reason he’s failed to make a spot his own after three years in the league. Here’s a career 39% 3-pt shooter who shot 38% from downtown last year but only shot 40% from the field. He shoots 20% from 10-15ft and 35% from 16-23ft, and those numbers are consistent for his career. Either he’s got the Bruce Bowen syndrome and can only shoot 3s, or his shot-selection in the mid-range area is poor, because there is no way a player with his form and range should see such a drop-off in shooting percentage when he’s closer to the basket. The only explanation is that his threes are clean untwisted looks and his twos are a little contorted.
Again, I’m not absolving him of anything, it’s his duty to see the light and figure out what’s keeping him from becoming a rotation player in the league, and go about fixing it. That being said, since he’s an asset who we extended very prematurely for another year, we owe it to ourselves to get the most out of him by helping him find his game and identity. It’s not good enough to just throw him on the floor and expect him to replicate what he did in Italy, it didn’t work in Golden State and it’s not working in Toronto. It’s hard to take a player, show him his ability and flaws, find his weak and strong points, and then sell him on what works best for him, but it’s been done before. The Detroit Pistons transformed Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton to top quality players by finding specific roles for them and honing them to the point where they were the best at what they did. Hamilton, after being traded from Washington, became the master of the mid-range curl jumper, and Prince put his length and post-up game to best use. To give a European example, Toni Kukoc came in to the league with a huge reputation as a scorer, but found life difficult in the NBA until the Bulls slotted him as a point-forward who could handle the ball, shoot it with consistency and use his length to good use. Remind you of anyone?
He must, ultimately, be held accountable for his drop in the rotation, and it’s a shame too, because the Raptors really do need somebody with exactly his skill set – active hands on defense, good ball-handler, creator, good shooter, you know, a mini Turkoglu. His refusal to stick to standard on offense and get shaken defensively was too much for anyone to bear, but as can be seen in this very early (and raw) Breaking It Down segment, asking him to cover that much ground defensively is a strategic mistake. As in most cases, some of the problems are usage-related, and some down to the player.
If Bryan Colangelo had not picked up Belinelli’s contract for next year, perhaps he would’ve had the automatic motivation of playing in a contract year. I know it did wonders for Amir Johnson. Instead, next year is his contract year and the hope is that it’ll have a major impact on his play. However, Colangelo is so desperate to win right now, that any slip-ups on the part of Belinelli will result in him being glued to the bench, yet again. The leash on him appears to be getting shorter and shorter, and with the emergency of Sonny Weems, it’s basically down to a collar and a sharp hook.
If we do end up trading one of our PGs, Belinelli could see a rise in minutes as a PG. At 6’5″ he’s got the size to defend the position, the quickness might not be there but the length could compensate for it; offensively, he’s a very good distributor of the ball, if we give him consistent minutes at the PG, define his role, and make him play within certain sensible parameters, there’s no reason he can’t produce for us. That was my expectation heading into last year, but Triano made the mistake of assuming that the man can figure things out on his own, and threw him out there expecting him to find his way, when that’s exactly what failed in Golden State.
There’s more to Marco than just “feast or famine”, and I have faith (perhaps blind?) that he’ll reward it one day. Don’t be down on Marco, he’s not done yet.