What to expect from Belinelli

Marco Belinelli candid

What do I want out of Marco Belinelli? Nothing spectacular. Like some, I’m not expecting him to be the super-sub off the bench who comes in when the offense isn’t clicking and lights it up through sheer scoring prowess. The only reason his game is being analyzed to death is because we couldn’t get our hands on our preferable option as the first wing off the bench – Delfino. We got him as a secondary measure for practically nothing and that’s the best thing we can say about him for now. All we know for sure is that at 40% he’s a good three point shooter and that he can potentially score in bunches. We also know that he can miss in bunches. An NBA team that hopes to still be playing in May should not be relying on Marco Belinelli for much.

But that’s my take, a far more meaningful one is provided by Comcast Sports reporter Matt Steinmetz who has covered the Warriors throughout Belinelli’s time with the team and spoke to me last night.

I think Belinelli is a rotation player, but I’m not sure if he’s a starter. I think he’s going to help the Raptors, if for no other reason, than it’s a position with minutes available.

He knows how to play, can be clever and has some creativity to his game. He can get his own shot off at times, even though it means some fadeaways and leaners. He’s a player who if you give him a role will likely have effective stretches, and maybe even lengthy stretches of effectiveness.

I sometimes wonder if he can be a consistent outside shooter and yet when he came into the league that was supposed to be the thing he could do best. He can be streaky, for sure. But he certainly hasn’t proven he can be a knock-down type of shooter.

He can play a little bit of one, if he has to, and did in emergency for Golden State last year.

He didn’t play more for the Warriors for a number of reasons. One was he happened to be a rookie two years ago when the Warriors were trying to win every game and make the playoffs. Remember, they won 48 games.

Last year, he was banged up a little, but in fairness he wasn’t one of Don Nelson’s favorites, either. Nelson really used to get on Belinelli about his defense, and Belinelli ended up taking that challenge some. When he got playing time last year, he showed himself to be a pest defensively, trying to draw charges — a little Vujacic-like, not that I’m praising that necessarily. Point is, he definitely became a better defender between Year No. 1 and Year No. 2.

Lastly, I’d be shocked if Devean George had more of an impact for the Warriors than Marco Belinelli will have for the Raps.

Thanks to Matt for exclusively giving us his take. His blog should be regular reading for NBA fans; his latest post is about one of my favorite NBA players of all time.

All this doesn’t change the fact that if Antoine Wright is our backup small forward, it makes Belinelli our backup shooting guard to rookie DeMar DeRozan. I don’t want to say our depth issues at off guard remain unaddressed but really, other than athleticism, how much have we improved from the Parker/Kapono combo? This team as it stands right now is very Hedo-centric, as in we’re looking at the Turk to be the remedy for a lot of problem areas including scoring, defense and play-making. He’s the experienced wing who can create his own shot but find me a wishful contender not having at least two of those types of players. Lebron/Mo Will, Pierce/Allen, Granger/Dunleavy, Hamilton/Prince, Iguodala/Lou Will, Johnson/Crawford/Williams etc. Fact of the matter is that we’re thin at the off-guard and are desperately trying to plug that hole with Belinelli with little insurance.

It’s one thing to hope that he’s a diamond in the rough, another to expect it which is what Colangelo appears to be doing when he says that Belinelli could easily be in the running for most improved player based on increased minutes. He’s going to crack the rotation no problem and his playing time will depend on how DeRozan fares, but it’s hard to see him playing more than 25-27 minutes a game which is going to be 4-6 more than last year. Not that big of a difference really. The X-Factor that will determine his improvement will be whether he’s going to have a well-defined role in Toronto, something I’m sure Triano will at least try to start with, if for nothing than to appease his GM. The good part about our insane schedule to start the season is that we’ll find out exactly what our wings are made up of which will be enough for Colangelo to evaluate just exactly what he has.

Some quotes by Belinelli from the other day.

“I come to a nice city like Toronto, a good team like that, a young team, European team, so it’s a really great opportunity for me.”

I cringed when I read that. I’m far from being a xenophobe but seeing the Raptors officially being referred to as “European team” doesn’t feel right, mainly because no matter how far the international game has come along, every other country still sucks when compared to the USA. 3/5ths of our starting lineup is European and if you figure Triano going with a 10-man rotation with Jack, Belinelli, Wright and Rasho, it means 50% of our main players are European. Never has such an experiment been done in the NBA and the Raptors are about to find out firsthand whether it’ll work or spectacularly fail. The common theme among successful European teams has always been teamwork, ball-movement, zone defense and cohesion. Three things that are born of good coaching, effective sets, player discipline and execution. It’s a massive understatement to say that Triano’s job is cut out for him. Asking a rookie coach to be the mad scientist behind an experiment like this is almost unfair.

The best part about him is that he’s very motivated and wants to showcase his talents.

“…this is a good spot for me because I can have a lot of opportunity to play. Now is my time to see what I can do and I want to be ready for that. I’m a guard who can shoot, but at the same time I can create for my teammates. I practice every day for myself to be the best. It is my job and I can help this team, I think.”

Other than the ‘I think’ at the end you have to like this quote. He doesn’t have the overconfidence that Jermaine O’Neal had but instead feels the need to prove himself – I like. The good part about not having enough depth is that a player like Belinelli will have a chance to play through his mistakes simply because there’s nobody who is outright better than him on the team. Even if he jacks up three bad shots in a row who’s Triano going to go to? Antoine Wright at the off guard? We’re all expecting feast or famine from him on any given night, but if Triano can squeeze something resembling consistency and discipline from him, he could be good. Otherwise, he’s a more athletic Jason Kapono 2.0. But hey, at least he has potential to be good which Kapono just didn’t have, the silly little twat.

I firmly believe that 80% of defense is effort. If you’ve ever even played pick-up ball you’ll agree with this statement and I’m sure you’ll remember Sam Mitchell moaning about that for the last couple years. I don’t have a doubt in my mind that Belinelli will be 100% committed to playing defense, factor in his athleticism and you’ve got the makings of an above-average defender. His three-point shooting skill is unmistakable but we’ll be asking more of him than just to park himself in the corner and spread the floor. Like most three point shooters (including Bargnani), the ultimate question becomes whether he’ll have the stamina and conditioning to do all the things we’re asking (score, defend, slash) while still have the legs to knock that three-point shot. Take for example Anthony Parker who shot 44% in the first quarter but only 37% in the fourth.

So my keys to Belinelli having success with the Raptors are as following, in this order:

  • Conditioning: Come ready to compete on the defensive end and still have enough to contribute on offense.
  • A Consistent Role: There is nothing a player likes more than to know when he’s going to play and when he’s not. We can’t be jerking his chain around by tinkering too much with how much he plays, when he comes into the game, and what we ask of him. I understand that responsibilities are based on matchups and those changes on a game-by-game basis, but there’s something to be said for predictability and if Belinelli knows exactly what’s asked of him and when, you increase the chance of success. See Joey Graham and Andrea Bargnani, similar issues last couple years.
  • Coaching: He’s European and needs direction. If you throw him out there and ask him to freestyle you’ll get the Belinelli Don Nelson benched. Channel his ability, don’t just expect it to show up.
  • Practice: He’ll be going up against DeMar DeRozan in practice and these two have to challenge each other. Something told me that never happened last year with Kapono and Parker. These two need to be pitted against each other all season long to the point where they get on each others’ nerves. Ideally for us the minutes at SG would be split 50/50 with these two playing tug-of-war. Approximately 24-28 minutes for each of them means they don’t get burned out and have something left for the post-season, and we avoid DeRozan hitting the inevitable rookie wall.


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