Marco Belinelli’s return inspired the San Antonio Spurs’ offensive renaissance
By Dylan Carter
Since his return, San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Marco Belinelli has been a catalyst in the organization’s surging offense.
Last season provided a wakeup call for head coach Gregg Popovich, who watched as his smart and defensively gifted squad crumbled at the hands of Golden State in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s become a scorers league and the only way to truly compete is by putting shooters on the floor. This made the decision to reunite with sharpshooter Marco Belinelli effortless for Pop and the front office.
As a crucial member of the Spurs’ 2014 Championship run, Belinelli put the NBA on notice with his distinctive ability to knock down difficult jumpers and show up in the clutch. After a three-year detour between four different teams, (Sacramento, Charlotte, Atlanta and Philadelphia) Marco decided it was time to reconvene with his Spurs family back in San Antonio; except the core he knew is a thing of the past.
"I love the Spurs. I love the organization. I love the fans."@marcobelinelli on returning to San Antonio. pic.twitter.com/T74wxiMxQa
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) September 27, 2018
Marco, with the help of his pal Patty Mills, has reinvigorated the championship DNA that surged San Antonio during their back-to-back Finals appearances just five seasons ago. His quick wits and corporate knowledge of the Spurs way has helped a whole new lineup to assimilate to the team’s methodology while also inviting and accepting the individual strengths of the newcomers.
Though it’s only been a short while, Belinelli’s return to the Alamo City has done dividends for a team that ranked 27th in points per game in the 2017-18 season. His ability to spot up from the perimeter or move the ball in a motion-based scheme is crucial in reestablishing the organization’s coveted “beautiful basketball” of the past.
Next: Spacing out the floor
Three-point shooting became an afterthought for the Spurs last season. As the team grew thin due to an ongoing battle with injuries, offensive consistency became essentially nonexistent, outside of All-NBA power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Over the course of the past two decades, San Antonio has been ahead of the curve when devising game plans and strategies. From the start of their run, the organization put together units of skill players and shooters to surround the dynamic duo of center David Robinson and power forward Tim Duncan.
With Aldridge commanding attention in the paint night in and night out, one might think that the floor would open up and three-point chances would come in droves. An unfortunate lack of depth and an aura of uncertainty surrounding the team’s former Finals MVP proved to be too much amidst the reign of the Warriors.
Instead of stepping up to match the booming Western Conference, the Spurs shot their lowest three-point percentage since the 1998-99 season at 35.2 percent from behind the arc. The consistent inability to knock down shots ruined what could’ve been a dynamic offense.
Returning Marco to the lineup adds a new dimension to San Antonio’s offensive capabilities. By inserting an elite three-point shooter to the lineup, the floor opens up and defenders are forced to switch around the perimeter more often.
Belinelli has struggled from behind the arc to start the season but his presence has been crucial to the team’s increase in three-point percentage. He commands more defensive attention behind the arc than most other players in the league, so defenders are unable to sag off of Marco around the perimeter without giving up an easy three points.
Nevermind his actual production, which will likely improve as he gets into the swing of the season, but having Belinelli on the floor helps primary scorers like DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge to isolate without drawing help defense.
With Belinelli back the rotation, the Spurs are shooting 37.9 percent from behind the arc for the sixth highest rank in the league.
Next: Staying active off the ball
There’s no coach that knows how to utilize Belinelli off the ball like Pop, who loves to run sets with the purpose of giving Belinelli open catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Through the first nine games of the season, Belinelli ranks fifth in average speed on the offensive end for players logging 20+ minutes per night. For reference, two-time MVP Stephen Curry is ranked sixth on the list, just behind Belinelli.
The marksman’s off-ball activity is one of the more overlooked aspects of his game. In his 12th season in the NBA, Belinelli continues to be one of the league’s most elusive competitors. His ability to slip off of screens and create separation from defenders is an underrated skill that he got to showcase often during his short time in Philly.
He’ll often run around off-ball screens set by a center or power forward. By curling off of a pick before catching and shooting the ball, Belinelli creates a small window of opportunity to get an open shot before his defender can recover from the screen.
The Spurs’ second unit, while defensively inept at times, does a great job of running and gunning by making smart passes and finding open shots. This is the perfect style of play to highlight Belinelli’s talents and hide his deficiencies, of which there are few.
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Belinelli has been in a shooting slump despite hitting some impressively difficult threes over the last two weeks. The career 37.6 percent is only hitting 31.7 percent of his shots from behind the arc thus far which is the second worst percentage he’s ever posted.
It hasn’t been about the opportunity for Marco, who is taking 4.6 threes per contest up to this point. He’s shooting roughly one more three-pointer per game than his career average of 3.7.
There’ve been some high-scoring affairs to kick off the new season, but the Spurs’ offense hasn’t truly been unleashed yet. Belinelli has yet to eclipse 16 points or three made treys in a single game this season.
All things considered, the season is young. While he may not have popped yet, Marco Belinelli will push the boundaries of the Spurs’ scoring output once he gets his shot right.
For now, he’ll continue to open up for the floor for others and provide the spacing that the Spurs desired last season.