2015-16 Key Statistics: 24.6 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 1.9 APG, 1.7 RPG, 38.6 FG%, 30.6 3P%, 83.3 FT%
The Charlotte Hornets' pursuit of Marco Belinelli began last offseason, when coach Steve Clifford wanted to transition the team's offense to a 3-point shooting one to match the rest of the NBA. It failed, as Belinelli signed with the Sacramento Kings.
At the Trade Deadline, general manager Rich Cho tried to acquire Belinelli via trade. Again, no luck. The third time proved to be the charm, though, as Charlotte was able to get Belinelli via trade just before the NBA Draft.
The question for many Hornets fans was 'Why'? Belinelli is coming off one of the worst shooting seasons of his career. He was a three-point specialist that shot just over 30 percent from deep last season. Was he worth giving up a first round draft for?
Based on last season, maybe not. But if you take a look at Belinelli's entire body of work, as opposed to one season in a far from ideal situation, you can begin to see what Clifford and Cho saw in him.
Belinelli is just two years removed from winning the 3-Point Contest during NBA's All-Star Weekend. Based on the above highlight, you can see where Belinelli has made his living - on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Yes, he shot 30.6 percent from deep last season, but that was just the second time in Belinelli's nine-year career that he shot below 37 percent from 3. For comparison's sake, Kemba Walker's career-high 3-point percentage from a year ago was 37.1 percent.
I say all that to say this - one poor shooting season should not mean that the Italian has suddenly lost all his touch. Sacramento last season was a complete mess where no player short of DeMarcus Cousins should be expected to succeed. I would focus more on Belinelli's time with the San Antonio Spurs - in his two years there, he shot 40.5 percent from 3, including a career-best 43 percent in 2013-14. The Spurs' offense is reminiscent of the Hornets in many more ways that the Kings' was. San Antonio's offense is much more about spreading the floor and sharing the ball, so I would expect Belinelli's numbers this season to reflect his time in San Antonio more than his time in Sacramento.
Marco Belinelli is a player who is at his best when he lets the offense come to him and doesn't force it. As mentioned before, he excels in catch-and-shoot situations - which is ideal for Charlotte's offense - and isn't someone you would expect to create his own shot. This means he should fit in great playing alongside Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum. But, Belinelli is more likely going to get more run with the second unit, so the question will be if he and Ramon Sessions can form a decent chemistry to work off of one another.
The biggest question mark surrounding Belinelli for Hornets fans is probably his defense. Obviously, it doesn't matter how well Belinelli can shoot if he cannot give consistent effort on defense (just ask Jeremy Lamb). If you look at last year's stats, fans might begin to freak out - Belinelli posted a 0.3 defensive win share, tied for the second-lowest of his career. As I mentioned before though, you need to take a look at his numbers from the previous five seasons. During that time, he posted DWS as high as 2.4 and only as low as 1.0 (for what is it worth, Courtney Lee posted a 1.0 DWS during his brief stint in Charlotte last season). He is a player who can taste success in a solid team defense like San Antonio's, but could be exposed if asked to play repeated one-on-one defense.
When you watch the above highlight and look at Marco Belinelli's career, it is easy to see why the Hornets coveted him so much a year ago. He is a smart, solid player with a great shooting touch coming off a down season - yet another reclamation project for the Hornets, which they have a good track record of lately. His quick release and excellence in the catch-and-shoot game is perfect for the offense Charlotte wants to run and for in-bounds plays, which Coach Clifford has had success with in the past. On top of that, Clifford has said over and over again this preseason that Belinelli's offensive movements remind him of Batum, which should have Hornets fans salivating.
If Charlotte is able to bring back the Belinelli of old, as opposed to the Belinelli of last season, then the Hornets will have gotten a major steal of a deal and a strong new member of the 2016-17 edition of the Swarm Troopers.