Marco Belinelli’s first season with the Charlotte Hornets often echoed the way the team was playing. When Charlotte jumped out to a strong start in the early months, he looked well worth the first round pick the team sent to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for him. But during the team’s fleeting stretch in January, and their post All-Star struggles to get into the playoffs, Belinelli’s play and effectiveness took a sharp dip.
A catch-and-shoot guard, Belinelli is at his best when he can ride the momentum of a team in good form, but when things aren’t going as well, he’s probably not the one who can shoot the team out of a losing streak. This can certainly be debated, but some of his best seasons came as part of the championship winning San Antonio Spurs, along with Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets teams that both made playoff appearances. When the team is in a groove, he’s in one too, and that proved to be the case with Charlotte this season, as he was far more reliable in wins, posting an offensive rating of 117, as opposed to his rating of 103 in losses.
His best games this season came when the likes of Kemba Walker or Nicolas Batum were having good nights — as the Hornets started a scoring run, Belinelli often hit one or two consecutive shots that turned a five point lead into 10. He often found himself closing game with the starters if he was having a good night, or if Steve Clifford opted to go with Belinelli’s offense over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s defense. This resulted in mix results, since Belinelli wasn’t the best defender, but his outside shooting added another shooter to the mix, and prevented teams from completely locking down on Walker.
Individually, Belinelli bounced back after a poor season in Sacramento. While his scoring average remained relatively the same at 10.5 points per game, his shooting percentages improved to above average levels, going from 38.6 percent shooting from the field and 30.6 percent from the 3-point line, to 42.9 and 36.2, respectively. While these are fairly efficient numbers for the season, his best months were in November and December, where he not only averaged more points per game, but shot the ball more efficiently too. He shot above 40 percent from deep in both months — making 47.6 in November and 45.7 in December — but his percentage nose-dived the rest of the season, and the highest he’d reach from that point would be 33.3 percent in March.
As the Hornets found wins harder to come by, Belinelli’s play became more sporadic. He still had good nights, just not as many, and certainly not as consistently as he had in his first 30 or so games. That said, one of his best performances came in late March, in a win against the Toronto Raptors in which he finished with 21 points on 7-11 shooting. The game highlighted what Belinelli does well when he’s at his best — create open shots for himself off the ball.
Being a catch-and-shoot player, he has to rely on others to get him the ball, but he often does such a good job of getting himself open that it makes it easy to find him.
In this designed set, Belinelli curls around the top of arch trailing the ball, and Frank Kaminsky finds him open as Belinelli’s defender fails to keep tabs on him. This shot comes fairly easy for him, but often, he created space for himself by working his defender through screens.
Here, Belinelli runs his defender through two screens to get himself open. Its still not an easy shot, but his high release allows him to get it off over the defender.
Over 45 percent of his shots came off catch-and-shoot opportunities, and he didn’t take a dribble in nearly 56 percent of all attempts. This isn’t to say he wouldn’t ever take a dribble or attack the hoop, but his go-to is and has always been his ability as a shot up shooter. While every team needs a player like him, he often only thrives if the team is moving the ball with purpose.
In a weird way, Belinelli’s season mirrored Jeremy Lamb’s first — a prolific start, followed by a downward trend of efficiency. The difference of course was that Belinelli wasn’t an unproven player, but rather one looking to rebound from a down year. That certainly looked to be the case in the early goings, but as the Hornets struggled, so did he.
This isn’t to say he can’t have a more consistent season in 2017-18. While he isn’t young anymore at 31, his game has never been overly reliant on athleticism. His role as a spot up shooter that gets open off the ball should continue the rest of his career, and could remain effective as long as he remains healthy. While he missed a stretch of games this season, there’s no cause for concern regarding his long time health.
Pending a trade, Belinelli will be back with the Hornets for another season, and while his stock may not be as high as it was at the start of last season, he is capable of bouncing back.