Marco Belinelli: For Italia
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

As one of only three current players from his country in the NBA, Marco Belinelli occasionally looks up into the crowd during games and locates enthusiastic spectators waving the familiar green, white and red Italian flag.

We have amazing fans, Belinelli said of the support he receives from Italy. They have always followed us (closely), but especially now that we play in the NBA. Sometimes you see Italian guys in the stands who come to support you. I play for the Italian people.

While former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani has developed into the Toronto Raptors No. 1 scorer and New York Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari emerged in 2009-10 as an every-game starter, Belinelli has yet to earn consistent minutes, giving his Italian backers only sporadic glimpses of his NBA ability. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard acquired from Toronto in the July trade that included Julian Wright appeared in 141 total games over the first three years of his career, averaging 6.6 points and just 15.9 minutes. He only played in 33 games as a rookie with Golden State, but believes he has improved each season of his NBA career.

It was difficult, Belinelli said of his sporadic playing time, but after that situation, Im a better player and a better person. Mentally, Im stronger. Every year Ive gotten better, from the first year to the third year. I think this year can be really good for me and I can play an important role.

Among all players on the Hornets roster, Belinelli owns the second-best career three-point percentage, at 38.8 (Peja Stojakovic entered 2010-11 with a career percentage of 40.0 from beyond the arc). The native of Bologna, Italy provided an early demonstration of that skill during a 2007 summer league game, when he racked up 37 points and drained five treys vs. the Hornets. While shooting has clearly been the 24-year-olds biggest asset so far, Hornets coaches believe Belinelli may be underrated in several other areas.

Hes more athletic than people give him credit for, head coach Monty Williams said this summer. Hes a wing who can shoot and handle the ball. It gives us some options, for sure. Hes a guy who has us really excited.

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