Belinelli Tries to Build on Early Promise
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

August 17, 2010

Three years and three teams into his NBA career, recently-acquired New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Marco Belinelli is still trying to forge a permanent place in the league. Still trying to show that a few eye-opening flashes of potential hes delivered were no fluke. To be able to do that, however, hell likely need one thing thats been missing since he was selected 18th overall in the 2007 NBA Draft: consistent playing time.

Over two seasons with Golden State and one with Toronto, the 24-year-old has averaged just 47 games per season and 15.9 minutes per game. Belinelli was often out of the rotation with the Warriors, whose recent rosters have been loaded with talented perimeter players. As a member of the Raptors in 2009-10, the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder played a career-high 66 games and 1,120 minutes, but occasionally fell out of the rotation.

In a way, league-wide perception of Belinelli has been negatively impacted by his own success prior to the official beginning of his NBA career. Drafted by Golden State five spots after New Orleans lottery pick Julian Wright in 2007, the native of Italy generated significant attention as a young player, including these highlights:
  • At the age of 19, Belinelli won an Italian League championship in 2005 with the team Fortitudo Bologna. Italys professional hoops circuit is one of the worlds best leagues.

  • A year later, as a member of Italys national team, he racked up 25 points in a game against USA Basketball in the FIBA world championships on Aug. 23, 2006 (the USA team that summer included Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, among others).

  • While making his summer league debut as a Golden State rookie in July 2007, Belinelli poured in 37 points vs. New Orleans, at the time the second-most points ever scored in summer NBA competition.

Due to a combination of factors, Belinelli hasnt yet been able to fully build on those promising performances in the NBA. First-year Hornets general manager Dell Demps was a member of the San Antonio Spurs organization when Belinelli entered the 07 draft.

He had a very successful career in Europe, Demps remembered. (But) when he came to the NBA, the expectation level may have been too much for a rookie.

Although Belinelli has not lived up to the billing of a first-round pick who thrived in international competition, Demps believes one of his biggest stumbling blocks has been a basic lack of opportunity. Based on the per-minute and advanced statistics Demps and the New Orleans front office have examined, Belinellis effectiveness is greater than it may appear at first glance.

He had a lot of players at his position when he played for the Warriors, Demps said. When given the opportunity to play, hes usually played well. He had a couple stretches last season (with Toronto) where he was one of the top players in the league, from a production level.

Belinellis 2009-10 campaign provides a telling illustration of how playing time has affected his NBA impact. His per-game averages of 7.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists with the Raptors were modest, but in his lone start Feb. 2 at Indiana, he tallied 21 points in 33 minutes of action. Belinelli played 24 minutes or more 13 times last season, averaging 12.3 points in those games. Overall, he shot 38 percent from three-point range. His career percentage from beyond the arc is 38.8, higher than anyone on the Hornets current roster other than Peja Stojakovic (40.0).

Were hoping he comes in here and becomes a big part of what we do, Demps said of Belinelli. His three-point percentage is close to 40. He brings an element of shooting and spreading the floor that we need.

While Belinelli is known most for his long-range shooting accuracy, Demps and Hornets head coach Monty Williams believe he can improve and expand his game in other areas. According to ESPN.coms John Hollinger, Belinelli ranked 42nd overall among 76 NBA shooting guards last season in efficiency rating, including 29th in true shooting percentage and 41st in assist rate, the latter a metric that gauges passing ability.

He can make plays, Demps said of Belinellis floor vision and ability to spot open teammates.

I would hate to call him a point guard, but hes a wing who can handle (the ball), Williams said. Hell be able to take some pressure off us, as far as (a shooting guard) handling the ball and running pick-and-rolls. And hes more athletic than people give him credit for.

Belinelli was acquired in a separate trade by the Hornets on the same Aug. 11 afternoon that they obtained swingman Trevor Ariza. Three days later, New Orleans held an introductory press conference for Ariza, but Belinelli did not attend because he spends the bulk of his summer in his home country of Italy. Demps spoke to Belinelli by telephone after the trade was completed. The GM and new Hornet concluded the conversation optimistic about what Belinelli could bring to his new team.

Were excited to have Trevor, Demps said. Were also really excited to have Marco. Speaking to him on the phone, hes thrilled to come to New Orleans. I think the fans here will really appreciate his talents.

Ive personally been a fan of his skills for a long time. I think hes more than a just a shooter. He needs to prove that to everyone.

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