The Charlotte Hornets trade for Marco Belinelli this offseason was one of their more overlooked moves but he has been a pleasant surprise for the team this year.
Let’s get one thing straight, just about everyone was skeptical about Marco Belinelli when the Charlotte Hornets traded their first round pick for him this summer. As it turns out, most of us were wrong about the move. The Italy international has been the team’s surprise player, spark off the bench, and their x-factor so far this season.
After a career-worst season with the Sacramento Kings last year, Belinelli was an afterthought because of the big name moves the Hornets made by re-signing Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams to huge deals. Not many expected an instant impact from Marco because Jeremy Lamb was supposed to be ahead of him in the rotation but that changed quickly as Steve Clifford immediately favored the hard working style of the former NBA Champion.
The biggest question for Charlotte heading into this season was how would they replace the production of Jeremy Lin in the second unit. That answer came in the form of a 6’5 shooting guard. While Belinelli is mostly known as a spot-up shooter, he has showcased his full offensive arsenal this year by becoming a more complete ball-handler who can not only shoot off of screens and the dribble but also create for his teammates.
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The 30-year old guard/forward is averaging 11.4 points per game which are good enough for third best on the team and tied for the second-best mark of his career. He is also averaging 2.7 rebounds per game and 1.8 assists per game. The biggest jump in his game has shooting percentage where Marco is shooting a career-high 46.1% from the field and career-high 45% from the three-point line.
Not many would have thought that Beli would be one of the team’s most consistent players and arguably their second best pure scorer behind Kemba Walker. The NBA veteran has been the Hornets’ X-Factor and surprise spark off the bench. Among players who have come off the bench for 20+ games this season, Marco is 10th in the league in scoring.
He has scored in double figures in 18 of 28 games this season. Belinelli has stepped up his scoring in December as he is averaging 13.4 PPG with eight out of 10 games being in double figures. While the Hornets are only 8-10 in the 18 double-digit games for Marco this year, they are 10-9 in games where he shoots over 40% from the field which would help qualify him as the team’s x-factor.
Here’s a Look at Belinelli’s scoring ability and how he uses a plethora of off-balance shots coupled with on and off ball screens to get open:
Not only have his stats been impressive but Marco has also become a key player down the stretch in close games. Even though he isn’t in the starting lineup, Clifford trusts and Belinelli to play alongside the starters to close out games because of his ability to spread the floor and not turn the ball over. It speaks volumes that he is given playing time in key moments ahead of Micahel Kidd-Gilchrist.
Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by Belinelli’s play because when he is given a defined role with a good team like he had with the San Antonio Spurs, Marco has proven that he can be a productive player. Plus, coach Clifford’s love for the Italian goes back to a few years ago when the Hornets wanted to sign him in free agency. Now that he has finally ended up in Charlotte and under Steve Clifford, he is enjoying one of the best years of his career.
What a pleasant surprise Marco has been for the Charlotte Hornets this year and his breakout season, if it can be called that this late in his career, is likely to continue. Belinelli has secured the sixth man role and only being paid $6 million a year, his contract is a steal for the team. If he can build on his recent performances and keep it up for the full 2016 campaign, the Italian could sneak his way into the sixth man of the year award conversation.