One of the most memorable bench players from the San Antonio Spurs 2014 title run, Marco Belinelli was often a fan favorite wherever he went. A fearless three-point shooter, he’s been perfectly suited for the role of a spark plug player off the bench during his NBA career.
His unorthodox shooting form where he unnecessarily leans and shoots off-balance is agitating to watch as a fan … until the basketball goes through the net. With the ball in his hands, Belinelli always marched to the beat of his own drum, infuriating his coaches — only to infuriate the opposition a possession or two later with a timely three-pointer.
However, at no point in his well-traveled career has Belinelli ever been seen as an adequate defender. Gregg Popovich has even made wisecracks about Belinelli’s defensive shortcomings. But now, things have gone from bad to worse on that end. As Dejounte Murray remains on a minutes restriction and Derrick White is rounding into form, Belinelli is playing nearly 17 minutes a game. Some would say that is 17 minutes too many.
Marco Belinelli’s Defense: The Path of Least Resistance
Marco Belinelli’s advanced stats for this season are downright frightening. His defensive real plus-minus is -2.9 and he’s been even worse than usual at defending shots inside of the three-point line.
Last year, opponents shot 12.8% better when Belinelli was the lead defender inside of ten feet. This year, he has yet to force a single miss from that range so far.
Last season, Belinelli literally couldn’t get much worse on D, as he finished the year with a defensive real plus-minus of -2.60, placing him an embarrassing 95th out of 97 NBA shooting guards. Somehow, despite these appalling stats, Belinelli appears to have gotten worse over the summer.
Considering that Belinelli is 6-foot-5, he’s not exactly undersized when it comes to challenging opposing guards on their way to the rim. However, he is 33 years old and not getting any younger. With age comes the decline of speed and athleticism. Having such a defensive liability going up against the position that often fields the quickest players is becoming increasingly detrimental.
Looking at the game footage of his defense, we can see that Belinelli often lets his man blow past him. His poor positioning and lack of lateral quickness leads to some frustrating fouls on the defensive end.
On the foul against Lou Williams, you can certainly argue that it was a bit of a harsh call, but Belinelli simply putting his arms up while chasing him isn’t doing him or the rest of his team any favors.
What is even more frustrating is that other players who aren’t good defenders either, such as Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes, still tend to show some grit despite their defensive shortcomings. In the clip below, you’ll see Mills doing an admirable job on CJ McCollum — only for Belinelli to needlessly reach in and commit the silly foul.
Pop tries to hide Belinelli as much as he can. Often having him guard players on the opposing team who tend to remain static. This leaves Belinelli often guarding the 3-and-D players most of the time. Yet, when it comes to guarding those types of players, Belinelli still finds himself in no man’s land forced to make a lunging attempt at closing out on the shooter.
Poor Rebounding Awareness
If it wasn’t bad enough that Belinelli is poor at guarding his man with the ball, he compounds the issue by being lazy about boxing out at times, leading to costly second-chance points. In the clip below from the recent Atlanta Hawks debacle, the Spurs were off to a terrible start in the fourth quarter. Plays like this will drive any coach crazy.
He did it again a few days later against the Oklahoma City Thunder with his lackadaisical effort in securing the rebound.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As the Spurs wait on their backcourt to get healthy and off of any minutes restrictions, they will have to find some way to keep their head above the water defensively with Belinelli on the floor. The Spurs can’t afford to play 4-on-5 defensively, especially considering that they are doing that offensively as well due to Belinelli’s current shooting slump. Pop will need to figure something out, whether it’s playing DeMarre Carroll more or continuing the youth development by handing Belinelli’s minutes to Lonnie Walker IV.
As it is, the Spurs are near the bottom in three-point shooting, so they really need all hands on deck when it comes to outside shooting. In a league that covets two-way players, what does one do with a no-way player?
For Marco Belinelli, the time to make a stand is now.