Is Pop Phasing Marco Belinelli Out of the Spurs’ Rotation?

The lineup rotation for the San Antonio Spurs has been ever-changing and perplexing through 20 games. Guys that warrant minutes aren’t getting many, guys that are struggling mightily are getting too many, and defensive liabilities are being paired together all too often.

At the center of Gregg Popovich’s controversial decisions has been the stubbornness he’s shown about Marco Belinelli’s minutes. As we’ve discussed several times before, the Italian guard is having a nightmare of a season on both ends of the floor. He’s shooting at career-low marks from both the field and the three-point line, and his defense isn’t exactly making up for that.

Despite all of his shortcomings, through 17 games Belinelli was still getting steady minutes in the rotation ahead of the likes of DeMarre Carroll and Lonnie Walker IV. Against the hottest team in the NBA, however, Pop opted to finally bench Belinelli.

The decision to sit him against a stacked Lakers team with a double-headed snake of LeBron James and Anthony Davis was the right call. As it played out, the Spurs were able to throw multiple looks at James with their quicker perimeter players, which seemed to work well for three quarters. While they ended up falling short, San Antonio at least held their ground for the better part of the game.

At home against the Minnesota Timberwolves two days later, Belinelli only played seven minutes in what ended up being another disappointing loss. Walker made the most of his increased time on the court that day, shooting 5-for-8 from the field and ending the night with a season-high 11 points.

Why Pop is Still Favoring Belinelli (For Now)

In the recent victory over Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers, Belinelli saw 13 minutes of action and did well on the glass, pulling down six boards. Effort-wise, he probably had his best game of the season, especially on the defensive end. He also chose his spots on offense well, even if he only hit two of his six shots. Of course, having an occasional decent performance followed by several stinkers isn’t exactly a great case for extended minutes on the court.

Surprisingly though, the Spurs are actually +13.7 per 100 possessions with Belinelli on the court. One explanation for this, though, is the fact that San Antonio’s starters have struggled to get off to good starts and the bench unit often ends up mounting the comeback. Still, +13.7 is no small number, so there must be something to how the team plays when he’s on the court.

If there’s anything that will get you pulled out of the rotation quickly, it’s not making a concerted effort on the defensive end. To his credit, Belinelli tries out there. He just quite simply doesn’t always have the lateral quickness and awareness needed to check his man in today’s NBA.

As it stands now, it looks like Popovich is still giving priority to Belinelli over Walker and Carroll, but that might be slowly fading. Coming off a huge victory and hoping to ride that momentum, it’ll be interesting to see how the Belinelli-Walker-Carroll conundrum plays out over the coming weeks.

For Coach Pop, Belinelli might be the top dog of the three for now, but his leash just might finally be getting shorter.