What’s Wrong with Marco Belinelli?

Dec 27, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Marco Belinelli (3) looks on during the fourth quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Sleep Train Arena. The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings 98-94. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Marco Belinelli (3) looks on during the fourth quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Sleep Train Arena. The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings 98-94. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Sacramento Kings are not the San Antonio Spurs. We know this. This is why, upon Marco Belinelli’s summer signing, an encouraging addition to a Kings team that sorely lacked shooting came wrapped in caution tape–considering the shooting guard’s former team and its tendency to augment the talents of its players.

In other words, a statistical dip was to be accepted and expected—to some extent. Unfortunately for Belinelli and the Kings, that predicted change in output has been less dip, more dive.

Per NBA.com, of the 71 players attempting at least four three-point shots per game, Marco Belinelli, who averages 4.7 three-pointers each night, ranks 62nd in three-point percentage, at 32.6 percent. That number also places him ninth on the Kings, technically behind Rajon Rondo, who sports a 33 percent three-point percentage on 106 fewer attempts.

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Away from shooting, the statistics haven’t been much prettier.

Belinelli is averaging 1.4 turnovers per game, which matches his previous high recorded in his second NBA season with Golden State. This year, through 40 games, his turnovers committed “by bad pass,” specifically, sit at 33, which already matches his total from last season, per Basketball-Reference.

And defensively, Belinelli has been, unsurprisingly, not great. VP Vlade Divac and company surely knew this was to be the likely case, but Marco’s defensive rating of 113 is still his highest since 2010—a byproduct of playing on a wholly-terrible defensive team, no doubt.

But in spite of his struggles, in the half court, one of Sacramento’s most-used plays this season has been the “Belinelli Pin Down Play,” during which the primary ball handler pounds the ball at the top of the arc, waiting for Marco — usually the only King in this play type not standing still — to uncover around a pin down screen set especially for him.

As a result, two-point shots at least 16 feet from the basket have made up 35 percent of Belinelli’s field goal attempts this season—nine percent above his career average from that range, per Basketball-Reference.

Exhibit A:

belinelli_screen_play /

This kind of play presents a few problems. For starters, while the Kings do run some plays that feature parallel pairings of pin down screens set on opposite sides of the floor (providing the primary ball handler more than one passing option), more often than not, those plays are not run.

Rather, with Marco on the floor, the team more frequently opts for plays in the above gif’s style, where the opposing defense is forced to track just one moving player, as opposed to the ideal several. In this respect, the Kings make themselves more one-dimensional, and thus, more guard-able.

Along those lines, Belinelli is a relatively guard-able player, himself. On and off the ball, he lacks much of the quickness and speed necessary to create and maintain separation from his defender, though the screens help. But notice in the gif how, before Marco reaches Omri Casspi’s pick, it takes him almost three seconds just to get a step on his defender, Hollis Thompson.

While, in the gif, Belinelli is afforded an open attempt, unfortunately for him Sacramento’s opponent won’t always be Philadelphia, and his defender won’t always be Thompson.

And finally, but perhaps most importantly, the Belinelli Pin Down Play is seemingly designed to generate a shot not long for the NBA, the enemy of the analytically inclined: the long two. It’s fine to attempt open midrange jumpers if you’re a shooter of Marco’s caliber, but when those shots are reasonably contested (as they usually are against teams not named the Philadelphia 76ers), with the catch-and-shoot three being the more preferred option, the Kings could find a healthier alternative.

Even still, of the 71 players attempting at least three catch-and-shoot three-point shots per game, Marco Belinelli, whose average is 3.7 in this category, ranks 62nd in three-point percentage, at 34.3 percent. For context, J.J. Redick ranks first at 52.2 percent, Marcus Smart ranks 71st at 21.3 percent, Nik Stauskas ranks 55th at 35.5 percent, and DeMarcus Cousins ranks 57th at 35.2 percent, per NBA.com.

And for Marco, this season’s shooting figures are all the more discouraging with his Spurs years in mind when, on catch-and-shoot threes alone, he shot 40.1 percent in 2014-15 and 46.1 percent in 2013-14.

In essence, efficiency is his issue: Belinelli is still making his usual amount of threes per game (1.5), only this year he is doing it with one more shot attempt.

To boost that efficiency, the Kings might try setting Marco up for more corner threes. Per Basketball-Reference, in his eight NBA seasons prior to joining the Kings, approximately 29 percent of Marco Belinelli’s attempted threes came strictly from the corner of the floor, a spot in which he’s compiled a 42 percent career three-point percentage.

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This year, however, corner threes have made up just 15 percent of Marco’s long-range attempts—14 percentage points below his aforementioned career average. While Belinelli has remained efficient from that spot of the floor (he’s making 41 percent of his attempted corner threes this season), the shift in his shot distribution has hurt his overall output.

In DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings have an attention-demanding post presence who can collapse the defense to create open shots from the perimeter — specifically the corner — for shooters like Belinelli.

In post-up sets, for instance, place Cousins near the elbow with Belinelli stationed in the weak side corner. Should DeMarcus’s defender front him, an over-the-top feed into Cousins would force upon Marco’s man the ultimate dilemma: to abandon a 39 percent career three-point shooter, or step in front of a 275-pound center.

weakside_post_up /

As evidenced, the Kings do exactly that, resulting in free throws for Cuz.

And in Rondo-Cousins pick-and-rolls, as DeMarcus dives into the paint, Belinelli could spot-up in the corner opposite the pick-and-roll action (just as he did in the gif), presenting his defender with the same decision.

His Sacramento struggles aside, Marco Belinelli’s reputation as a floor-spacing spot-up threat remains intact. In what figures to be an intense second half-season of Kings basketball, the 29-year-old shooting guard has ample time to sway his shooting numbers back in his favor, for the better of himself, his team, and its playoff chances.