While many eyes are following the ball during Kings offensive possessions, guard Ben McLemore is often watching Marco Belinelli.
Belinelli, the Kings’ veteran swingman, rarely has the ball in his hands but is consistently darting around the halfcourt, cutting toward open spaces and coming around screens in attempts to find an open shot – all things a third-year guard such as McLemore, who is still finding his niche, finds valuable to study.
“He does a lot of movement, a lot of great movement to get himself open and get a lot of other players open,” McLemore said. “He uses the defender to get himself open, fake this way and go the other way after the defender gets moving and has to stop, little things like that that great shooters do. Marco does a great job of that.”
Belinelli, a 6-foot-5 swingman from Italy, has been manufacturing shots in the NBA for nine seasons. While the Kings, Belinelli’s sixth team, signed him largely to provide outside shooting, Belinelli’s acquisition also may have helped the Kings land their biggest prize of last offseason.
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The Kings signed point guard Rajon Rondo to a one-year deal in July, around the time they agreed to a three-year contract with Belinelli, who was also a free agent. During discussions with Rondo, Kings executives asked what other potential targets the veteran point guard might want to play alongside. Rondo named Belinelli.
When I was a free agent, I wanted to play with Marco. Cuz (DeMarcus Cousins) was one of the guys, obviously the cornerstone for why I wanted to be here. But playing with a guy like Belinelli has been a dream.
Rajon Rondo, Kings point guard
“When I was a free agent, I wanted to play with Marco,” Rondo said Tuesday. “Cuz (DeMarcus Cousins) was one of the guys, obviously the cornerstone for why I wanted to be here. But playing with a guy like Belinelli has been a dream.
“He moves without the ball, he doesn’t need a play called for him at all, he creates his own shot and never stops moving. And that’s tough. There’s only so many guys that have that type of motor, where they come into the game and move nonstop.”
Kings coach George Karl has been impressed by Belinelli’s understanding of how to use movement and spacing to be an efficient offensive player even when not filling the stat sheet. As an example, Karl pointed to the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s 114-106 Kings win over the Utah Jazz.
Belinelli was on the floor as the Jazz cut a 14-point deficit late in the third quarter to two with 10:42 left in the fourth. But Belinelli made a three-pointer after a Kings timeout to extend their lead to five, and later passed up a shot to set up center Kosta Koufos for an alley-oop dunk that put the Kings ahead by nine. Belinelli made just one shot in the quarter, but Karl highlighted his impact.
“I think he makes us play basketball the right way,” Karl said. “He makes us move, he makes us pass. Too many times we have … possessions where we give it to one guy and everybody stands around and watches. And I think there are certain games like (Tuesday) night where we have some of them but not a lot of them.”
Karl said Belinelli has the potential to “explode” scoring-wise but knows, “It’s not going to happen every night.”
I think he makes us play basketball the right way. He makes us move, he makes us pass. Too many times we have … possessions where we give it to one guy and everybody stands around and watches. And I think there are certain games like (Tuesday) night where we have some of them but not a lot of them.
George Karl, Kings coach, on Marco Belinelli
While Belinelli is averaging 11.6 points in 26.4 minutes this season – and averaging the fourth-most shot attempts on the team behind Cousins, Rondo and Rudy Gay – his shooting percentages are well below his career averages. Belinelli is shooting 39.1 percent from the field (compared to 42.8 percent for his career) and 33.6 percent from three-point range (38.9 career), averages he has not posted since his rookie season with Golden State.
“Not so good,” Belinelli said. “It’s a different system than San Antonio (his home for the past two seasons) and other teams, another role. But I’m going to try to do better. I’m going to try to help the team to not just be a shooter but create something for my teammates and try to (help us) be a better team.”
Belinelli said he’s comfortable in the Kings’ system – “Especially when they call a play for me” – and said of playing alongside Rondo: “I love him.”
A clip of Belinelli making a three-pointer after a pass from Rondo against Oklahoma City last Sunday went viral, mostly because of the eye-opening play by Rondo, who zipped a behind-the-back pass from under the Kings’ basket to Belinelli beyond the three-point arc. But as Rondo said: “If they don’t finish those plays, then it’s not an assist.”
Belinelli said his lackluster shooting isn’t going to stop him from being aggressive. It likely won’t stop him from racing around the offensive halfcourt, either, giving McLemore plenty of material to ingest.
“I’ve been trying to watch him, learn from him,” McLemore said. “I’m learning to slash to a spot more, doing a lot of that. I’m starting to move off the ball pretty good.”