The NBA has had some legendary leaders on top-notch teams. Retired stars such as Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Steve Nash come to mind.
What about Marco Belinelli? Let Kings coach George Karl explain.
“Like Magic Johnson makes everybody play the right way,” Karl said. “John Stockton makes everybody play the right way. Steve Nash makes everybody play the right way. Belinelli’s not on that list, but he has that skill.
“All of a sudden the game feels like it flows. It just seems like it’s a contagious thing when he’s on the court. I really enjoyed him in training camp. I thought he was a good player, but I’m surprised.”
The Kings ostensibly signed Belinelli, 29, to provide outside shooting. But Karl has discovered that Belinelli is more than just a shooter, offering intangibles the coach covets. Besides scoring 32 points in Monday’s preseason win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Belinelli had four assists, three rebounds and three steals.
On Wednesday night, Belinelli again came off the bench as the Kings faced the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The 6-foot-5 swingman, who’s entering his ninth season, probably won’t become the new Nash. But Karl appreciates his contributions.
“(Belinelli) has a knack of making other people play the right way, which is an off-the-chart compliment even though you might not take it as a high compliment,” Karl said. “For a coach to say someone makes other people better is a high compliment.”
The Kings are Belinelli’s sixth team. His previous stop with the San Antonio Spurs was instructive and successful. He played on the Spurs’ 2014 NBA championship team, which left an impression on Karl.
San Antonio’s passing, spacing and unselfishness are elements Karl desires. Belinelli said playing for the Spurs improved his game.
“I think that’s really important,” Belinelli said. “I was lucky to spend two years with San Antonio and we just have to try to get better every time. Bring everything on the court, be aggressive, play together on offense, play good defense and it’s all about winning. So we’re going to try to do that every day, every game.”
Belinelli’s performance Monday reflected his solid play during training camp.
“I expect that from him,” guard Darren Collison said. “That’s what he’s been doing his whole career. He had a great summer over there in FIBA (World Cup), and he’s been with the San Antonio Spurs the last couple of years, so we kind of expect him to do that. It’s a major plus for him to play that way.”
Belinelli believes playing with the Kings will allow him to showcase his all-around skills.
“I have a lot of space to create something for myself, something for my teammates, play pick-and-roll,” he said. “It’s just the preseason, but we’ll see. I’m happy to be here and I’m going to try to do my best to be a better player and win games.”
Belinelli is a career 39 percent three-point shooter. Karl didn’t compare Belinelli to Larry Bird or Ray Allen, but the coach still sees the potential for great things.
“I don’t want to jinx him, but I’ve coached some really good shooters,” Karl said. “I haven’t seen Belinelli be a great shooter in the NBA, but I’ve seen Belinelli in practice and he reminds me of a pretty (darn) good shooter. And I’m not just talking (darn) good; I’m talking about elite shooter. He makes 18 threes in a row before he leaves the court every day. And the shot he shot (in Portland) from about 4 or 5 feet beyond the arc? I don’t want to tell anybody, but he can make that. His range is that deep.”
Rest up – Karl gave Kosta Koufos the night off Wednesday and started rookie Willie Cauley-Stein in his place. Karl plans to rest at least one of his regulars every preseason game.