When Jeremy Lin ditched Charlotte to join the Brooklyn Nets over the summer, leaving the Hornets with a huge space to fill. Lin was one of the best bench players in the league last year, providing a much-needed scoring punch to a team that had finished 28th in offensive rating the season before. But his departure meant more to the Hornets than just losing his 11.7 points per game – his ability to play both backcourt positions meant that he could play both in place of and alongside Kemba Walker, allowing the team’s star to shine even brighter.
When Lin took off, he left Charlotte without a true replacement for him. Head Coach Steve Clifford would have to rely on a combination of new acquisitions Ramon Sessions and Marco Belinelli to fill his role. Sessions have mostly disappointed, but the Belinelli has exceeded expectations.
Belinelli was acquired by the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for a late first-round draft pick after a horribly inefficient year with the Sacramento Kings. By trading for him, Charlotte was betting that his 9.4 PER and 30.6% shooting from behind the arc in Sacramento was just an outlier rather than the beginning of an ugly trend. So far, it seems that their gamble has paid off.
In Charlotte, Belinelli is shooting a blistering 44.6% from deep, a career high. His true shooting percentage of .587 would be the second-highest of his career, and he’s turning the ball over at a career-low rate. A PER of 13.9 isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, but it’s good enough for a capable role player. He’s proven to be a valuable scorer off the bench, and he can spread the floor well – a vital attribute for a team that plays Michael Kidd-Gilchrist nearly 30 minutes per game.
That’s not to say he’s a perfect player, of course. If his shooting helps defensive-minded players like MKG stay on the floor, those players return the favor by hiding Belinelli’s flaws on the other end. The 30-year-old Italian has been pesky chasing around additional spot up guys, not getting hung up on too many opposing screens, but he’s been mostly dreadful in just about every other aspect of defense. If he finds himself defending the ball handler in a pick-and-roll situation, the Hornets are toast – according to Synergy Stats, only eleven players in the league allow more points per possession in such situations.
Belinelli’s defensive shortcomings are likely the main reason he’s not able to slide down a position to point guard. He’s played some point on teams in the past but hasn’t played a single minute in Charlotte without a more natural ball handler alongside him. Lin wasn’t known as a defensive maestro either, but he was an average defender on that end with the Hornets; Belinelli has been abysmal.
A lineup with Belinelli at the point might be an interesting experiment for head coach Steve Clifford if the offense needs a jump start. Again, Belinelli is turning the ball over at the lowest rate in his career, and he’s actually scored more efficiently in the pick-and-roll than Lin did during his time in Buzz City. Even if it was an effective offensive lineup, however, the defensive problems it presents means it would probably only work in small doses against backup-heavy units. Still, it’s something to keep in mind as the season moves forward.
Marco Belinelli isn’t the same player Jeremy Lin was – not by a longshot. Still, he’s stepped into Lin’s role as the primary bench scorer and exceeded expectations. As the season moves forward, his play will continue to be crucial to a Charlotte team with hopes of making a run in the postseason.