During an off-season of significant roster turnover, perhaps the biggest move the Atlanta Hawks made was the divesting of center Dwight Howard in a trade to the Charlotte Hornets. Widely viewed as an “unloading” of Howard and the $47 million remaining on his contract to be paid out over the next two seasons, the Hawks acquired two veteran players, center Miles Plumlee and wing Marco Belinelli. The trade also included the Hawks swapping their 31st pick in the 2017 NBA draft for the 41st pick which they used select Tyler Dorsey.
At a glance, the movement of Plumlee and Belinelli to the Hawks gives the impression of salary offset to complete the deal. Neither player was viewed as integral to the Hornets’ short-term and long-term plans. Plumlee is now 29 years old and has failed to maintain his role as a rotational player while playing for three different teams over the past three seasons.
It is easy to understand the difficulty in seeing value in the addition of Miles Plumlee to the Hawks’ roster. However, it would misguided to apply the same label to Marco Belinelli. Let’s take a look at just what he brings to the Hawks.
Playing for six different teams during his ten-year NBA career so far (the Hawks will be his seventh), Belinelli brought the same primary asset to each of those teams: his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a career .377 shooter from behind the 3-point line and his 853 career 3-point field goals rank him ahead of other veteran NBA shooters such as Danny Green, Aron Afflalo and Monta Ellis.
Last season, he shot .360 from the 3-point line, .488 from 2-point range and .893 from the free-throw line. His eFG% of .512 was second on the team among the key rotation players (top 9 in minutes played). Belinelli is a legitimate catch-and-shoot threat that head coach Mike Budenholzer can deploy to bringing the floor spacing needed to run the Hawks’ offense.
The Hawks’ system will be very familiar to Belinelli as he is just one season removed from playing three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs between 2013 and 2016. Having spent 19 seasons working under Spurs’ coach Greg Popovich, Mike Budenholzer runs essentially the same system.
There will be very little learning curve for Belinelli who thrived in the Spurs’ pace and space offensive system. He put together perhaps the best season of his NBA career during his first season with the Spurs when he played a career high 2,016 minutes, shot a career best .430 on three-point attempts and averaged a career-best 16.3 points per 36 minutes.
Marco Belinelli has never been referred to as a plus defender and he is not known as a solid on-the-ball defender on the wing. But NBA defense is as much or more about defending as a unit as it is about defending one-on-one.
The best metric with regards to Belinelli’s defense is the minutes he logged for the Spurs. Playing under Coach Popovich, players do not see the floor if they cannot handle their defensive assignments regardless of what they bring on the offensive end.
During the 2013-14 season, Belinelli finished the season second in minutes played (behind Tim Duncan) on a team that was 3rd in the league in defensive rating, won 62 regular season games and went on to win an NBA championship over the Miami Heat in five games. While he contributed from the bench in the post-season, his regular season workload allowed Popovich to conservatively manage minutes for veterans as well as players nursing themselves back from injury.
The current Hawks roster is much younger than the roster was at the end of the 2016/17 season. Second-year players Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry and Malcolm Delaney, as well as rookie John Collins, are expected to be key rotational players. Prince and Bembry are expected to carry a much larger workload than each of them carried as rookies.
An atmosphere of young players taking on larger roles generally results in some level of inconsistency and uncertainty. In Belinelli, Coach Budenholzer has a reliable, “known quantity” player whom he can rely on to play his system on both ends of the floor and will bring leadership both on and off the court.
When teams go into a rebuilding mode, one aspect of player development that is often missing is a culture of winning and success. Often, young players are teamed with journeymen veterans who have unaccomplished NBA careers.
Marco Belinelli’s presence should have a positive impact on the Hawks’ younger players as he can speak to them credibly as player who has played an integral role on successful NBA teams including a team that went on the win the ultimate prize of an NBA championship.
With just one year remaining on his three-year, $19 million contract that he signed with the Kings in the summer of 2015, Belinelli could be a valuable trade asset as the NBA season progresses towards the trade deadline. The past two seasons of volatile salary cap fluctuations have resulted in many of the NBA’s stronger teams having limited depth compared to one season ago.
By mid-season, the standings will have brought some clarity to the playoff picture and injuries will change the landscape for teams trying to gear up for a post-season run. Marco Belinelli is likely to be an extremely viable bench option for any one of a number of teams looking to boost their roster depth. The Hawks could certainly trade him in return for an asset that could yield results in future seasons.
As the Atlanta Hawks enter the the 2017-18 season, much uncertainty abounds. It is difficult to project what this newly-assembled roster will accomplish. Its also difficult to project how young players will develop and perform. However, in Marco Belinelli, the Hawks have a proven veteran who brings a reliable set of skills and track record of NBA success.