By Sam Perley, hornets.com
The team’s only offseason trade acquisition last summer, Marco Belinelli provided the Charlotte Hornets with a veteran, floor-spacing scoring option off the bench throughout the 2016-17 NBA campaign. Belinelli has now finished a decade of play in the league, yet continues to be a reliable, deep-threat reserve capable of going off at any moment’s notice for the Hornets.
Belinelli Comes to Charlotte
Shortly before the start of the 2016 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets agreed in principle to acquire the long-sought-after Belinelli from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for the rights to incoming-rookie Malachi Richardson. A few weeks later, Belinelli and the Italian National Team just missed securing their first appearance at the Summer Olympics since 2004, falling to Croatia in the finals of a FIBA qualifying tournament on July 9.
After a busy summer, Belinelli went on to put up averages of 10.2 points on 41.7 percent shooting (45.1 percent from three-point range), 2.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists in his first 18 games as a Hornet through the end of November.
During this stretch, Belinelli notched a season-high-tying 22 points and a season-high 10 rebounds in a 121-116 overtime road loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 19. This performance included a career-high-tying seven made three-pointers for Belinelli and was also the second double-double of his NBA career as well.
The Italian’s momentum continued into December as he tallied marks of 12.3 points on 51.4 percent shooting (45.7 percent from three-point range), 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists in his next 12 games. From the start of the season through Dec. 23, Belinelli’s 45.3 percent success rate from three-point range was the second-highest mark in the league amongst players with at least 100 such attempts.
Ankle Injury and Aftermath
Midway through Charlotte’s 103-91 home win over the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 23, Belinelli sprained his left ankle, forcing him to the bench for the next five games. He returned on Jan. 4, but struggled to immediately regain the consistent shooting he had produced through the first two months of the season.
In 21 appearances heading into the All-Star Break, Belinelli averaged 10.6 points on 40.3 percent shooting (27.3 percent from three-point range), 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists for the Hornets.
Over the course of the team’s post-All-Star-Break schedule, Belinelli managed to better his numbers a bit since his midseason ankle injury. The 10th-year veteran registered 9.9 points on 41.6 percent shooting (32.5 percent from three-point range), 2.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in his final 23 appearances of the season.
This span included a season-high-tying 22-point showing for Belinelli in a 112-105 home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 24, which was also his second-straight 20-point game. This marked the first time the Hornets guard had scored 20-or-more points in consecutive regular season games since Feb. 18-19, 2014.
Belinelli missed the team’s final three games of the season with a strained finger, finishing with overall averages of 10.5 points on 42.9 percent shooting (36.0 percent from three-point range), 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists across 74 games. Belinelli also eclipsed the century mark in total made three-pointers (102) for the first time in three seasons as well.
“I know I can be better,” said Belinelli during player exit interviews on April 12. “I know my three-point percentage at the beginning of the season was like 42-or-something percent. Then I was out for a couple games because of my ankle and maybe I lost a little bit of my rhythm. I’m going to try and be better next year.”
The Italian sharpshooter also tallied 10-or-more points off the bench 41 times this season, the fourth-highest total by any player in the Eastern Conference. It was the most overall double-digit scoring performances for Belinelli in a single season since putting up a career-high 49 such games during the 2013-14 NBA campaign.
Additionally, he also shot a career-high 89.3 percent from the free-throw line, the ninth-best mark in the NBA and matching the fourth-best single-season conversion rate in franchise history.
2017-18 Season Outlook
Belinelli has a guaranteed contract that runs through the conclusion of the 2017-18 NBA season. During exit interviews, the now 31-year-old veteran looked back on his first year playing for the Hornets franchise.
“I love Charlotte. I love the organization. I think we are not happy about not making the playoffs. In some time, we need to be better next year, have [everybody] have a good summer and try to come back here and try to do something big. I think we have the potential to do that. We just have to work and be better next year,” said Belinelli.
“For us, our defense wasn’t that good, especially in the fourth quarter,” he added “I think that’s the reason why we didn’t win a couple close games. We’re going to work this summer on that, [have] everybody come back in shape and try to do a good job next year.”
Belinelli will also be suiting up for the Italian National Team at this summer’s European Championships, a competition it hasn’t medaled in since 2003. The Azzurri, which begins play on Aug. 31 in Tel Aviv, has been slotted into Group B of the tournament with Georgia, Germany, Israel, Lithuania and Ukraine.