It took a couple of weeks of adjusting to new teammates and being yanked from the starting line-up, but Marco Belinelli appears to be finding his groove in Toronto.
Sure, Belinelli looked to be having some early success due to being third on the team in scoring entering the game (11.8 points per game), but he was doing this while shooting an abysmal 16-41 from the field.
Throw in the atrocious 3-21 he was shooting from beyond the arc and his shooting was as cold as Toronto’s winters.
On Sunday afternoon Belinelli snapped out of his shooting funk and provided the Raptors with a spark off the bench with eight points in the first half while playing less than eight minutes. The Italian guard is viewed as a gunner without a conscious so what was impressive about his scoring outburst in the first half is he went 4-5 from the field to score his highly efficient 8 points.
Belinelli continued his strong play in the second half with a play in the third quarter fans will be sure to raving about around the water cooler about. He found himself in the low block with his back to the basket when the entry pass found it’s way to him. In one motion, he twisted toward the rim, got hacked and then made the bucket to earn the chance for an and one opportunity.
On the Raptors next offensive possession he continued to attack the Wizards defense by running the floor on a fast break and attacking the rim before getting hacked. Again. This time he missed the field goal attempt but managed to make both free throw attempts.
Belinelli finished the game with 15 points but what is sure to impress the coaching staff aren’t his flashy plays or scoring output, it’s the fact he’s playing more relaxed and appears to be finding a comfort zone playing alongside his new teammates.
“I’m [feeling] good right now,” Belinelli admitted to sheepishly after the game. “This is our third or fourth game and everything is good for me and the team. We’re improving every day and that’s important for us.”
One of the main areas he is improving is instead of catching and shooting on most possessions he is now using his passing ability to keep defenders honest. In the first few games it seemed he would strictly catch and shoot, but now he’s looking for open teammates which is helping to confuse defenders and prevent them from rushing at him.
While his scoring today was impressive, Raptors head coach Jay Triano was more impressed with how his court vision helped provide open looks for Belinelli and his teammates.
“We knew when we got him he could play the point guard spot and he is a guy that is a shooting guard as well,” Triano boasted to the media after the game.
“If you take away his shot he’s going to put the ball on the floor and create because he’s a play maker for other people as well. He extends the defense and you have to guard him on the three point line. Then if he gets it and if you run at him I don’t know if there’s a better situation than to have a defender running at you. He’s just a smart basketball player and he knows how to get into the lane and he can create for others.”
Court vision helps open up things for Belinelli to take defenders off the dribble or use his jumper, but it also helps get teammates open looks.
A perfect example of this came in the second half when he threaded a sweet behind the back dish between two defenders to Reggie Evans who was cutting to the basket. While his teammate missed the lay-up, it was still an impressive play nonetheless.
As impressive as this afternoons performance was, the key for Belinelli will be if he can be consistent with his contributions to the Raptors this season. Last year his production fluctuated along with his minutes so it will be interesting to see if he can be as consistent when given an opportunity to secure steady minutes.
Hopefully the kind of all-around performance he showed this afternoon is a harbinger of what he can this season when provided with consistent minutes.
Ryan McNeill is a freelance writer now in his third season covering the Toronto Raptors. You can read more of his writing at HOOPSADDICT.com and you can follow him on Twitter.