How will Marco Belinelli affect the Spurs rotation?

artwork by VicT82

It looks like Marco Belinelli will be the Spurs' biggest difference between last year's squad and next. Let's look at what his arrival means for the team and the players he will call teammates next year.

The Spurs' biggest off-season addition -- barring something completely unexpected -- is Marco Belinelli, and I think that's completely fine. He clearly is a rotation-caliber player that has skills the Spurs need. But the fact that he is yet another guard does present some issues in terms of how Gregg Popovich will manage lineups and could potentially even affect who gets to play. Here are three examples of how the addition of Belinelli, instead of a spot up shooting small forward, could affect the roles of other Spurs.

The main beneficiary of Belinelli joining the team could be Mills

Belinelli has been billed as a shooting expert and the numbers seem to back it up. Over the last three seasons Marco has averaged over five three-point attempts per 36 minutes while connecting at a 38% clip. He shot over 40% on spot-up threes last season, according to MySynergySports. But that's not all he does -- and in all likelihood it's just a portion of what he was brought to the Spurs to do. Marco will likely be relied upon as a ball handler and creator and he seems to have the tools for it, as Ian Poulter will explore in an upcoming post.

Now, unless Pop throws everyone a curve ball, Green and Leonard will continue to start. That means Belinelli and Ginobili will come off the bench and share the court, as well as playmaking duties, for a considerable amount of time. If you add the likely presence of Boris Diaw in some of those lineups, it doesn't seem like there would be much need for additional ball handlers on the floor, which is bad news for De Colo and Joseph and their iffy jumpers.

But the Spurs could really take advantage of Patty Mills' shooting ability. The Australian guard shot 43% on spot up threes last season while Cory Joseph shot 25% (in limited attempts) and De Colo shot 39.3%. On mid-range jumpers the difference is even bigger. There was no question about who was the best shooter of the three, at least last season, and if the Spurs are simply looking for shooting, Mills can be their guy. Can Patty be consistent enough - when given the chance -- to go from the inactive list to rotation player? It's hard to say. But since he seems like a natural fit next to the other two creative guards, he could get a chance to prove it.

Marco off the bench probably means more Manu at small forward

Pop might tweak the rotations, sending Manu in earlier for Green and then subbing Danny in when Belinelli mans the shooting guard spot. Or he could try some other permutations that could render these scenarios irrelevant. But if the Spurs want their extremely good starting lineup to share the court for as long as possible, and they should, the bench will likely include a lot of three-guard lineups with Ginobili at small forward. We've seen what that looks like when George Hill was in tow and it wasn't as bad as you remember.

It was 2011, so Manu was younger. But his numbers from that season were fantastic, and according to 82games, he had a PER of 25 when he was slotted at small forward. While he allowed his counterpart an above average PER of 17, the Spurs seemed to be able to exploit the mismatch quite a bit more than their opponents. The three most used lineups featuring Ginobili at SF in that season had very good net ratings (offensive rating minus defensive rating) and were good defensively as long as DeJuan Blair wasn't on the court as well. The Spurs also won 61 regular season games that year.

Some might say that the lack of length on the perimeter hurt them in the playoffs, and while that's true to a degree, the rosters are different enough that the lack of a true back-up small forward won't likely be as big a problem. First, the Spurs have Kawhi Leonard now. In 2011, the Spurs were pretty much forced to go small in the playoffs because Hill was one of their best players. There was also no real back-up center. Now, the Spurs could choose to go small in the regular season and rest Leonard by having Belinelli take some minutes, and then up Manu's and Leonard's minutes in the playoffs. And with Splitter available to anchor the second unit, the defense should be improved even if they continue to go small at the wing.

As for Ginobili, he is still too light to match up well against small forwards in terms of strength, but how many teams  have back up small forwards good enough to exploit the mismatch in the post or off the dribble? And Manu is a wily defender who is not afraid of exaggerating contact from overeager opponents that want to run him over. He can also reach in and pick the pockets of mediocre ball handlers. Furthermore, it's much better for the Spurs if Ginobili spends time at the three than at the one, where faster players can exploit his diminished lateral quickness.

Diaw's versatility will be quite important

While Ginobili can take most back-up small forwards and Green is good enough defensively to take even some starting ones, the Spurs will rely on Leonard to take the bulk of SF minutes and even some at PF. So what happens when the other team waits for Leonard's time on the bench, then goes small with two small forwards at the three and the four? The same applies to Leonard missing time with injury. Green at SF works on traditional lineups but if teams go small, the Spurs would have to respond by going even smaller with a point guard, Belinelli, Manu, Green and a big. That's far from ideal, especially on the boards.

Enter Boris Diaw.

Diaw won't spend too many minutes at the three, but he will likely be relied upon to give the Spurs some minutes at the four when teams decide to go small. The Spurs would stay big on paper but Diaw will guard small forwards that slide up. Diaw should have the quickness to stay with some of the bulkier SFs but could struggle with anyone possessing good handles when isolated against them far from the rim. He could also have a lot of trouble navigating ball screens, as he is simply not used to it. But, like the situation with Manu, how many teams actually have the personnel to repeatedly take advantage of the mismatch? The Warriors saw Matt Bonner covering Harrison Barnes for a whole game last regular season and their stubbornness in trying to exploit that perceived advantage was counter productive, as it took them out of their regular sets and didn't produce great results.

So the arrival of Marco Belinelli will surely require some adjusting from other players, but it doesn't seem like the Spurs will have top many problems making the necessary changes -- at least in the regular season - to accommodate their newest acquisition. When the post season rolls around, it's very likely the rotations shorten, Leonard, Ginobili and Green will take up most wing minutes and Belinelli will truly becomes Gary Neal's replacement, as his role decreases.

Stats courtesy of 82Games, NBA.com/Stats and MySynergySports

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