Be sure to check out the first 15 installments if you missed them the first time around.
Okay, first of all I decided that there were 30 cuts from Marco that need to be seen again so this is going to be another two-parter. That may seem like a lot for a role player, but I had so much fun watching the very clever Marco Belinelli deceive defenders time and time again that I think you will enjoy an extended look. In fact, this was probably my favorite "best of" to do so far. The equally strange look at Tiago's assists was also great fun and that involved a center that averaged just one and a half assists per game. We're a strange bunch at Pounding the Rock. I hope you can appreciate some of the less conventional looks at players that I do.
So far in this series I've been doing a numbered list of plays in each article. I'm going to do things differently this time around and group plays by type. Even in the pretty narrow definition of cuts Marco has several different ways of losing his man and I think it will be fun to see a few examples of them in succession rather than ranking them.
I think my favorite part of what Marco does is that he completely beats defenses and it isn't because he's fast or a great creator - it's that his feel for the game and his wiles leave his competition wondering how that just happened.
If you missed Michael Erler's portrait of Belinelli, I recommend it. It has lots of great tidbits like he played the second most minutes for the Spurs this past year, and a reminder that even though he wasn't at his best in the playoffs, he was very important to the Spurs during the season. He's certainly grown on me (and I was pretty optimistic from the start,) he's a natural Spur, and I'm thrilled he's going to be back in silver and black for at least one more season. Let's start from the top.
The top of the arc:
Here we see the Spurs in a set with Tony Parker all alone on the strong side, Matt Bonner and Kawhi Leonard surprisingly close around the left elbow, Jeff Ayres at the free throw line and Marco at the top of the arc. Brandon Rush, number 25, is pretty focused on not allowing a pass to Marco at the right wing so Belinelli hesitates, fakes right, and then uses a screen from Ayres to go left and lose Rush. Once Beli cuts hard from the top of the key it's over with a clear lane in front of him and all the capable Parker has to do is deliver the ball to Marco on his way to the hoop. Tony's pass is excellent and Belinelli scores easily.
This is one of my favorite plays of the season and Eric Gordon's reaction really makes it. Tim Duncan and Marco slowly make their way up the court, which is the first clue that something is up as the Spurs like to push the pace and this kind of lackadaisical approach would normally enrage Popovich. This was certainly planned deception (from the CIA Pop playbook) and it worked perfectly as Gordon expects Beli to hold his post at the top of the arc to spread the floor for a half-court set. Marco plays it cool as he wipes off some sweat before sprinting through the lane while getting some help from a Kawhi Leonard screen. He then looks for the nice pass from Tony that sets up the uncontested layup as Timmy points out exactly what is about to happen. Pure genius.
Bonus GIF content: The face palm from the Pelicans assistant coach.
This is a mirror of the first play. The biggest differences being that Marco still goes left and Nene doesn't have to respect Tiago Splitter's jumper so he's able to at least make a play on the ball as Beli receives the pass and puts up the attempt. Same result. I think Gortat may have been hearing the opening notes to Mozart's Requiem as this happened - the Spurs came back (despite giving up a whopping 62 first half points) and won this one in double overtime on the back of Timmy's 31-11-5-2-3 (the first and only time a player his age has put up that line.)
This is the same play except Marco starts from the weak-side corner. Beli works to the top of the arc and Duncan bothers Jose Calderon as Marco cuts through the lane where Parker finds him, perhaps a little later than ideal, and Dirk Nowitzki (who is one of my favorite players to watch, but maybe not on the defensive end) kind of half-heartedly contests Marco. Even as a fan of Dirk, it's fun to see his reaction.
Here we see Beli work a zipper cut (where a player cuts from the post to the perimeter) against the Jazz. Diante Garrett overplays the passing lane, and Marco is so smart that once he recognizes this he immediately cuts back to the hoop. Patty Mills gets it to Boris Diaw in the post and the wily Frenchman feeds Belinelli who converts a really tough shot over FirstName LastName.
This is the same except Beli has all-nba-screen-man Boris Diaw helping him out and Aron Baynes pulls Derrick Favors out far enough that Mills is able to make a direct pass to the Italian. It's a much easier score as Gordon Hayward gets tangled up with Marvin Williams and Alec Burks stays with his man (Ginobili.)
The set is different here but the action is the same. Marco counters the overplayed passing lane off the zipper action, a little higher and much tighter in the lane, but Tony delivers a great pass and the wily Manu-In-Training scores pretty easily.
The fake to baseline cut:
Here Beli fakes Derrick Williams with a subtle move to the right at the wing before cutting to the hoop with the Kings focused on on everything but Marco. Tony Parker weaves through the lane and spins around Aaron Gray before delivering a beautiful dime to Marco for the uncontested reverse.
Andrei Kirilenko bites on a double fake from Tony and Beli. The point guard works the right side of the floor against Deron Williams, fakes to Ayres, pulls it back to get Kirilenko to play the passing lane as Marco feints left before cutting along the baseline where Parker delivers a great pass that ends in another uncontested layup for Marco.
These next four are some of my favorites. It's just such smart basketball. Marco is a master of cutting when his defender takes his eyes off of him for too long.
Here he exploits his defender ball-watching and makes his way under the hoop for an easy bucket. It helps that the Spurs have a big man in Boris Diaw that is such a gifted passer.
This is after he missed a triple. Boris taps the ball out to keep it alive, Duncan gathers it and Beli hesitates briefly at the arc before cutting to the hoop and handles a less than perfect pass from Tim before finishing with an outstanding reverse. Marco connected on a ridiculous 73.4% of his attempts from within three feet of the basket last season, pretty much identical to Dwight Howard (73.5%) and truly remarkable for a wing unless that wing is named LeBron (79.6%.) Note that Beli took the third most shots for the Spurs last season and the fifth most twos. 18% of his shots came from that distance - 124 of his 695 attempts.
Here he is again taking advantage of a quick lapse in focus from Draymond Green to get into the lane for a quick and easy score.
1.6 seconds. That's how much time there is on the shot clock for the Spurs. Manu grabs the entire Sacramento defense's attention which allows Marco to sneak down the baseline from the left corner for the quick score off the Matt Bonner inbounds. Even with all of the attention on him, Manu is still kind of open under the hoop but Matty B finds the more open Marco.
The give and go:
Dirk brings a double to Marco at the right wing and after Marco gives it up to Boris he's off to the hoop where the big Frenchman hits him with a nice bounce-pass. Our old friend DeJuan Blair isn't able to stop Marco from getting his floater off the glass to drop.
Here's Marco working the give-and-go with Boris again and curling around a Timmy screen from the top of the arc to lose Damian Lillard. Diaw delivers a fine pass and Beli beats Nicolas Batum with his quick attempt. Batum made the right play, but if he had been any quicker Marco had Gino wide open in the corner. The Spurs sure make it hard on the opposition.
That's it for today and tomorrow we'll look at the special relationship the Italian has with a couple of Spurs legends.