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Why Marco Belinelli is playing over Lonnie Walker IV

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The PtR staff tries to figure out the answer to the question that’s been puzzling Spurs fans for weeks.

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

It’s safe to say that we all want Lonnie Walker IV to at least get some of Marco Belinelli’s minutes, but let’s play devil’s advocate to try to figure out why Pop thinks differently. Make the best case you can for Marco to hold on to his rotation spot. Why should Belinelli continue to play over Lonnie?

Marilyn Dubinski: The only reason I can come up with is one I’ve already tweeted: it improves his trade value. And it just might be working. Since he received a DNP on Lonnie’s big night against Houston, he has shot 44% from three and is averaging 8 points per game, compared to 30.5%/5.2 points before, and he would be a good addition to a playoff team that feels it’s “one little piece away.” Of course, the other side of that coin is because he’s playing better (on offense, at least) and hitting threes at a good clip now, that might make him less trade-able in the Spurs’ eyes considering they remain in the playoff hunt and desperate for outside shooting (which Lonnie is showing potential at but has yet to prove he can replace that aspect of Marco’s game, even though he brings a much more well rounded game to the table).

Mark Barrington: Usually, I’m good at being a devil(‘s advocate), but I’m pretty puzzled by this one. It comes between Pop valuing experience over raw talent, and something that we fans don’t know about Lonnie’s game that Pop wants to change before he unleashes him. If I had to pick, it’s more likely the second explanation, but what is specifically lacking from Lonnie’s game must be something I haven’t observed in his play. Most of his flaws, in my opinion, are due to inexperience, and there’s one obvious way to cure that, which is what Pop’s NOT doing.

Bruno Passos: Pop is looking at this team holistically and seeing bigger problems to address. It’ll be some combination of what we’ve all seen in the starting lineup chemistry issues and end-to-end defensive execution — whatever he’s seeing, he’s more comfortable treating Belinelli’s reliable off-ball movement and physical limitations as a constant rather than another variable as he tinkers with a formula he still hasn’t gotten right.

Jesus Gomez: It’s not always about talent. Sometimes what roles players can fill is an equally or even more important factor to consider when figuring out a rotation. Belinelli has had a long career because he not only hits standstill threes but can also come off a screen and fire and is always on the move. The Spurs have ball-dominant stars and play slow. Marco fits the current system better than Lonnie does on offense, at least for now, so he gets to play.

Beyond what happens on the court, we also have to be mindful that we don’t know what goes on in practice and the locker room. Pop has called out Walker for a lack of competitiveness before. Maybe the coaching staff is trying to make sure he remains hungry by tying his playing time to his effort level. If that’s the case, Lonnie could be learning important lessons about professionalism that are more important (for both his and the Spurs’ future) than the ones he would learn by playing 15 minutes a game in a transitional season.

J.R. Wilco: Over the summer, Marilyn covered the story that Tiago Splitter wrote for a Brazilian website about his life getting to, playing in, and recovering from the NBA. In it, Splitter talked about a conversation he had with Pop from his first year in San Antonio about how he was upset about not playing: “Well, then you’d better not stay sad because you are not going to play...Keep training hard. You’re training well. Keep working and next year you’ll play more.”

In the last 15 years or so, we’ve seen exactly one player earn serious minutes in his first year with the big club: Kawhi Leonard. Besides him, everyone has had to go through some level of sit-there-and-watch-the-big-kids-play before earning his playing time. I know this theory doesn’t fully explain the minutes Walker has gotten that make us think he’s earned more, but what can I say? If there was a single theory that made sense of everything Walker-related, then we probably wouldn’t need a round-table post on the subject.