NORMAN — On the list of free agents available last summer, Marco Belinelli’s name certainly didn’t stand out.
He spent six years bouncing around the league, was traded once for an on-his-last-legs Devean George and again for failed lottery pick Julian Wright. So when he signed a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs in July, it didn’t grab much attention.
Tom Thibodeau knew better. The Bulls coach saw firsthand what Belinelli was capable of during his one year in Chicago and knew that San Antonio was the perfect place for him.
“We hated to lose him,” Thibodeau said.
Belinelli is averaging career highs in shooting percentage, 3-point percentage, rebounds and assists while his 11.3-points per game average is just below his best season (11.8) for New Orleans in 2011-12.
In doing so, Belinelli has added his name to a seemingly endless list of role players who have flourished while playing off of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
“He’s been more than we expected because it usually takes someone a while to figure out the system and feel comfortable and he’s done it very quickly,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “So he’s been a pleasant surprise in that respect.”
Picking up the intricacies of the Spurs’ offense — one predicated on ball movement, cutting away from the play and synergy with teammates — is no easy task. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have played together for so long that the challenge for a new face is figuring out where he fits in and how to effectively play off of a trio that knows each other as well as they know their own family.
The Spurs have always had an affinity for international players, subscribing to the theory that the universal language of basketball can transcend any cultural or communication issues that may arise in such a melting pot of a roster. Of course, Belinelli having someone on the team who does speak his native tongue doesn’t hurt.