Marco Belinelli hasn't played a single minute in a San Antonio Spurs uniform, but he's already been signing praises of the organization since agreeing to a two-year, $6 million contract -- a generous amount, given the demand for his services.
"I'm really happy to have signed with San Antonio," Belinelli told Yahoo! Sports Italia. "They're an important team, with a great organization, and I get the chance to play with great companions. For me it is a pleasure and an honor to wear this jersey and I know that I will have to work hard to deserve minutes."
Belinelli, 27, has only played on two playoff teams -- the 2010-11 New Orleans Hornets and 2012-13 Chicago Bulls. San Antonio, meanwhile, won more than twice as many playoff games during last year's postseason run (15) than Belinelli during his first seven seasons (7). Even though many people doubt the Spurs, and openly question whether their aging core can even physically sustain another arduous NBA season, Belinelli asserted that the Spurs are still title contenders.
"Yes, we are (title contenders)," Belinelli said. "The team is very strong and overall we are very tough. We have great enthusiasm and desire for revenge after losing the Finals this year, and especially phenomenal players like Duncan, Parker and Ginobili."
Under Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, Belinelli fufilled the normal duties of a secondary ball handler -- being a competent safety valve in case the primary action is stymied, slashing to the rim, and occasionally orchestrating the offense through the pick-and-roll. Belinelli was a valuable shot creator on a team that often struggled to manufacture points.
The problem, he admits, comes on defense, where his poor focus hampered the team; Chicago's fifth-ranked defense, allowing 100.3 points per 100 possessions last season, was 3.4 points more efficient when Belinelli took a seat, per NBA.com. Belinelli also conceded that his left-hand needs some work, since being an ambidextrous ball handler puts an added strain on the defense -- the primary defender can't simply beat the player to a spot and expect them to hoist a difficult shot.
"I'm aware that I have to work and improve myself on many aspects," Belinelli said. "I am 27 years old and I'm still not a complete player: I should care for so many things on defense, without neglecting the shot and the development of the left hand."
Belinelli has the ideal mentor, though. Ginobili is a crafty scorer, with a similar frame, and he's excited to learn the subtle idiosyncrasies of the position from the 12-year veteran.
"It's beautiful," Belinelli said. "I played with Manu in Bologna when I was 16, as I was (making) my first steps as a professional, and he was already an extraordinary player from whom I learned a lot. Having him on my side will be important, because I'm sure I will have the chance to learn even more things."