If the headline hadn’t spoiled the surprise and someone asked you to guess who was leading the league in three-point shooting percentage through the first 16 games of the season, unless you were a hardcore Spurs fan, there’s no set of circumstances that would have led you to guess it was Marco Belinelli.
But among players with enough qualified makes, Belinelli is the man, currently atop the leaderboard shooting 55.5 percent (22-of-40) from beyond the arc to start the season.
The reason Belinelli’s name would be so far down most fans’ lists is because historically, he hasn’t shot from distance from anything resembling a high percentage. He’s a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter (which includes this year’s hot start), and last season in Chicago managed to hit just 35.7 percent of his long-range looks.
Part of the increased production is a decreased role in San Antonio, where Belinelli plays 20.8 minutes off the bench on a roster loaded with talent. But after watching all 22 of his makes this year, there’s a fairly decent number of those that were off-balance, highly-contested or both, and Belinelli still managed to knock them down with ease.
There were of course plenty of shots that were wide open, too, thanks to the fact that the defense had to concern themselves with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard or Tim Duncan, and the Spurs move the ball so well that Belinelli ended up being the recipient of a pass that found him in a perfect position to shoot on more than one occasion.
There are 110 players who have more three-point attempts on the season than Belinelli, and 49 players who have made more shots from distance. But to qualify to lead the league in the three-point shooting percentage statistical category, a player has to only have made one three-pointer per game as the season goes on; the minimum to qualify through 16 games is 16 made, and 82 makes in total are required to qualify at the end of the regular season.
While finishing the year at better than 50 percent from beyond the arc seems like a longshot, considering he’s likely to be at the low end of qualifying makes by season’s end, Belinelli may have a chance at this if he continues to perform when called upon in limited opportunities with the Spurs.