NBA Champion Marco Belinelli says the Atlanta Hawks can prove the doubters wrong and reach the play-offs this season.
The sharpshooting Italian, who won a title with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, will be the elder statesman for a young Hawks team that has undergone a rapid rebuild in the last couple of seasons – despite being aged just 31.
Only two years ago the Hawks reached the Eastern Conference Finals off the back of a 60 win season, their best ever, that saw coach Mike Budenholzer named coach of the year.
But the team, who play against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, is unrecognisable from the one that took the hardwood in 2014-15.
The four All-Stars, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, are gone, leaving just three players and the coach remaining from that team.
Las Vegas bookmakers have the current team on pace to win just 27 games this season.
Just seven years after he started playing, Joel Embiid wants Hall of Fame
OH MY GORD
NBA star Gordon Hayward shatters ankle live on TV on his Boston Celtics debut
THE GLOVE FITS
NBA legend Gary Payton on LeBron, Kyrie and his top give point guards
But Bellinelli, who moved to Atlanta over the summer, says his young team have been written off too soon.
He said: “Many people may think we’re a step behind this year, but I have great faith in this team.
“We have a very young team, with no big stars, but with an experienced coach, who has always reached the play-offs with his teams.
“The playoffs should be within reach. We are going to have a tough start with five away games, that will represent a good test for us.
“It’s going to be a very important season for me because I will be a free agent at the end of it.”
Bellinelli, from a commune in the northern Italian city of Bologna, is now with his eighth NBA team.
Known for his dead-eye accuracy from long range, Bellinelli will now have to take on the role of mentor to the young squad.
“I will try to be a guide for the many younger players we have,” he said.
“My personal goal is to keep growing as a player with my team and I think we’ll see if I’ve achieved that at the end of the season.”
Atlanta’s slim hopes this season will rest on the shoulders of point guard Dennis Schroder, a precocious young German point guard that has ewon as many enemies as fans for his spiky, all out game.
“Dennis is certainly a great player, you could say that he’s our star player and that we will depend on him this season.
“I didn’t realise how quick he is, his acceleration is devastating.”
The Italian also says fans should be on the lookout for Atlanta Hawks rookie John Collins.
“He has the potential to do well in the league,” added the vet.
“He’s only 20 years old, but he is very powerful and has the right mentality at practice.
“He works out a lot and I’m sure he will have enough minutes to play, prove himself and improve as a player.”
NBA Sundays presented by NBA 2K18 on BT Sport – a live NBA game every Sunday at 8.30pm. This week on 22 October the Brooklyn Nets will host the Atlanta Hawks on BT Sport 2.
HE WAS ROBBED
England footie ace Joe Hart has phone and wallet snatched by moped bandits
Wayne Rooney arrives at the Lowry Hotel shortly before ex-team Manchester United
What a Mes
Arsenal contract rebel Mesut Ozil FURIOUS over ‘campaign’ linking him to Man Utd
Diego Costa getting back in shape – with boxing session at Torres’ gym
Fan holding a CHILD joins in brawl between Everton and Lyon in shameful scenes